KONGWar will surely be avoided this time around - the international
pressures on India and Pakistan are too strong. But is there any hope at all
that the Kashmir dispute, source of several wars between now-nuclear powers and
cause of thousands of deaths in an ongoing insurgency, can be resolved?
On the face of it the answer is "no." The struggle is not just about land.
It goes to the heart of the ideological divide which accompanied the division
of British-ruled India in 1947.
For India, the inclusion of a
predominantly Muslim state within the borders of a plural nation is a living
symbol of the country's secular status. As with Palestine, the division of India
was forced on the majority by the colonial power, which yielded to pressure to
carve out a separate state for an ethnic/religious minority.
For Pakistanis, Kashmir is rightfully theirs as heirs to the Muslim-majority
areas of British India. Given a democratic opportunity, Kashmiris would have
chosen to join Pakistan in 1947, and they would do so today were they given
Nor is there much prospect that the
status quo in Kashmir can be changed by force. India has shown determination and
ruthlessness in dealing with an insurgency that is backed by Pakistan but also
has significant local support. Militant Islamic groups, helped by Pakistan
intelligence, have raised the tempo of insurgency but not to anywhere near the
point where Indian control becomes untenable. Pakistan is too weak ever to wrest
Kashmir away by military means, and for India a conquest of the
Pakistan-controlled portion would be more problem than it was worth.
So the prospect is for no war but no
peace for the Kashmir valley, whatever Pakistan now does to rein in the
militants. For India, its oppressive counterinsurgency policies will remain a
serious blot on its liberal and democratic traditions.
But is there not a way out in Kashmiri
independence? Politically this would be very difficult for a democratic India to
accept. Kashmir has become such a symbol of national unity. There are genuine
fears that independence for Kashmir would be a first step in the breakup of the
Indian union into various ethnic and linguistic entities.
But there is a precedent - Bangladesh.
India played the key role in the breakaway of the former East Pakistan to form
Bangladesh. Its primary motive was to weaken Pakistan, but at the time there
were fears that India's sponsorship of a new state based on ethnic identity
would have dangers for India's own unity.
China in particular warned that India
could reap a secessionist whirlwind. The West simply saw, in Henry Kissinger's
words, an international "basket case." In fact, Bangladesh has proved quite a
successful state, raising itself up from dependence on food aid, outperforming
Pakistan in economic growth, in literacy and in social development, and creating
few problems with neighbors or internationally.
Although it is the most homogeneous
nation in the subcontinent, its existence has not led to an upsurge in
separatism in India, nor to any significant movement for the reunification of
Bengal into a single nation of 200 million people. Bangladesh has worked both
for its inhabitants and for stability on the subcontinent. Pakistan has more to
fear than India from an independent Kashmir. Like the secession of Bangladesh,
it would strike at the root of Pakistan's raison d'Ítre as inheritor of the
Muslim parts of British India and as a state in which Islam was supposed to
override ethnic, linguistic and geographic differences. There are complications
that would require boundary changes for Kashmir. India would reasonably want to
keep non-Muslim areas around Jammu in the extreme south and mountainous Ladakh,
which is Buddhist and has a long, disputed and strategically important border
But these issues are resolvable. And an
independent Kashmir, with or without the Pakistani-ruled portion, would be tied
more closely to India than to Pakistan. Meanwhile, if the Kashmir issues were
defused, Pakistan's attention would shift to its western frontiers. Economic
cooperation with Indian Punjab could flourish.
A self-confident India that has held
together well is making economic progress, has a workable if messy political
system and would do well to think constructively about how to resolve its
biggest national as well as international problem.