Four Cardinal Principles for

Four Cardinal Principles for

Four Cardinal Principles for 

Pakistan’s water diplomacy


Pakistan’s water diplomacy in the region must be based on four cardinal principles:

  1. Pakistan’s regional diplomacy should seek to proactively respond to India’s efforts to keep a lid on water as a bilateral matter and deal with each neighbour separately. Pakistan is not the only country with which India has unresolved water issues. In fact, India has such disputes with almost all its neighbours, from Bangladesh to China. Pakistan should, therefore, elevate transboundary waters to bilateral discussions with all of India’s water neighbours, particularly Bangladesh and China, but also with increasingly more assertive Bhutan and Nepal.
  2. Transboundary water is not only about diplomatic negotiations, but also about an issue of upstream investments for downstream economic needs. Pakistan has not made adequate investments to secure water for its future use. Upstream investments in Bhutan by India have resulted in three hydel power projects of 1,416MW, and three more of 2,129MW are under construction. Afghanistan-Pakistan geography and topography is ideally suited for benefit-sharing from Kabul River. Pakistan needs to consider similar upstream investments in Afghanistan, where the construction of 13 smaller dams is under consideration. Pakistan can fully or partially fund the construction of one or two smaller dams in Afghanistan. In return, Pakistan can secure both energy and water to lift its tribal areas and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa out of water and energy deficits. A clear proposition by Pakistan can help Islamabad forge common ground with Afghanistan and, ideally, with the World Bank. Prolonged inaction by Islamabad will inevitably result in a void that can be too tempting for extra-regional actors.

Upstream water investments in Afghanistan are in Pakistan’s strategic interest: increased agricultural productivity and livelihood options can help curtail migration from Afghanistan to Pakistan for economic opportunities between Peshawar and Karachi. This can also lay the foundation for regional water markets. Much like the proposed South Asian energy corridors, the time for regional water markets is fast approaching.

  1. Water for Pakistan is more than about precipitation during the monsoon. Climate change is creating a similar set of challenges for regional countries in the Himalayan-Hindu Kush regions, and from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. It is posing serious threats to food security, increasing migration and extreme events, including floods, droughts and heatwaves. Cloudbursts in Jammu inundated Sialkot, much as Nowshera became a victim of flooding in the Kabul River. Transboundary flooding risks are attributable to climate change and are engulfing the entire South Asian region. Transboundary water management needs to be ramped up by Pakistan to a higher regional and international security plateau, and employed as an instrument to enhance regional trade and economic cooperation.
  2. For success in regional water diplomacy, Pakistan must invest in institutional infrastructure. How could a country that depends so much on transboundary water supplies not have a full-fledged water ministry and departments at the federal and provincial levels? How could Pakistan afford not to have national and provincial water policies? Or water pricing? In order to bury the ad-hocism of regional water diplomacy, a National Commission on Transboundary Waters needs to be established with a constitutional status comparable to the Election Commission, mandated to manage all transboundary water issues dealing with the Upper Indus Basin, Afghanistan and, of course, India and the IWT’s Permanent Commission.

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