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From Building Dams to Fetching Water: Scales of Politicization in the Indus Basin

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Abdul Aijaz, Majed Akhter

Original languageEnglish
Article number1351
Issue number5
Published1 May 2020


King's Authors


Water flows through and informs the socio-spatial geography of the Indus waterscape in Pakistan in myriad ways. This paper argues that state-led water development has historically attempted to bypass political conflict by invoking techno-scientific authority to render water development as a purely techno-managerial pursuit. By invoking the scientifically objective, depoliticized knowledge of water resources, the state shifts the politics of water to the domain of politics of knowledge to disarm communities with cultural and political claims to water. These attempts to "depoliticize" are always accompanied by attempts to repoliticize water-both from within the state apparatus and from society more generally. The paper stages an engagement between the historical geography of the Indus and the field of critical water geography to develop an understanding of politicization as inter-scalar and relatively insensitive to changes in the ruling political regime. We present a novel periodization of the hydrosocial relations in the Indus Basin that highlight periods of relative continuity and coherence in terms of the political regime in the water sector. Despite the significance of these shifts for political history, we argue that the historical geography of water reveals a techno-managerial knowledge/value structure with a deep and structural continuity. Using a scale-sensitive understanding of politicization to analyze the historical and contemporary geography of the Indus allows us to go behind shifts in political regime to identify the deeper structures at play. These are the epistemological and ideological structures that produce a dynamic of attempted depoliticization and repoliticization in the Indus Basin.

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