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Well This Is The Last Thing Kashmir Needs

Over at Foreign Policy, Stephen Faris explains how climate change could—let's put this diplomatically—further complicate the already tense relationship between India and Pakistan. The potential flashpoint here is that Pakistan may run out of water in the next two decades, as rising temperatures chew away at glaciers in the Himalayas:

Ninety percent of Pakistan's agricultural irrigation depends on rivers that originate in Kashmir.... Traditionally, Kashmir's waters have been naturally regulated by the glaciers in the Himalayas. Precipitation freezes during the coldest months and then melts during the agricultural season. But if global warming continues at its current rate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates, the glaciers could be mostly gone from the mountains by 2035. Water that once flowed for the planting will flush away in winter floods....

Normally, countries control such cyclical water flows with dams.... For Pakistan, however, that solution is not an option. The best damming sites are in Kashmir, where the Islamabad government has vigorously opposed Indian efforts to tinker with the rivers. The worry is that in times of conflict, India's leaders could cut back on water supplies or unleash a torrent into the country's fields....

Water is already undermining Pakistan's stability. In recent years, recurring shortages have led to grain shortfalls. In 2008, flour became so scarce it turned into an election issue; the government deployed thousands of troops to guard its wheat stores. As the glaciers melt and the rivers dry, this issue will only become more critical.

Pakistan—unstable, facing dramatic drops in water supplies, caged in by India's vastly superior conventional forces—will be forced to make one of three choices. It can let its people starve. It can cooperate with India in building dams and reservoirs, handing over control of its waters to the country it regards as the enemy. Or it can ramp up support for the insurgency, gambling that violence can bleed India's resolve without degenerating into full-fledged war. "The idea of ceding territory to India is anathema," says Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University. "Suffering, particularly for the elite, is unacceptable. So what's the other option? Escalate."

As if that's not ominous enough, a recent World Bank study estimates that one-third of Pakistan's economy is at risk from rising sea levels and stronger storm surges, too. But, hey, at least it's not an unstable nuclear-armed state we're talking about here... No, but really, situations like this explain why, late last year, the U.S. intelligence community listed climate change as one of the major security threats facing the world in the years ahead: "By 2025, droughts, food shortages, and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa."

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