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Climate Change and Security in Pakistan: Ambassador Holbrooke’s Prescient Warning

According to Bob Woodward’s most recent book Obama’s Wars, the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, during a meeting on Pakistan chaired by President Obama, asserted that there was a climate change angle to the situation in Kashmir, where Indian and Pakistani troops were concentrated on and around the fast-melting Siachen glacier. His concerns were apparently met with incredulity, with some unnamed participants in the meeting later asking “Was Holbrooke kidding?”

Well, as it turns out, Holbrooke’s concerns were highly prescient. In the years following his warning, Pakistan has experienced some of the worst climate-related disasters in its history, including in Siachen.

A recent piece in Foreign Policy by Michael Kugelman, South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, demonstrates Pakistan’s precarious climate and environmental landscape, highlighting glacial melt in Siachen which recently led to an avalanche killing “124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians,” the massive floods of 2010 which affected over one-fifth of the country and displaced millions of people, and the record-breaking monsoon rains of 2011, all of which a number of climatologists have since linked to climate change. The piece also explores the effect of climate change and environmental insecurity on Pakistan-Indian relations, urban violence in Pakistan, and nuclear security.

In short, climate and environmental security are important factors in Pakistani security. There is no longer any excuse for national security planners to treat the issue with incredulity. It is a reality that will have to be confronted.


  1. […] recent devastating natural disasters (see, for example, devastating floods in Thailand and Pakistan, and record-setting droughts in Vietnam). Also, and this is related to its concern for natural […]

  2. […] a continuous stream of reports of Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change, dramatic glacial melting earlier this year that led to the death of 135 Pakistanis, and recent dangerously low water levels […]

  3. […] and given their converging interests, it may not be unreasonable to suspect that Holbrooke may have conveyed his concerns about the clear and present climate risks within Pakistan to his colleague in the […]

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