Ismail Seageldin, vice-president of the World Bank, made a prediction in 1995 "Many of the wars this century were about oil, but the wars of the next century will be about water."
Now a bitter dispute over limited water resources is fueling India-Pakistan tensions.A long-running feud that has worsened in recent months as a dry spell focuses attention on Pakistan's growing water shortage. Three days of talks in March ended with both sides failing to reach a resolution.
Farmers in Pakistan's central breadbasket are certainly angry.
"India has blocked our water because they are our enemy," said Mohammad, a 65-year-old farmer in the town of Gujrat who goes by only one name.His farm sits a few miles (kilometers) from the Chenab River, which residents say has been shrinking since India completed a hydroelectric dam in its part of Kashmir in 2008. In some sections, water flows in only a tenth of the river bed, and nearby irrigation canals have dried up.Independent experts say there is no evidence to support those charges, but they warn that Pakistani concerns about India's plans to build at least 15 new dams need to be addressed to avoid conflict.
The origin of the water dispute can be traced to the creation of Pakistan and India in 1947, when the British Indian empire was partitioned. The split gave India control of the part of Kashmir that is the source of six rivers that irrigate crops in Pakistan's agricultural heartland of Punjab province and elsewhere.Under a 1960 agreement, Pakistan has the use of the three western rivers — the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — and India, the three eastern ones — the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi.India was granted limited use of Pakistan's rivers for agricultural purposes, plus the right to build hydroelectric dams, as long as they don't store or divert large amounts of water.
"If you want to give Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Pakistani militants an issue that really rallies people, give them water," said John Briscoe, who has worked on water issues in the two countries for 35 years and was the World Bank's senior water adviser.Briscoe said the dams India is planning to build could give it the ability to choke off water to Pakistan if it wanted to pressure its neighbor.
Jamaat-e-Dawa, an alleged front group for the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba organization, issued a statement recently accusing India of using "her disputed occupation of Kashmir to carry out a deep conspiracy of turning Pakistan's agricultural lands into barren lands and economically annihilating her through building dams and water theft...If India continues with her water terrorism. Pakistan must keep open the option of using force."