Daniel Haines, Rivers Divided: Indus Basin Waters in the Making of India and Pakistan (Oxford: OUP, 2016)

by howkins


  1. The Problem of Territory
  2. Territorial Hyrdo-Logics
  3. Sovereignty Entabglements in Kashmir
  4. Punjab’s Riverine Borderlands
  5. Spaces of Cooperation
  6. Negotiating International Politics
  7. The Phantom of Cooperation



This book examines the history of the Indus River basin during the period of independence and partition up to and beyond the 1960 treaty that brought a partial closure to the conflict between India and Pakistan.  It argues that territoriality and sovereignty were central to the water politics of the basin and that broader historical circumstances of decolonization and the Cold War, shaped the history of the river basin.  The introduction suggests that environmental history is often excluded from histories of decolonization, and this book goes a long way to suggesting how productive environmental histories of decolonization might be.  The first two chapters set out the essential problem: the territories assigned to India and Pakistan after independence did not align neatly with the geography of the Indus basin, meaning that many of the rivers that constitute this watershed originate in India, but then flow through Pakistan.  There are different ways of dealing with water at an international boundary, but the disputed nature of the formation of this two states meant that they were essentially making up the rules as they were going along.  This was complicated even further by disputes over Kashmir, which occupies an important location within the Indus River watershed.   There was a tremendous emphasis on developmentalism in both countries (especially after Gandhi’s death), meaning that irrigation and water took on an even more important political component.  Even though the two countries were able to agree on the 1960 Treaty, the conflict hasn’t entirely gone away as new factors such as increasing population and climate change are altering some of the basic assumptions of the agreement.  Perhaps the book could say a little more about the physical realities of water and irrigation, and perhaps add more detail about how the river basin was understood by scientists and engineers on both sides of the conflict.  But it is a very nicely written discussion of the importance of the environment in the political history of decolonization.