Can the Climate Crisis Bring India and Pakistan Together?

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Jan 13, 2021
by Sadaf Taimur
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Can the Climate Crisis Bring India and Pakistan Together?

Salzburg Global Fellow Sadaf Taimur explores how responding to climate change could change India and Pakistan's relationship for the better Photo by David Carillet from Shutterstock

Kashmir is one of the world's most volatile regions, with two nuclear-armed nations, India and Pakistan, aggressively contesting control of the area. This contest has led to five wars between the two culturally-tied neighbors, continuous propaganda, and nuclear blackmailing. The conflict garners significant international attention because of its potential to threaten global security.

Science Advances suggests neither country will initiate nuclear conflict without considerable provocation.  Pakistan has declared it will only use a nuclear weapon if the country can't stop an invasion by traditional means or respond to a nuclear attack. Similarly, India has the nuclear no-first-use policy of not initiating a nuclear attack unless first attacked by biological or chemical weapons. But what if climate change sparks conflict?
 
A recent article I wrote explored the Kashmir dispute between the two neighbors as an interest-based conflict centered on water security. I used the neo-Malthusian model to identify how climate-induced water scarcity can lead to other resource shortages, which could exacerbate India and Pakistan's conflict and propel both countries toward violence.

This vision is not a hypothetical projection. Something similar happened in Darfur, and it is one of the most cited examples of climate-induced water scarcity that led to violent conflict. The war in Darfur began as an ecological catastrophe, with precipitation in Sudan falling by 40 percent from the 1980s due to the rise in the Indian Ocean's temperatures disrupting the monsoon season. Climate-induced changes in the hydrological cycle led to catastrophic famine, sparking violent conflict in the region. Research on water security suggests that freshwater has the highest conflict potential, making river basins prone to "water wars." Thanks to climate change, water-related resource shortages pose a serious risk of violent conflict between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.
 
As we approach the 75th anniversary of the India-Pakistan partition in 2022, it is crucial to bring stakeholders to the table and think about ways to resolve the two neighbors' long-standing conflict. This action will promote peace in South Asia and ensure both countries collaborate to put a robust transboundary water management system in place. There are ways toward conflict resolution, which we can learn from the climate-induced war in Darfur. If contextualized to the Kashmir conflict, these might show a way forward for India and Pakistan to begin the resolution process. We certainly don't have time to trade accusations, recriminations, and insults.
 
Mistrust between India and Pakistan has hindered the peace process. It is crucial to building this trust first to instigate the conflict resolution process. Jake Darby and Roger Mac Ginty wrote that to make a peace process successful, it is essential "the protagonists are willing to negotiate in good faith," and "that the negotiators are committed to a sustained process." A good way to repair India and Pakistan's trust would be for both countries, and international agencies, to promote capacity building, cultural exchanges, and educational initiatives reflecting on our shared culture, history, geography, and emotions to endorse peaceful co-existence. Various projects and organizations should be supported. Examples that come to mind include the Exchange for Change program by Citizens Archives of Pakistan and Routes 2 Roots in India.
 
Pakistan's Best Kept Secret: Lahore Museum, a film made by Salzburg Global Fellow Anwar Akhtar, from UK-based Samosa Media and Ajoka Theatre Lahore, has already had a significant impact both in audience reach and making space for more cultural projects that focus on shared cultures, the arts,  peace-building and climate crisis awareness between India and Pakistan. Friends Beyond Borders by Aghaz-e-Dosti is also doing amazing peace-building work by facilitating communication and creating a culture of understanding.

These efforts can help break the bilateral deadlock and bring India and Pakistan stakeholders to the negotiation table. To ensure the peace process' sustainability, conflict resolution centered around climate change impacts can be extremely useful. Since climate change does not respect political frontiers, both India and Pakistan will be affected equally. This knowledge will allow both sides to establish institutionalized engagement, crisis management mechanisms, formal dialogue, and a transboundary water management system.
 
Peace negotiations centered on climate change, using conflict management tools, can support transboundary water management between India and Pakistan. In the context of transboundary water resource conflict, Magda Hefney describes three conflict management tools: intervention (facilitation, mediation, fact-finding, and arbitration); decision-support modeling (optimization, simulation, scenario-building, and analysis); and consensus-building to guarantee a win-win position over managing transboundary water. These tools will also pave the way toward incorporating climate change effects in the Indus Water Treaty (IWT).
 
Both India and Pakistan need to change their aggressive warmongering mindsets to ones that promote peace. History shows there is so much to lose from war for all of us. And there is so much to gain from peace – security, development, civilization, and most of all, kindness, love, and care.
 
Let's make the 75th anniversary of Partition in August 2022, of an independent India free from the British Empire, and the birth of Pakistan, a call on leaders from both sides, to tackle the climate change emergency before it's too late. To act for the next generation of Indians and Pakistanis' welfare would be the most fitting of tributes to the generation that lost so much because of the partition's violence.


Sadaf Taimur is a Salzburg Global Fellow who is currently taking part in the Asia Peace Innovators Forum, a program held in partnership with the Nippon Foundation. Sign up for our newsletter here to receive updates about this program.