Collaboration on climate change science in the glaciated headwaters of the Indus basin river system, especially following the devastating floods of 2010, makes practical and political sense. It is understandable that India will once again be reluctant to accept any "outside interference" on this but the threat of climate change is a global concern and the Karakoram glaciers are a pivotal natural laboratory for understanding these dynamics. Scientists from Pakistan and India have a clear and present interest in collaborating on this matter as part of their obligations to international environmental agreements.
As delegates assemble for climate change negotiations this coming week in Cancun, Mexico, the instrumental use of science for diplomacy presents an opportunity for unexpected gain amid otherwise sluggish talks. Such deliberations could also encompass a dialogue between scientists on how Earth observation and remote sensing can be effectively used to address environmental security challenges in the future. Currently, there are around ten Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites, which are some of the best in the world for generating information on natural resources. Data from the IRS satellites are used for a variety of applications such as drought monitoring, flood risk zone mapping, urban planning, forestry surveys, environmental impact analysis, and coastal studies.
Of course, security concerns accompany any data-sharing agreement. A working group on sharing these resources could very well serve as a starting point for engagement. However, in order to address shared concerns and future challenges in South Asia, meaningful facilitation from a major interlocutor such as the United States would be essential. Sixty years of bilateral conversations between India and Pakistan have shown the utter failure of leaving such matters to the adversaries themselves.
All major territorial dispute settlements in the twentieth century such as the East Timor conflict or the Northern Ireland conflict have involved some external facilitation. Science diplomacy offers the gentlest form of such facilitation. Political capital, beyond state dinners and economic delegations, needs to be expended to move India and Pakistan to accept such assistance.
It is high time that the United States and all interested international players consider novel strategies for securing peace in South Asia. Science and ecology hold great promise as a tool of diplomacy in this region and should be given priority in sustainable conflict resolution.
Hey - after over six decades of deadlock, why not try science diplomacy a chance as well. Read the full article here.