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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.

A woman holds food for her cattle aloft as she passes through the bed of the Chanab River in Sialkot, Pakistan. India's Baglihar Dam is affecting Pakistan's water flow.

Abid Mehdi/Newscom/File

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Amid a summer of heat, regional flooding, and separatist protests across Indian-controlled Kashmir, one of the unlikely grievances mentioned by rock-throwing youth is water.

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.


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