This was the topic of discussion at a recent workshop entitled “The U.S.-South Asia Leader Engagement Program: Charting the Water Future of South Asia.” Held April 28 to May 3 at Harvard University, the workshop was co-hosted by the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, the Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Participating in the workshop were 37 subject matter experts from 11 nations including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the United States. Workshop participants included eight women and 29 men from the senior executive level (two-star and higher and civilian equivalents) to director level (O-6 and higher and civilian equivalents) representing different backgrounds including senior politicians, military/defense, foreign affairs/diplomacy, policy-makers, academics, non-governmental institutions, think tanks and water SMEs, strategic decision-makers, security practitioners and policy planners (civilian and defense officials).
According to APCSS academic lead, Dr. Virginia Bacay Watson, the workshop focused on understanding the different dimensions and complexities that inform water security in a volatile and complex South Asian security environment. It also explored new ways of collectively thinking about the ‘water issue’ in the region and participants identified ways and means for collective and collaborative engagement to pre-empt and address water security concerns in the region.
Workshop presentations covered topics such as Water Security as a Global Issue, the Politics and Diplomacy of Water, Water Security in the Himalayan Watershed, Transforming Water Conflicts, and Groundwater Management in South Asia.
Developing a more comprehensive, common and deeper understanding of regional and sub-regional perspectives on water security issues was an important outcome of the workshop. One participant stated, “After four decades of cynicism, this workshop revived my faith that progress in South Asia is possible.”
As part of the workshop, the participants also developed action items for mitigating strategies and recommendations related to improving regional and sub-regional water security.
APCSS and NESA are two of five Department of Defense Regional Centers focused on building security cooperation. This is the third time that APCSS, NESA and the Kennedy School have worked together on South Asia security issues.