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Keywords:

  • conflict;
  • hydropolitics;
  • Indus Basin;
  • subnational scale;
  • water.

ABSTRACT. The article identifies important themes and future research directions for analyzing water and conflict dynamics at the subnational scale in the Indus Basin. A historical overview of water development in the Indus Basin suggests that the water-security nexus was always a salient theme in the minds of water developers, even in the nineteenth century. Conflicts over contemporary large-scale water-development projects in the Indian and Pakistani parts of the Indus Basin are reviewed. Engineers' single-minded focus on megaprojects, to the neglect of the wider set of values that societies attach to water resources in the eastern and western Indus Basin are largely to blame for continuing low-grade conflict in the basin. A review of local-level conflicts over water supply and sanitation in Karachi and the distribution of irrigation water in Pakistani Punjab illustrates the critical role of governance and differential social power relations in accentuating conflict. The article argues against neo-Malthusian assumptions about the inevitability of conflict over water because of its future absolute scarcity. Instead, the article seeks to demonstrate that, despite evidence suggesting that international armed conflict over water does not exist, the potential for political instability over domestic water distribution and development issues is real. The question of whether conflict at the subnational scale will culminate in violence will depend on how water-resources institutions in the basin behave.