India’s Green Energy Potential Hampered By Pakistan’s Turmoil

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Less than an hour’s drive away from the conflict zone between India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers that have fought several wars, scientists from the Geological Survey of India have made a massive geological discovery. They found large reserves of lithium in Jammu and Kashmir, totaling 5.9 million tons. This could make India the sixth-largest holder of lithium reserves, propelling the country as a green energy powerhouse and lithium exporter.

Lithium is crucial for reducing carbon emissions, as it is used in lithium-ion batteries found in electric cars and myriad other devices, including laptops, wireless headphones, small and large appliances, electric vehicles, and electrical energy storage systems. The demand for lithium is rising rapidly, and its price has surged to $75,000 per cubic meter of lithium carbonate. Sales of lithium could bring substantial profits to the region and help India reduce its reliance on Australia and China, its major lithium suppliers. Additionally, the recent investment in roads and tunnels in the region makes bringing Indian lithium to market more feasible.

This discovery holds immense potential for India’s sustainable development.

Persistent violence, fraught geopolitics, and the contested nature of Jammu and Kashmir may increase the political risks in the lithium mining project there. In 1947, Kashmir chose to join India against local Muslims’ wishes, prompting a string of wars over the region. A UN ceasefire divided the region, but ongoing violence and geopolitical uncertainty hinder economic activity. The situation further deteriorated in 2019 when India abolished Article 370 from its constitution, which granted local autonomy to Kashmir. Islamabad keeps the Kashmir conflict simmering while using the tensions with India to justify the regime militarization, corruption, and inefficiencies. Cooperation initiatives between Pakistan and China, India’s two largest rivals, to strengthen cooperation in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir only further inflame the situation.

The environmental costs of extracting lithium present another barrier to local lithium production which may exacerbate tensions. The mining of lithium, like other minerals, will pollute the surrounding areas, potentially contaminating the groundwater and exposing local populations to toxic chemicals. The fact that Jammu and Kashmir are the origin points for Pakistan’s primary river, the Indus River, means that Indian mining may contaminate the literal lifeline of its nuclear-armed rival, exacerbating conflict.

The present Indian government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seems unlikely to entertain any deal with Pakistan over Kashmir in general, and the Kashmiri lithium in particular, given its axing of Article 370. Pakistan’s powerful military, not interested in full normalization with India to justify its own oversized role in Pakistani politics, would find negotiations similarly unpalatable.

Tragically, the discovery of these lithium reserves will likely serve to further inflame the already volatile situation in Kashmir. The People’s Anti-Fascist Front, a paramilitary group sponsored by the Pakistani military establishment, has already stated that it will not allow the extraction of these lithium resources.

This would not be the first-time resource disputes either led to or provided an excuse for, war. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was driven in large part by the desire to seize the country’s extensive oil reserves and gain control over a larger coastline. Although the political and economic circumstances in Pakistan are unlikely to culminate in a large-scale invasion similar to that of 1990 Kuwait, Islamabad’s support for militant groups could escalate.

Local militant groups could find their ranks swell if animated by a local economic non-ideological issue. Protests in Chile, Bolivia, and Peru have erupted due to the auctioning of their abundant copper and lithium resources to private companies. Protesters argue that the generated wealth from these minerals has not been adequately shared with local populations, with a significant portion of profits being sent abroad. Given this precedent, it is easy to imagine how similar discontent could arise in the local population if such valuable minerals were mined without them visibly and directly benefitting.

The deep-rooted resentments surrounding resource exploitation, coupled with the potential exclusion of local communities from benefiting from the local natural resources, can fuel social protests and unrest. No doubt, Pakistan would attempt to politicize and weaponize Kashmiri turmoil. It is essential for stakeholders to cooperate with the Indian state to fight and defeat terrorism, while considering socio-economic factors and adopting responsible and inclusive approaches to resource extraction, addressing concerns about wealth distribution, and fostering sustainable development in the region. Failure to do so may further aggravate tensions, contribute to social instability, and hinder the peaceful and beneficial utilization of Kashmir’s lithium reserves.

Ultimately, the extraction of lithium ore from the reserves in Jammu and Kashmir remains many years off, with further surveys required to ascertain the presence of lithium and the assuagement of tensions necessary to render economic activity in the region at all viable. The region’s contested status, decades-old Indo-Pakistan conflict, and India’s internal political tensions vis-à-vis Kashmir make economic gains from this discovery unattainable.

Co-written by Shallum David.

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