CLIMATE CHANGE AND THREAT-MULTIPLIER-EFFECT (TME) IN PAKISTAN AND INDIA by Meghna Das

September 7, 2021

By Meghna Das


Abstract. Climate Change, natural resource management, and in particular natural water source cooperative management are critical emerging concerns in the arena of global security and terrorism.  In this regard, South Asian countries are more exposed to the adversary impact of the climate change than are some other regions. The consequences of Climate Change have installed a new dimension to Terrorism and non-state militant actors in the 21st century.  Addressing global security, in particular cross-border conflicts, the relationship between India and Pakistan is one of the most strained relations in the world. Hence the essay argues that terrorism has gradually become a critical by-product of Climate Change, and/or that Climate Change is a critical causal variable in motivating cross-border terrorism and disputes, with special attention to the case study of. India and Pakistan relations. This essay first examines the correlation between Climate Change and terrorism with regard to the question of how (e.g., in the sense of operationalizing) climate change is fuelling the rise of terrorism in cross-border conflict between Pakistan and India.  It argues that Climate Change is producing a threat-multiplier-effect (TME) on the same. Secondly, the essay addresses some of the consequences of terror incidents on the already strained relationship of India and Pakistan.  Finally, the essay discusses existing issues and further explores courses of action that might promote peace, security, and stability in this jeopardized region of South Asia.


The changing dynamics of Global security no longer involves only diplomatic failure or traditional military conflict between states.  One new phenomenon that is bringing some serious tensions in International Security is climate change. Climate change has been emerging as one of the key security challenges of the 21st century. This challenge will have catastrophic effects upon the human race in many ways. One crucial concerning effect of Climate Change is its impact upon the rise of terrorism.  Terrorism is a multidimensional reality.  The current essay contends that terrorism may often find its source from various effects of Climate Change, and the impact of Climate Change upon natural resources. According to the United Nations Environment Programme Report, the world has witnessed more than 2500 disasters and 40 major conflicts.[1]  Non-renewable resources have traditionally been more associated with conflict than renewable resources.

Climate change is a pressing issue for South Asia, and it is further recognized as being highly vulnerable to climate variability.  Climate Change could affect security generally in three processes: 1) intensifying existing critical areas of conflict that are dependent upon the environment; 2) moulding new channels of conflict that emerge from adverse effects of climate change; and 3) climate change elevating cross-border conflicts due to inadequacy of nations to mitigate natural resources management.[2]  Parallel to security challenges, the complicated cross border relationship of India and Pakistan has become a major concern and issue of dispute for some actors. To understand the nature of the conflict between India and Pakistan, it is important to consider that there has been a problematic history of “neighbourhood” between the two.  Since their existence as independent nations from 1947, India and Pakistan have fought six wars primarily in the light of territorial and water disputes.  Indeed, the major underlying source of the problem can be traced to inadequate natural resource management. This tension has become increasingly a political issue. Inadequate river water supplies, increasing weather events such as drought, floods, and extreme weather temperatures, are a result of inadequate vision, which further stems economic weakness and political divisions.

Water agreements between India and Pakistan have been a source of both cooperation and conflict.  In regard to exposure to climate change, Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable regions within South Asia. Pakistan’s primary natural resource water and arable land, once an arena of security, has now become an arena of conflict. Concerning water-related problems, Pakistan is confronting damaging water shortages primarily due to inadequate water management and distribution.  A whopping 97% of water is used for agricultural purposes. Declining water availability signals worrying signs of food security and the livelihood of people who depend upon agriculture.  This weak insight in regard to governments is creating discontent among the population.  Deforestation and melting of Himalayan glaciers have also resulted in major floods and dwindling of water to rivers, such as Jhelum and Indus, which are the defining issues of tension between India and Pakistan, particularly in relation to Kashmir but other border areas as well. The natural resource issues involved in these major water resources are problematic in relation to tensions and peace between the two nations.

In 2010 Pakistan Government reported upon its progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and stated that 2010 floods would have detrimental effect upon Pakistan’s economy and its realization of MDG goals and targets.[3]  The 2010 floods in Pakistan were identified by United Nations as the largest humanitarian crisis in recent history with an estimated 20 million people being affected;1,700 lives lost 2.7 million displaced; and 5.3 million jobs lost and affected.[4]  The floods have resulted in terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed, as proxies (or independent actors?)  in its conflict with India, acting to capitalise upon Pakistan’s weak control and to increase their own legitimacy. They have garnered support by providing aid in the aftermath of natural disaster-induced by Climate Change with their charity wing. Their charity apparatus has sought to provide aid to farmers and villages affected by water shortages and natural calamities. The terrorist groups have also demanded that the government reject western assistance and threatened foreign aid workers. Ultimately some of the terrorists actualized their threats, which have resulted in deaths of foreign aid workers.

Given these issues between the two nations and the uprising of extremist and terrorist groups, the significance of the Indus Water Treaty cannot be overstated.  A primary water source for millions in India and Pakistan, the Indus River Basin has been a source of cooperation and conflict as well.  Established in 1960, the treaty gave the western rivers – the Indus, the Jhelum, and the Chenab – to Pakistan and the eastern rivers – the Ravi, the Beas, and the Sutlej – to India.  Brokered by World Bank since its inception, it provided funding for the building of a dam, canals, barrages, etc.  The rivers, before Treaty’s ratification, were a source of dispute between the two countries, and after the ratification the Treaty became a symbol of a new era of cooperation.  However, that cooperation did not remain unchallenged or without underlying tensions. The treat of conflict has, at times, continued to mitigate prejudiciously upon the security situations of Pakistan and India, as floods and drought, in particular, could harm the region, especially in relation to times of war.

The Indus Water Treaty has seen many types of conflicts, including minor conflicts, which were disregarded and passed over with time. Violent armed conflicts have generally received higher priority attention of governments than have low intensity conflicts, as observable in policy focus and implementation. However, low intensity conflict encloses underlying problems that could escalate in the face of terrorism.  In this case, notably in 2016 when India and Pakistan had a tussle over shared water, the former threatened the later to end peace Treaty, which would have triggered an immediate war, as warned by Pakistan Officials. Since that time, water resources continue to dwindle further.  Moreover, it is increasingly likely that climate change will result in resource-based conflict between the two nuclear powers, impacting global security more broadly. Consequently, a Pakistan-based terrorist group and leading organization within LeT threatened to engage with India while countering any water-related aggression.  Ally organization to LeT, Jamaat-e-Da’waila al-Quran w-al-Sunna (JDQS), which held themselves responsible for the devastating 2008 Mumbai attacks, claiming 163 lives, refer to water resources as a source of tension.[5]  An article published in Washington Post in January 2009 stated that: “The water crisis in Pakistan is directly linked to relations with India.  Resolution could prevent an environmental catastrophe in South Asia, but failure to do so could fuel the fires of discontent that lead to extremism and terrorism”[6]  Indeed, the 2010 floods the following year included, as a response, the direct involvement of militant groups.

It is the contention of this essay that the ever-changing and dynamic relationship between India and Pakistan has been primarily marked by Climate Change-induced conflict scenarios.  That is, climate change and related natural resource crises, including natural water sources such as major rivers, provide the main causal force behind rising tensions, where they exist, between the two countries.  It is a topic in need of concerted scholarly attention. 

In this concern, both nations should view Climate Change as an urgent and severe threat to security and stability rather than simply a non-traditional threat. It is essential that both countries introduce effective foreign and national security policies incorporating Climate Change scenarios and responses, particularly as regards the potential and foreseeable effects of Climate Change upon border areas between Pakistan and India.  Further revision of conditions can help to mitigate and to obviate any future potential conflict, and/or threat-multiplying effect (TME) of Climate Change.  As a theoretical note, it is important that each state assert control over its own territories vis à vis internal militant non-state forces.  To address discontent among citizens on either side of the border, or within border areas, the Governments should explore possible sources of livelihood, professional development, education, agricultural employment, cultural development, and infrastructural expansion and cooperation for the most likely vulnerable populations (e.g., with regard to natural disasters, changes in natural water resources, etc.); and above all, should work for the most achievable equitable natural resource management and distribution so that terrorism cannot draw upon or have natural resource-based reasons to further cross-border conflicts.  Moving forward to Heightened regional cooperation and participatory natural resource-based conflict prevention, as well as the harnessing of information on resource-based conflicts, is critical in order to build and maintain the peace. Further continued absence of focus upon the environment and natural resources in the peace building process are likely to result in an escalation of inter-state conflicts. Hence, future security projections overtime will be best served by concerted attention to Climate Change, cooperative natural resource management, and cooperative natural disaster protocols and agreements. These stand, as this essay has argued, as the ultimate need of the hour for Pakistan and India.


Miss Meghna Das is a student of Political Science studying for her Master’s Degree at the University of Calcutta, India.  Her major field of interest is situated in relations of states with conflict and peace studies in South and Southeast Asia.  Her interests are also in the field of accounts of women and marginalization.


[1] UN Environment Programme (UNEP), 2009, accessed  July 19,2021, Why do disasters and conflicts matter? | UNEP – UN Environment Programme.

[2] German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), 2008, s. (p.1).

[3] PlanIPolis Pakistan Millenium Development,Pakistan Planning Commission, Centre for Poverty Reduction and Social Policy Development (Pakistan) United Nations,2010 , https://planipolis.iiep.unesco.org/en/2010/pakistan-millennium-development-goals-report-2010-5827 , accessed  August 25, 2021. https://planipolis.iiep.unesco.org/sites/default/files/ressources/pakistan_mdg_2010.pdf

[4] Blondel Alice, “Climate Change Fuelling Resource-Based Conflicts in the Asia Pacific,” Asia Pacific Human Development Report Background Paper Series 2012/12, UNDP,2012.

[5]Lydia Polgreen and SabrinaTravernise, ”Water Dispute Increases India Pakistan Tension” In The New York Times,July 20,2010.  https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/21/world/asia/21kashmir.html

[6]Asif Ali Zardari, ”Partnership with Pakistan” In The Washington Post, January 28,2009. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/27/AR2009012702675.html


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