Trans-boundary River Basins in South Asia: Options for Conflict Resolution
South Asian trans-boundary issues are inextricably linked to regional geopolitics since the main trans-national river systems are circum-Himalayan and involve countries that are unequal in size and power and have been involved in wars in the last six decades. The main river systems, the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra are all connected to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. The Indus basin connects China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, while the Brahmaputra and the Ganga connect China, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. India has been involved in military conflict with China and Pakistan and water-related tensions with Pakistan and Bangladesh. India regards Nepal as its special sphere of influence and has very strong interests in Nepal's rivers.
India and China are in a phase of rapid economic expansion, resulting in increased use of water and hydropower. Both India and China have plans to step up inter-basin water transfers to meet their water demands and have accelerated their hydropower dam construction programmes. Both countries also economically and politically overshadow their smaller neighbors and countries downstream of these long and large river systems.
In all, India's trans-boundary riparian policies affect four countries - Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh - on three river systems - the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra-Mehgna. China's riparian policies affect nine countries to the south - Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam - on five river systems - the Indus, the Ganga, the Brahmaputra, the Salween and the Mekong.