Ecologies of Water Governance in Pakistan: The Colony, the Corporation and the Contemporary

Pakistan is home to the world’s largest irrigation network and has an agriculture-dependent economy. Land ownership in Pakistan is among the most unequal in the world, with roots in British colonial policies, and time-shares of irrigation water are allocated according to the size of land holdings. Limited irrigation water supply has necessitated groundwater extraction, making the Indus Basin the world’s second most “overstressed aquifer.” Also extracting groundwater are bottled water businesses such as Nestlé Pure Life, currently in court in Pakistan, demanding more tax concessions and claiming that it provides a “public service” given the state’s failure to provide clean water; and a proliferation of housing societies, that makes Pakistan the most rapidly urbanizing country in South Asia. Ecologies of Water Governance argues that promises of, and plans for postcolonial modernity in Pakistan are crafted with water, and sustained by everyday bureaucratic labor. It builds on three years of ethnographic research in Pakistan’s Punjab, the country’s agricultural heartland; shorter research stints at water fora in the Czech Republic, Sweden, Tajikistan, and the U.S.; and archival research.