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Politics

India-Pakistan tensions threaten the world's most successful water pact

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An Indian child stands near a hydroelectric project along the Chenab River about 155km northwest of Jammu, the winter capital of the troubled northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.   © Reuters

Just as the Philippines hauled China before an international arbitral tribunal in The Hague over Beijing's expansive claims in the South China Sea, Pakistan recently announced its intent to drag India before a similar, specially constituted tribunal in the Dutch city. Pakistan is citing a dispute over the sharing of the waters of the six-river Indus system. This is not the first time Pakistan is seeking to initiate such proceedings against its neighbor, nor is it likely to be the last. But it is among the more contentious moves in a long and fraught relationship over water resources. Indeed, seeking international intercession is part of Pakistan's "water war" strategy against India.

When Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947 as the first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era, the partition left the Indus headwaters on the Indian side of the border but the river basin's larger segment in the newly created country. This division armed India with formidable water leverage over Pakistan. Yet, after protracted negotiations, India agreed to what still ranks as the world's most generous water-sharing pact: The 1960 Indus Waters Treaty reserved for Pakistan the largest three rivers that make up more than four-fifths of the total Indus-system waters.

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