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.
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Furthermore, Kashmir state has tried taxing hydroelectric power in the past, which was struck down by the high court.Skip to next paragraph
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And finally, argues Ashok Jaitly, a water expert at The Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi, Kashmiris should not have a total right to the power and its proceeds when they are not financing the dams. If Kashmir financed the dams, he says, then 100 percent of the power would be theirs. But when the Indian government builds the dam, the 12 percent royalty is standard across India, Mr. Jaitly says.
Kashmiris are "too used to having it both ways financially. They don't want to pay for anything, whether it's water, or electricity, or roads, or anything," says Jaitly, who spent years working in Kashmir. "It may be a very crude way of putting it, [but they] have been using the political situation to extract monetary benefit out of the system, and then complain about it."
Mr. Qalander from the Chamber of Industries says the state has hydro potential of 20,000 megawatts (MW), which would give an annual revenue base of nearly $13 billion. But Jaitly puts the state's total hydroelectric potential at 18,000 MW, with at least 15,000 of that falling outside the Kashmir Valley in areas that are demographically less Muslim and less interested in independence.
Borders drawn by river flow
In that way, water could determine the borders of an independent state, with India and Pakistan fighting hard for control over the major rivers.
Much of Pakistan's irrigation flows from rivers coming out of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has maintained an uneasy truce with India over the rivers through the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. The Indus river system includes three western rivers – the Indus, the Jhelum, and the Chenab – and three eastern rivers – the Sutlej, the Beas, and the Ravi. For the most part, the treaty gives Pakistan control of the western waters, India the eastern.
New dam projects have put more strain on the treaty. India says they are all run-of-the-river, meaning no large volumes of water will be held back. But Pakistan worries about irrigating its farmlands.
The dispute is evident on a tributary of the Jhelum River, where India and Pakistan are racing to build competing dams less than 50 miles apart: India's is a 330 MW plant, while Pakistan's is 963 MW. Pakistan has hired Chinese crews in the hopes of finishing first.
Jaitly and Mohudin agree that the Indus Waters Treaty wouldn't apply to an independent Kashmir. That raises the prospect of Pakistan taking an aggressive stance on water rights.
"If there is an issue with Pakistan, it is only the waters, it is not with Kashmir. Pakistan has no other sympathy," says Mohudin.