India Starts a Water Fight

By Maha Atal
Washington has lately become concerned that Pakistan is dragging its feet in the fight against the Taliban because it sees the Islamists as a check on its archrival, India, whose influence in Afghanistan is growing. What alarms Pakistan most is the possibility that India will gain control over the water from two Afghan rivers that flow into the volatile Pakistan border regions, where water shortages could inflame local insurgencies. Indian investment in Afghanistan has doubled since 2006, to $1.2 billion, and up to 35 percent of that is going into canals for local irrigation, as well as hydroelectric dams that will supply power to Iran and Turkmenistan, India's gateways to Central Asia and the Gulf.

Pakistanis insist that India has used water as a weapon against them before. In 1960, after years of squabbling, India and Pakistan agreed to share control over the tributaries of Kashmiri rivers. To this day Pakistan insists India tampers with its supply. The fear now is that India will use the Afghan dams to deny Pakistan's border regions the water they need to sustain their farms and hydropower projects. Criticism of India's actions has united some unlikely allies, including Kashmiri nationalists, development economists, and the Pakistani foreign ministry. This means water could be one more stumbling block on the road to peace in Afghanistan.