Water Wars: Pakistan’s Dam Diplomacy with Afghanistan

Muqtasid Starai

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In the geopolitics of water, every drop matters, especially when it flows across international borders. The case of Pakistan’s Daso Power Dam, nestled at the confluence of the Kabul and Indus rivers, exemplifies the complex interplay of national interests, resource management, and diplomatic negotiations.
Scheduled for completion in 2026, the Daso Power Dam holds the promise of alleviating Pakistan’s pressing energy needs, boasting a capacity to generate 4,320 megawatts of electricity. However, its construction has not been without controversy, particularly concerning its potential impact on neighboring Afghanistan.
International law stipulates that transboundary water resources necessitate bilateral or multilateral agreements, with detailed technical research preceding any development projects. Despite this, Pakistan embarked on the construction of the Daso Power Dam without formal consent from Afghanistan, sparking tensions between the two nations.
Afghanistan’s concerns are well-founded. The Kabul and Kunar rivers, upon which Pakistan’s dam relies, originate within Afghan territory. Consequently, the construction of dams such as Shali and Saga on these rivers directly affects Afghanistan’s water resources, posing challenges for agriculture, drinking water supplies, and energy production within the country.
Afghanistan’s objections to the Daso Power Dam date back to 2014 when the National Security Council deliberated on the matter. Despite calls for the suspension of construction until formal approval was secured from Afghanistan, Pakistan proceeded with the project, exacerbating bilateral tensions.
Crucially, the involvement of the World Bank, as a financier of the dam, adds another layer of complexity. Afghanistan has urged the World Bank to refrain from financing the project until official approval is granted, underscoring the importance of international institutions in mediating such disputes.
The dispute over the Daso Power Dam underscores broader issues of water scarcity and resource management in the region. Pakistan, grappling with a burgeoning population, faces increasing pressure on its water resources, exacerbating its reliance on projects like the Daso dam for energy production, agriculture, and drinking water supplies.
In navigating this complex terrain, diplomatic channels remain essential. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan must engage in constructive dialogue, guided by principles of mutual respect and cooperation. Transparent communication, supported by rigorous technical assessments, is crucial in addressing the concerns of all stakeholders and fostering sustainable solutions.
Ultimately, the Daso Power Dam represents more than a mere infrastructure project—it embodies the intricate web of interests, rights, and responsibilities inherent in the management of transboundary water resources. Only through genuine collaboration and adherence to international norms can nations effectively navigate the challenges posed by water scarcity and ensure a secure and prosperous future for all.

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