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Freshwater has been studied at the inter-state level to analyze how states conflict, cooperate, and negotiate over this strategic and often shared natural resource. Yet freshwater has also been used by terrorist groups, separatist groups, and other non-state actors as a weapon, tool, target, and a means for control. Using the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), this paper analyzes this latter and less studied dimension of hydro-politics and begins with a global analysis of water related events to identify trends and patterns across the globe from 1970 to 2016. Since the South Asia region features the largest number of events compared to other geographical regions for this time period, the paper then turns to South Asia for more specific analysis. Focusing on large infrastructural projects (mostly dams) in South Asia, the paper is guided theoretically by the notion that while dam projects are aimed to ameliorate domestic water scarcity they also simultaneously project state power. Constructed for flood control, water supply, and development, dams become symbols of state power, state construction, and international investment as a product of globalization. Dams also become sites of contesting state power and asserting indigenous self-determination. Furthermore, dam projects become entangled in regional political disputes, creating opportunities for state and non-state actors to assert their own - often conflicting - agendas. The analysis of the various dam projects and water-related incidents in South Asia focus on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India after 2001 and until 2019. In all, the South Asia case study elaborates on the role of non-state actors and terrorist organizations and how they are subverting water security, state power and international investment by targeting dams. It explores how state actors in the region capitalize on the dam projects to consolidate power, garner local loyalty, and create a counter-narrative to that of the non-state actors.
Tamanna Ashraf is an adjunct instructor at Florida International University in the Department of Politics and International Relations. Her dissertation focused on water security and hydro-politics between India and Bangladesh over their shared rivers. Her research interests include South Asian politics, water security, hydro-politics, international relations, and environmental studies. Her current research project scrutinizes terrorist attacks on dams in South Asia after 9/11 until 2019 to glean patterns of water nationalism and explore the inextricable links between development and security.
Shlomi Dinar is Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Innovation in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs and Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations. His research interests lie at the intersection of international environmental politics, security, and negotiation. In particular, he has published in the areas of conflict and cooperation over transboundary rivers. In addition, he works on the linkages between climate change and international water issues, particularly as such a relationship pertains to the resilience and effectiveness of international river basins and institutions, respectively. His more recent research focuses on the linkages between terrorism (to include other non-state actors) and freshwater.
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