Contested Waters: Subnational Scale Water Conflict in Pakistan
Conflict over water is often deemed a foundational global threat in the post–Cold War era. Where states and societies once fought over territory, ideology, and resources, the thinking goes, they will increasingly engage in conflict over the most precious of resources—water. South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular are often said to be at risk from water-related conflict. There is a sense that water-related conflict is inevitable and will be driven either by climate change (where biophysical changes will make water more scarce) or by rapid increases in population (where water becomes more scarce as more people compete for it). This report will show that water conflict arising under either of these two scenarios is not inevitable. Instead, focusing on the experience in Pakistan, it will argue that there is little historical evidence for interstate water wars and that conflict over water tends to occur at the subnational scale.1 The report will further argue that conflict over water at the subnational scale is socially and politically mediated, and that in Pakistan, it must be understood specifically at the local and interprovincial scales.