Inclusion of China within BBIN

While China accounts for 18 per cent of the GBM basin (FAO 2012) there is no formal institutional collaboration on water between BBIN and Beijing. Although the smaller countries of the GBM basin perceive India-China cooperation as the fulcrum of economic development in the Global South (Sobhan 2013), the inclusion of China as a partner in the proposed hy'dro- electric projects is greatly inhibited by India’s fear of Chinese encirclement (S. Singh 2012). While it has been argued that fears regarding China are exaggerated by New Delhi’s defence and security establishment (Z. D. Singh 2017), the recent conflict between the two countries in Doklam has sensitised a wide spectrum of India’s policymakers to China’s foreign policy overtures in the subcontinent. In addition, in recent times China has exclusively linked water issues to defence and security interests, further inhibiting cooperation in the GBM (Xie et al. 2018).

Chinese control of Tibet, which is the source of the rivers that sustain the GBM basin, and its plans to divert the waters of the Brahmaputra and build numerous dams in the upstream (Akter 2016) may significantly impact and even undermine hydroelectric projects by BBIN. Chinese scholars have argued that due to the variance in precipitation between the northern and southern parts of the Himalayas, dams in Tibet are unlikely to impact downstream countries (Wang et at. 2016). However, Beijing’s territorial claim to the Arunachal Pradesh region where the Brahmaputra River enters India, as well as its growing geopolitical influence in the subcontinent, necessitates the inclusion of China within the BBIN framework. To overcome resistance by Indian policymakers, this can be undertaken through an incremental process. At the initial stages, the framework for cooperation should facilitate the participation of a Chinese delegate in technical meetings, which can pave the way for political representation in the future.

Observers from Pakistan and Afghanistan

India’s relationship with Pakistan has greatly undermined the efficacy of SAARC, and divergent policies by Islamabad and New Delhi towards the postconflict rebuilding of Afghanistan has been a key issue of contention. However, two current hydroelectric projects being undertaken by Afghanistan and Pakistan provide much ground for technical cooperation between BBIN and these two countries. The under-construction Central Asia and South Asia project (CASA-1000) and the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan—Tajikistan—Afghanistan— Pakistan project (TUTAP) aim to utilise the abundant hydroelectric resources of Central Asian countries to provide electricity to urban centres in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Zahid Anwar 2015). Technical exchanges between these projects and those being planned in the GBM basin can therefore be useful. In the long term, the interconnection of grids facilitated by these subregional hydroelectric projects is expected to culminate in a South Asian electricity grid which will greatly enhance the prospects of regional integration (McDonough 2016; Ubaidulloev 2014). In this context, the Energy Community’s Western Balkan 6 Initiative, which aims to facilitate regional integration between the former Yugoslav republics, has particular relevance (Bruch et at. 2012). Therefore, the participation of observers from Pakistan and Afghanistan in BBIN forums can enhance the knowledge base of the proposed hydroelectric projects and also contribute towards the wider goal of regional peacebuilding.

Engaging the opposition

The extreme level of polarisation in the domestic politics of South Asian countries has created significant impediments to cooperation on transnational rivers (Pandey 2016). Although in some cases the opposition raises important concerns regarding energy and water cooperation, politicians often cater to resource nationalism and xenophobia for electoral gains (Huda and McDonald 2016). An innovative way of addressing this issue would be to invite the members of the opposition parties of BBIN to address their concerns in dialogues and open forums.

Including members of the opposition within the framework for hydroelectric cooperation may seem problematic, but it is a pragmatic step towards diffusing domestic political deadlocks, by considering some views of the opposition parties or dismissing them via scientific proof. This strategy would not only reduce the impact of political propaganda regarding hydroelectric projects but may also strengthen democratic processes in South Asian countries. This is particularly important in the case of Bangladesh and Nepal, where democratic institutions have been severely undermined by the boycotting of elections by the main opposition in 2014 and political deadlocks in the drafting of the constitution, respectively. A more democratic South Asia on the other hand may facilitate consensus on the need to collectively address water, energy and environmental issues across political divides.


One of the more obvious requirements for the success of environmental peacebuilding is the availability of financial resources (Carius 2011). While the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) may be a viable source of funds for South Asian hydroelectric projects, some commentators have expressed concerns over the bank’s transparency and social and environmental safeguards (Geary 2018). Other analysts have dismissed such concerns as knee-jerk reactions by the West to Chinese investment (Chow and Short 2015). While the AllB’s Environmental and Social Framework of 2016 highlights the bank’s commitment to addressing the social and environmental impacts of projects (AIIB 2016), academics have pointed towards the various shortcomings of this policy (Radavoi and Bian 2018). However, as stated by Hameiri and Jones (2018) a great majority' of the AIIB’s active projects are со-funded with other multilateral development banks (MDBs), and are accordingly' governed by their rules.

If South Asia’s hydroelectric projects are co-financed by the AIIB and more established MDBs such as the ADB, it would provide greater assurance towards social and environmental safeguards. This approach is not novel, as the ADB and the AIIB have co-financed three projects in South Asia since 2016, including the Green Energy Corridor and Grid Strengthening Project in India (ADB 2017). Collective South Asian efforts to obtain funding through such cooperation between MDBs can facilitate investment towards the development of energy infrastructure while reducing the potential risks to the environment and society.

Implementing best practices

The BBIN consortium can refer to best practices of other basin management organisations that have exclusively linked environmental cooperation to peacebuilding and regional integration. In this context, EcoPeace Middle East’s project on restoring the Lower Jordanian River by engaging top-down and bottom-up approaches have particular relevance (Mehyar et al. 2014). An important initiative in the environmental peace-building arena, EcoPeace has exclusively linked river basin management with wider objectives of regional peace and integration. The project’s keystone policy document the ‘Regional

NGO Master Plan for Sustainable Development in the Jordan Valley’, laid out a multi-sectoral strategic framework towards achieving diverse yet interconnected ecological and peace goals that includes desalination, women and Bedouin rights, irrigation and mine fields removal, among others (Kool 2015). The Jordan River project has also facilitated valuable research into appropriate governance structures for river basin management within diverse political and ecological contexts, which can inform the institutional development of the BBIN process (Yaari et al. 2015).

On an operational level, the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) provides an interesting example of the allocation of costs and benefits related to hydroelectric projects (USACE and BPA 2009). The CRT is an international water agreement on the transnational Columbia River between the United States and Canada that was signed in 1940. The treaty' is implemented by the International Joint Commission (IJC), an organisation created by Canada and the United States in 1909 (USACE and BPA 2009). The significance of the CRT is that it successfully integrated bilateral cooperation on hydroelectric dams, flood control and river basin management. In addition, the CRT recognises downstream benefits in the form of flood control and power generation. Similar initiatives that recognise the costs and benefits of regulated water would greatly enhance the acceptability of multilateral hydroelectric dams in Nepal (Gyawali 2011). Applying more than 75 years of best practices of the CRT in integrating the management of natural hazards with hydroelectric generation within a development plan can also address the crucial issue of flood control in the GBM basin with substantial benefits to humanity, integration and the environment.

In terms of international guidelines, of contemporary importance is the ‘Policy Guidance Note on the Benefits of Transboundary Water Cooperation’ by the United Nations, which conceptualises the benefits of ecological cooperation in terms of social, economic, environmental and peace dividends (UNECE 2015). Such an expanded appreciation of the goals of water agreements can assist in overcoming the region’s historical practice of prioritising the division of water resources over collective environmental cooperation.

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