Bridging The Divide: Transboundary Science & Policy Interaction In The Indus Basin

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The Stimson Center’s Bridging the Divide: Transboundary Science & Policy Interaction in the Indus Basin is the ambitious outcome of Stimson’s Indus Basin Science Policy Visiting Fellows project and the collaborative work of two exceptional researchers, Dr. Muhammad Jehanzeb Masud Cheema from the University of Faisalabad in Pakistan and Dr. Prakashkiran Pawar of The Energy and Resources Institute in India. Both India and Pakistan face common challenges managing their shared natural resources. With rapidly depleting groundwater, burgeoning population growth, and diminishing surface water flows, the Indus is swiftly becoming a “closed” basin—one where nearly all available water is allocated for existing use, with almost no capacity for future development. Left unaddressed, these issues could jeopardize water supplies, development objectives, and social welfare on both sides of the border, potentially fuelling tensions within and between countries. As both nations continue to grow in economic and political importance, stained resources at home remain one of their largest international obstacles.

With this problem in mind, the Stimson Center Environmental Security Program, with the support of the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, created the Indus Basin Science Policy Visiting Fellowship program for early-career Pakistani and Indian scientists to articulate specific strategies for joint research and knowledge building in the region. Dr. Cheema and Dr. Pawar were accordingly selected from among a competitive pool of researchers and promising young professionals from both countries, representing the next generation of water experts in the region. Hosted at the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., the fellowship offered the two scientists opportunities to meet with analysts, managers, and policy experts from international research institutions, academia, NGOs, and the U.S. government; to conduct site visits to institutions and facilities both in the Washington area and in the Pacific Northwest; and also to work together to explore ideas for mutual cooperation and investigation to meet the emerging challenges facing the Indus.

The report that follows is a jointly-authored result of that collaborative experience. As one element of the project, the fellows also took it upon themselves to conduct a comprehensive literature review to analyze the existing state of both science and policy research in the region. This initial study was not a requirement of the fellowship, but rather a reflection of the fellows’ initiative and their drive to make their collaboration as fruitful and relevant as possible. This phase of the project is documented in Part I of the Bridging the Divide publication.

As their final product, the researchers were tasked to formulate a proposal for a practical, cooperative research project that could be implemented by Indian and Pakistani scientists towards building a shared knowledge base for water resources management in the Indus Basin. During their time in-residence, Stimson facilitated meetings for the fellows to consult with hydrogeologists from NASA, discuss water treaty negotiation with the U.S. Geological Survey and Army Corps of Engineers, and to consider basin modelling approaches with those from top U.S. universities. Utilizing this expertise and with Stimson’s guidance, the fellows developed a comprehensive project plan that designates specific research needs and data gaps to be addressed in the Indus. It identifies potential Indian and Pakistani scientists or institutions to participate in the project team and defines their contributions; sets down the research activities, methodology, and project timeline; and indicates the project’s intended objectives and expected contributions to cooperative knowledge-building. Together, Part I and II of this publication look to guide and inform future international research efforts and serve as a framework towards a more responsive policy agenda.

The full value of the Indus Basin Science Policy Visiting Fellowship is not and could not be captured in a single report. Much of its success was defined by the professional development, friendship, and lessons learned of the fellows themselves, a success we hope will grow with their continuing collaborations. Likewise, Stimson hopes that the influence of the researchers’ fellowship will expand as the fellows reach out to and engage with decision-makers and the larger publics in India and Pakistan. The Stimson Center Environmental Security Program thanks the Lounsbery Foundation for the support which made this initiative possible. We tremendously valued the opportunity to work with Drs. Cheema and Pawar, and appreciate their dedication to collaboratively seek a more sustainable future for their region. Their findings and proposal presented here have the potential not only to improve science and policy frameworks within the Indus Basin, but to spark a greater conversation within research communities and between countries over the possibilities of peaceful, cooperative water policy solutions.

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