Early signs of the potential imbroglio that could transpire are already beginning to take shape. Late last week,
residents in Abbottabad
vowed to hold mass demonstrations if the local government was unable to address rampant water shortages in the city. The city has lacked sufficient water
for the past month, with over 5,000 homes impacted in the hottest months of the year.
conference organized around water shortages
in the province of Sindh earlier this month, leaders of political parties and various trade organizations blamed a wide array of individuals, including
former Pakistani heads of state, other provinces in the country, and even Pakistan's neighbors, for the nation's water woes.
Extremist groups, of which there is no dearth in Pakistan, have also weighed in on the matter, using it as an opportunity to garner support for their
movement. Hafiz Saeed, the founded of the militant group, Lakshar-e-Taiba -- the organization behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks -- has unequivocally blamed
India for Pakistan's water crunch, accusing its government of committing "water terrorism." By evoking an issue that is sensitive to millions of
Pakistanis, Saeed's rhetoric demonstrates the potential of militant groups to exploit this issue.
The country's demographics make it seem as though this trend will only worsen over time. Pakistan's population has grown exponentially over the past
several decades. With two-thirds of the population currently under the age of 30, the nation of 180 million is expected to swell to 256 million by the year
2030, and demand for water will only grow. Meanwhile, climate change, which has reduced water flows into the Indus River, Pakistan's main supply source,
will continue to shrink the available water supply.
The response to any crisis is likely to play out, in part, through Pakistan's foreign policy. For starters, the government has been pushing to redefine the
terms of the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 -- the water-sharing plan struck between India and Pakistan that outlines how the six rivers of the Indus basin
would be shared. Pakistan has recently contested the construction of Indian dams on rivers that begin in India but flow into Pakistan, arguing that the
dams would restrict Pakistani supply.
The dispute, which is currently being reviewed by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague, will clearly impact the relationship between the two
historic rivals, as water demand increases in both countries. But with pressure mounting from various groups within Pakistan, and the likelihood of
instability increasing due to shortages, the Pakistani government may find itself in a difficult position when negotiating with India -- it will have
limited bargaining room against an Indian government that may be reluctant to renegotiate a treaty that has been in place for 53 years.