The other Kashmir problem: India and Pakistan tussle over water
Water disputes have joined territorial disputes as a flashpoint between India and Pakistan, which both control parts of the Kashmir region. As both countries race to build a dam there, they could fight hard for control of the major rivers.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
India is building a series of hydroelectric dams in Jammu and Kashmir State, but much of the power they generate will be distributed to the wider Indian grid. For separatist-minded Kashmiris, this represents the theft of a birthright – and yet another reason to idealize independence.
"There will be a new project to create 4,000 megawatts to India, but still we don't have electricity," says Nadeem, a young independence activist who couldn't safely give his full name for fear of police reprisal. "Most journalists say, 'Oh, if you get independence, will you be able to survive?' We have the resources.... We have a lot of hydroelectricity."
As electricity becomes increasingly precious, water is also becoming a major impediment to resolving the Kashmir conflict, a dispute that hampers US efforts to coordinate regional cooperation in nearby Afghanistan.
More than 45 people have died in clashes between seperatist protesters and police since June. Even as New Delhi sends in more troops to impose a strict curfew, daily marches chant the slogan, "India, go back."
While a political solution looks far off, a near-term fix to the water dispute is being proposed by the state minister for irrigation, Taj Mohudin. He will put forward a new law this September that would charge water usage fees on the Indian hydroelectricity generators.
At present, India gives 12 percent of the power generated from dams in the state to residents free of charge, as a form of "royalty." Any extra power must be bought off the grid.
Water and Kashmir's independence
Mr. Mohudin's water usage fee would keep the free water coming, plus it would bring in about $215 million a year in revenue, he says. That makes independence – something he doesn't favor at the moment – more realistic in the future, he says.
"I feel that first we should be an economically viable state. And we have to find the ways and means to become economically viable," says Mohudin. Pointing to a binder with the proposed water usage fee legislation, he adds: "This will be my humble way of contributing."
Except, there's a number of problems. First, this wouldn't bring about economic independence since the state already pays far more for power off the grid: $537 million a year, according to Shakeel Qalander, president of the Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir.