ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Scarcity Dilemma as Security Dilemma: Geopolitics of Water Governance in South Asia

The postcolonial character of south Asia imparts a Janus-faced perspective to our outlook. Many issues are much more than what they seem because they symbolise many other viewpoints. Water disputes in the region are a typical example of the scarcity dilemma acquiring the overtones of a security dilemma. However dire the mutual needs of nations that face a water crisis, they are also caught in a vortex of geopolitical forces. The only way out of this "us" versus "them" circle is evolving a knowledge system on water resources that is interdisciplinary and one that dispenses with the colonial engineering models of development.

S outh Asia suffers from many intractable disputes, which have been made worse by the postcolonial character of the region. The colonial transmission of the concept of identity in binary terms, with mutually exclusive overarching identities interacting on a plane of mutual competition to mutual antagonism, has become a dening feature of south Asian society and politics. The coalescing of singular hard identities, nations and states has generated much of the impasse in the region. The belief that the different identities have not only different epistemologies but also mutually exclusive ontologies led to the partition of the subcontinent. The geography of the region was not in consonance with the reigning belief; hence the imperative was to alter not the belief but the geography itself.

To give practical shape to the mutual antagonistic conceptions of state and society, hard boundaries had to be erected, delineating respective territories. The objective of arriving at neat classications focused on both territorial divisions and bifurcating thousands of years of cultural coexistence. However, one geographical feature that was impervious to this bifurcation or to the “ideas” of the states was transboundary rivers. Transboundary rivers not only deed the existing boundaries but also posed a challenge to neatly conceptualising interstate relations in general and water-sharing issues in particular. To obviate this hydrologic dilemma, the partition of India was supposed to follow the basin wide approach. A proposal was forwarded that partition should take the river basins into account and Pakistan was to include the whole Indus basin. In a way, it was recognition of the centrality of water to south Asian societies. The water issues in south Asia are characterised by a postcolonial “ambivalence”, which not only complicates the issues but also adds to the virulence of the politics practised in the region. The international river courses in south Asia are ostensibly to be “shared”, but in reality are to be neatly “divided” among the competing actors.

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