Transboundary Waters in South Asia: Conflict or Cooperation?

On May 11, the Atlantic Council launched its new project exploring water cooperation and conflict in South Asia with a presentation by Dr. John Briscoe. Dr. Briscoe directs the Harvard Water Security Initiative and currently serves on the Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum.

Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center director Shuja Nawaz  moderated the discussion.

The control of significant waterways has always been a source of tension in many parts of the world. In South Asia, disputes over water have embittered the relationships of nuclear India and Pakistan, global competitors India and China, as well as those between India and Bangladesh, Kashmir and India, and amongst communities within these countries. Today with increasing demand for water caused by population surges, industrialization, and the impact of climate change, this tension is leading to more social and regional unrest. This is particularly true in India and Pakistan.

Since 1960 the utilization of these countries’ joint waterways have been regulated by the Indus Water Treaty. Many in Pakistan believe the agreement gave the advantage to India and fear that it will manipulate the rivers to feed its own agricultural industry. This is countered by India’s belief that its resource hungry economy requires new sources of energy such as the controversial hydroelectric power stations it is building on rivers that then flow into Pakistan. To both countries, access to water portends economic, political, and human survival. Consequently, many analysts predict the next war between India and Pakistan will be fought over this issue. The South Asia Center will explore the background to these issues with a view to identifying practicable solutions.


John Briscoe
Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Environmental Engineering and Environmental Health at Harvard University

Moderated by

Shuja Nawaz
Director, Atlantic Council South Asia Center