Securitization of Water Issue in Pakistan
The securitization of water resources demands vigilant perception of threat, a robust mechanism for securitization moves and some extraordinary measures to counter that. In this piece, this scribe has tried to contextualize the need of securitization of water scarcity in Pakistan.
To begin the discourse, it is pertinent to highlight the need for perception of threat emanating from water scarcity. Neil Buhne, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, recently cautioned Pakistani nation by saying, “No person in Pakistan, whether from the north with its more than 5,000 glaciers or from the south with its ‘hyper deserts’, will be immune to water shortage.” There are multifaceted reasons; ranging from the trans-national water disputes with India and Afghanistan to inter-provincial water rows, behind this state of affairs.
Water conflict with India has been a major reason behind Pakistan-India rivalry that has kept haunting both countries since the partition of the Subcontinent. The World Bank brokered a treaty in 1960, commonly known as the Indus Waters Treaty, to solve the issue of transnational waters, but the construction of hydro-electric projects of Baglihar and Kishanganga on the tributaries of Chenab and Jhelum rivers has increased the sedimentation and reduced the flow of water for the areas surrounding lower tributaries of these rivers in Pakistan.
Recently, an agreement has been signed between India and Afghanistan for the construction of Shahtoot Dam on the upper channels of Kabul River in Afghanistan. It would also affect the water availability in the Pakistani districts of Charsadda and Peshawar (in KP province) which depend on the waters of Kabul River for 85 percent and 80 percent, respectively, of their total water demand. It creates a hostile situation for Pakistan as its arch-rival India, in collaboration with Afghanistan, is trying to press it via the prism of hydro-politics from its eastern and western borders.
This grim situation is not limited to the transboundary conflicts only. The shortage of water and political disputes have also aroused disharmony among its four provinces – Sindh accuses Punjab of power theft, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) questions the engineering and technical fault lines in the hydel projects, and Balochistan blames Sindh for its acute water scarcity. The essence of the discourse reflects a lack of consensus among provinces. This, in turn, leads to delay in the construction of dams in Pakistan. Consequently, 29 MAF (million acre feet) of water is wasted, as reported by the Indus River System Authority (IRSA). In the words of IRSA spokesman, Muhammad Khalid Rana, “We have only two big reservoirs and we can save water only for 30 days. India can store water for 190 days whereas the US can do it for 900 days,” thus, there is a clear consensus on the perceived threat of water scarcity.
In order to pass on a securitization move for water scarcity, there are two channels available for the experts: structural acts and speech acts. As far as structural acts are concerned, the ruling elite must prioritize and securitize the water issue on various grounds. It is a systematic approach and requires systematic methodology through galvanization of the water-scarcity securitization in media as well as institutional machinery. A plethora of structural arrangements, which encapsulate population planning, resource management, removal of discrepancies among provinces and construction of dams on priority, should be undertaken.
On the other hand, speech acts are soft yet effective methods of making the securitization move. For example, Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, said in 2016, “Blood and water cannot flow together.” It was a clear depiction of securitization of water issue at bilateral level. Pakistan should use rhetoric of water security not only in the international arena but at the domestic level as well. It will ensure mass awareness on this burning issue and the nation will be on the same page.
There are, however, some serious challenges that can impede the securitization of water crisis in Pakistan.
Firstly, the socioeconomic conditions of the country in the form of education and awareness of the masses would require a lot of effort to inculcate the sense of urgency in this domain.
Secondly, the advanced models of water management, e.g. water-pricing policy of Singapore, are not workable in Pakistan due to above-mentioned reason.
Thirdly, the political winds of Pakistan’s atmosphere do not support the human security perspective. Therefore, it is the most immediate prerequisite to overcome these challenges to securitize water issue.
Overcoming these challenges would, no doubt, be a gigantic task, but there are some pragmatic measures that would pave the way to securitize water scarcity in Pakistan by overcoming these challenges. The political will, robust policymaking and creation of the correct image of the water threat can help in such a securitization move. There is a dire need to build a consensus among the key stakeholders to raise the issue of water scarcity not only at domestic level but also at global level in the context of human security.
To cap it all, the situation in Pakistan in terms of water scarcity is dreadful. Amidst a rising trend of human security in global securitization regime, it is the most urgent need that Pakistan securitizes the issue. While there are options available in this regard, the animosity with the neighbours, poor socioeconomic conditions and volatile political situation are some stumbling blocks in this way. At this critical cusp of the crisis, Pakistan is in need of workable and practical steps that would securitize water scarcity and help Pakistan in coping with the issue.
The writer is a Lahore-based Mechanical Engineer.