South Asia

2018 Annual Report

The EastWest Institute is pleased to release its 2018 Annual Report, chronicling the programmatic activities, achievements and new initiatives in the past year and reflecting key geopolitical trends around the world.

The institute remains focused on tackling these evolving issues, as well as on forecasting challenges in other topics and regions.

To access the complete report, please click below:

Afghanistan: Endless War?

Ambassador Cameron Munter joined other thought leaders on April 12 in a conversation about America's longest war and to examine strategies for how to bring it to an end. 

"Without some sort of better understanding of Pakistan, you’re not going to get past the impasse—which, I suppose, might be bearable for a long time—that we have in Afghanistan," said Munter starting his remarks in the discussion, organized by Council on Foreign Relations as part of its "The Future of the Middle East" symposium.

Munter also shared his insight on China's present engagement with Afghanistan as well as other South Asian countries. "And I hope that the Americans can be supportive. And Americans and other friends of Afghanistan and Pakistan can be supportive," he said.

Click here to watch and read the full transcript.


Photo: "Operation Enduring Freedom/Village Medic" (CC BY 2.0) by DVIDSHUB

Joint Working Group on International and EU Water Diplomacy - In Focus: Central Asia

Second Iteration of the Exclusive Joint Working Group (JWG) Series

On January 27, 2021 the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and the EastWest Institute (EWI) held the second iteration of their exclusive Joint Working Group (JWG) series—launched last year—on EU’s water diplomacy with respect to the three most water-stressed regions in the world: the Himalayas, Central Asia and the Euphrates-Tigris. The second convening of the JWG was devoted to Central Asia, a region known for its broad and capacious transboundary river systems shared by the upstream countries, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the downstream countries, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

The session brought together water experts from Central Asia along with representatives of the EU, GIZ, academia and international think tanks to jointly assess the current challenges which impede effective implementation of equitable allocation of water resources in Central Asia. The discussion commenced with an overview of the transboundary river networks in Central Asia—spotlight on the Aral Sea basin that is fed by two rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. In the 1960s, the Soviet government decided to divert the river waters to meet the irrigation demands for agriculture. The experts noted that this contributed to what came to be known as the “Aral Sea Catastrophe”—a crisis driven by the multifold effects of rising population, rapid irrigation and deteriorating water infrastructures which ultimately led to the desiccation of the Aral Sea.

Within the overview, the experts drew attention to the point that even though Central Asia’s water challenges started under Soviet rule, the water crisis further intensified in the post-Soviet set up as independent countries in the region were left overwhelmed with technical, managerial and cross-border issues on water governance. In this context, the experts emphasized that most water issues in the region are not rooted in the resource itself but often in the political situations surrounding them. Hence, a lot of shared water challenges are in fact a result of an overall lack of good governance in the region.

Central Asia’s water diplomacy and Institutional Achievements

Albeit the existing concerns, there have been notable positive developments in the region over the past decades. In fact, in 1992 the ministers of the five dominant Central Asian countries established the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination in Central Asia (ICWC) with various executive bodies. The ICWC facilitated the introduction of integrated water resources management for the benefit of the entire region—a step in the right direction.

Moreover, one discussant pointed out that the ability of Central Asian countries to come together in times of crisis should not be underestimated. There are strong informal foundations in form of “brotherhoods” and technical expert networks among riparian countries which could be further strengthened. Such initiatives might contribute to an enhanced cooperation on shared waters without compromising or weakening existing formal institutions like the ICWC and IFAS.

Challenges and the way forward

Nevertheless, a range of challenges remain in Central Asia’s water diplomacy. For example, research gaps and lack of efficient coordination still prevent the region’s water commissions from reaching their full potential. Also, there is an increasing risk of bilateralism in the region’s water diplomacy vis-à-vis the use of new bilateral institutions for forum shopping, especially among upstream states circumventing stricter rules.

On Afghanistan, the experts emphasized the need for integrating the country into the formal conversations on transboundary water governance in Central Asia, particularly against the backdrop of the aforementioned trend of bilateralism. So far Afghanistan, a key upstream country, where vast parts of the population depend on water-intensive agriculture, is unfortunately yet to be a part of the formal Central Asian water platforms. It was highlighted that the countries must find a balance between promoting cooperation at basin and sub-basin level while maintaining formal standards and protocols.

Finally, reflecting on the EU’s role in the region, the experts identified various initiatives that the EU has taken in the past, some of which are ongoing, that have played an important role in broadening the conversation on transboundary water issues (e.g. the EU–CA Platform on Environment and Water and Germany’s Green Central Asia Initiative). However, there is still scope for greater involvement by the EU which can be achieved via promotion of advanced research and innovation on water management needs; improved coordination among donors to synchronize project planning; and stronger consistency of the EU’s engagement, in particular from the vantage of Afghanistan where the Union has regressed its capacity-development support for transboundary water management. Participants agreed that the EU has the required potential to further its position as an important third-party solicitor and empower integrative approaches towards water research and governance on various scales.





Set against the backdrop of transboundary water resource politics, the EastWest Institute (EWI) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s (KAS) upcoming Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting - second iteration in a series - aims to incorporate diverse perspectives and maximize opportunities for greater understanding of the past, present and future of hydrodiplomacy in Central Asia. The JWG will assess the successes and failures of transboundary cooperation initiatives and existing institutional mechanisms, reflect upon the position of Afghanistan in regional hydrodiplomacy, and address how growing water scarcity and power asymmetries may compromise future water cooperation ambitions in the region. The discussion will also invite a strategic reflection of EU water diplomacy and its engagement in Central Asia. The JWG participants will together engender an insight into key areas where the EU can play a pivotal role in enabling an effective and cohesive system of transboundary water resource governance in the region.

PROGRAMME AGENDA - January 27, 2021 @ 2 PM CET

14:00 - 14:05       Introductions and Opening Remarks

Louis Mourier, Programme Manager, Multinational Development Policy Dialogue, KAS  
Farwa Aamer, Director, South Asia Program, EWI

14:05 - 14:15       An Overview of the Transboundary Rivers and Institutions in Centra Asia

Remarks by:

Dr. Jenniver Sehring, Senior Lecturer in Water Governance and Diplomacy, IHE Delft  
Dr. Dinara Ziganshina, Deputy Director, Scientific Information Center of Interstate Сommission for Water Coordination in Сentral Asia

14:15 - 14:25       Reactions by Participants

14:25 - 15:20       Open Discussion

15:20 - 15:30      Conclusions and Closing Remarks


● Dr. Jenniver Sehring, Senior Lecturer in Water Governance and Diplomacy, IHE Delft  

● Dr. Dinara Ziganshina, Deputy Director, Scientific Information Center of Interstate Сommission for Water Coordination in Сentral Asia

● Ms. Carmen Marques-Ruiz, Policy Coordinator for Water/Environment, European External Action Service

● Mr. Arnaud de Vanssay, Team Leader Water, european Commission

● Ms. Tanja Miskova, Water Diplomacy Policy Officer, Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

● Ms. Ana Novak, Development Policy Officer, Permanent Representation of Slovenia to the EU

● Ms. Ales Bizjak, Water Policy Officer, Slovenian Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning

● Ms. Martina Schmidt, Political Advisor to the EU's Special Representative to Central Asia, European External Action Service

● Dr. Caroline Milow, Progamme Manager, Green Central Asia, GIZ

● Dr. Susanne Schmeier, Associate Professor in Water Law and Diplomacy, IHE Delft

● Mr. Denis Schrey, Director, Multinational Development Policy Dialogue, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung

● Ms. Farwa Aamer, Director, South Asia Program, EastWest Institute

● Mr. Louis Mourier, Programme Manager, Multinational Development Policy Dialogue, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung

● Mr. Brian Eyler, Program Director, Energy, Water, Sustainability Program, The Stimson Center

● Ms. Courtney Weatherby, Research Analyst, Energy, Water, & Sustainability Program, The Stimson Center


Click here to read the event report on the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung website.

Dr. Saalman Co-hosts SIPRI Workshop on Nuclear Challenges in South Asia

On December 8-9, EWI Senior Fellow, Dr. Lora Saalman, co-moderated and co-hosted a workshop on "Nuclear Challenges in South Asia: Views from India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and the USA."

The virtual workshop assembled 13 speakers and over 60 participants to discuss key shifts in nuclear posture and technologies, as well as escalation dynamics originating both within and outside of South Asia. 

Click here to read the full event report on the SIPRI website.

Joint Working Group Series on EU’s Water Diplomacy: The Himalayan Region

On November 12, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and the EastWest Institute (EWI) launched an exclusive Joint Working Group (JWG) series on EU’s water diplomacy with respect to three key water-stressed regions: the Himalayas, Central Asia and the Euphrates-Tigris. The aim of this series is to set the stage for KAS and EWI’s conference next year on “International Hydrodiplomacy—Building and Strengthening Regional Institutions for Water Conflict Prevention.”

The inaugural session on November 12 was devoted to the Himalayan region—home to 1.9 billion people and the “water tower of Asia,” from which flows the majority of the continent’s great rivers, including the Indus, Ganges and Tsangpo-Brahmaputra. The session brought together regional water experts along with representatives from the European External Action Service (EEAS), Slovenian Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, to jointly assess the current challenges to Himalayan transboundary water governance and reflect upon EU’s role as a potential synergistic force in advancing greater intra-and inter-regional cooperation on water issues.

Participants highlighted that water governance in the region has traditionally employed a reductionist approach—limiting the scope for greater multi-stakeholder engagement and inclusive decision-making. Following this approach, policymakers have failed to efficaciously address the needs of the region’s diverse ecosystem, navigate the manifold effects of climate change and contract the existing knowledge gaps, which, in turn, constrain prospects for regional water cooperation. To further exacerbate matters, frequent political tensions between neighboring countries result in water being transformed into a national security issue.

Reflecting on China’s role in the region’s hydrodiplomacy, participants agreed that China’s position as an upper riparian allows it extensive leverage over the Himalayan waters. In recent years, China’s dam-building and water-diversion projects, coupled with an apparent reservation in sharing hydrological data, have all been a major cause of concern for its downstream neighbors.

The participants further emphasized that conventional Track 1 mechanisms have failed to deliver on water cooperation ambitions in the region. Instead, the region’s shared waterscape requires a proactive deliberation towards adopting a more multi-disciplinary approach—one which binds together inclusive hydrodiplomacy initiatives, institutional frameworks, resource abutment and greater ecological integration in the region. The discussion also allowed for an intellectual discourse on how the EU could play a greater role in facilitating a more cooperative and coordinated enterprise towards shared water governance in the region. Participants agreed that the EU has the potential to act as an important third-party solicitor by bringing forward its constructive experience in transboundary water management and empowering integrative approaches towards water research and governance on various scales.

Hydrodiplomacy in the Himalayan region lacks the required impetus and cooperative incentives that are needed to ensure a better water future. There is an urgent need to periodically convene relevant regional and international stakeholders vis-à-vis a joint institutional platform, along the lines of River Basin Organizations (RBOs), in order to curate effective management methods and devise viable long-term solutions to tackle the looming threat of water scarcity and subsequent economic pressures in the region.

In the future, EWI and KAS will continue to mobilize and engage experts and stakeholders from key water-stressed regions, like the Himalayas, in an effort to address the global water challenges against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving security and environmental context.

Click here to view the JWG agenda.

China’s Detachment from the South Asian Nuclear Triangle

EWI Senior Fellow Dr. Lora Saalman writes on "China’s Detachment from the South Asian Nuclear Triangle" for SIPRI WritePeace blogs. This is the first in a series that will explore narratives surrounding nuclear dynamics in South Asia. 

In contrast with coverage of the recent China–India border conflict, Chinese analysis of nuclear issues in South Asia has been decreasing. As pointed out by IndianChinese and US experts, neither China nor India has sought to insert nuclear dynamics into border tensions. Both countries’ past declarations on minimal nuclear deterrence, no first use, and de-mating of warheads and delivery systems, as well as aims for a nuclear-free world, offer greater room for de-escalation than found in India–Pakistan border dynamics. However, there is more to this than simply stated nuclear postures. Chinese official and non-official sources seek to remove China from any descriptions of a South Asian nuclear triangle. This WritePeace blog, based on interviews and Chinese-language sources, explores reasons behind this de-linkage and what it means for future nuclear stability and engagement.

Click here to read the full blog post.

Global Cyber Policy Dialogues: Southeast Asia

On August 6, the EastWest Institute and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore jointly hosted Global Cyber Policy Dialogues: Southeast Asia.

This discussion-driven meeting included participants representing governments, businesses, civil society organizations and universities from across Southeast Asia. The meeting opened with presentations on emerging technologies, international norms processes and capacity building all in the context of Southeast Asia and with an eye towards the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A video of these presentations can be found here and a summary of the meeting can be found here.   

This meeting was the first event in the Global Dialogue project being undertaken by the EastWest Institute, which seeks to convene regional meetings to address capacity building around key cyber challenges. The initiative is intended to complement the two ongoing UN cyber norms processes: the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) and the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE). This first virtual meeting introduced the project to stakeholders in Southeast Asia, and served as preparation for a future in-person meeting in the region.


Subscribe to RSS - South Asia