Could Climate Change Cause an India-Pakistan War?

Water resources in disputed Kashmir will become more important

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India and Pakistan's long conflict over the disputed region of Kashmir stands at an uneasy peace, but according to Foreign Policy's Stephan Faris, climate change may end all that. Why? Himalayan glaciers in Kashmir feed the Indus river, which provides water for the two countries. Global warming trends could cause the glaciers to melt prematurely, reducing the already-limited water supply.

Traditionally, Kashmir's waters have been naturally regulated by the glaciers in the Himalayas. Precipitation freezes during the coldest months and then melts during the agricultural season. But if global warming continues at its current rate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates, the glaciers could be mostly gone from the mountains by 2035. Water that once flowed for the planting will flush away in winter floods. [...]

Water is already undermining Pakistan's stability. In recent years, recurring shortages have led to grain shortfalls. In 2008, flour became so scarce it turned into an election issue; the government deployed thousands of troops to guard its wheat stores. As the glaciers melt and the rivers dry, this issue will only become more critical. Pakistan—unstable, facing dramatic drops in water supplies, caged in by India's vastly superior conventional forces—will be forced to make one of three choices. It can let its people starve. It can cooperate with India in building dams and reservoirs, handing over control of its waters to the country it regards as the enemy. Or it can ramp up support for the insurgency, gambling that violence can bleed India's resolve without degenerating into full-fledged war.

Though speculating, Faris thinks the risk is grave enough to buttress arguments for tackling climate change.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.