India and Pakistan have had more than 150 official rounds of talks in the last seven decades to discuss conflicts and differences between them. The by-product of every round of talk was an agreement to meet again to talk. In consequence, the peace process between India and Pakistan has always remained an illusion. Talks have always proved barren because both India and Pakistan have never defined the parameters of talks. The talks were never meant to be time bound with specific benchmarks that would define and characterize progress. What was the common goal of talks? What are the objectives? To settle differences? What are the differences? How will they be resolved? When? Should we identify steps to resolving differences? Who are the important actors involved in those differences? How are those differences being revealed?
Nevertheless, the world knows that the central bone of contention regarding tensions between India and Pakistan is the ongoing 70-year conflict over Kashmir. The two countries are both nuclear armed and they continue to have re-occurring border clashes and cross-border raids that threaten the safety and stability of both. People are getting killed on both sides. More than 100 people were killed this past summer with many thousand injured by pellets. But while this violence occurred due to the refusal of India to foster peaceful relations with Kashmir and acknowledge its interests, the focus of the press, egged on by India, was on the relationship between India and Pakistan and the responsibility of Pakistan in allegedly stirring up trouble in Kashmir with false propaganda. It is as though there is nothing to discuss. The whole nation of Kashmir rose up in resistance, but no one could talk about anything but Pakistan and the militancy across the border. Kashmir has never been a focal item of the talks but just one of the eight points agreed to by both India and Pakistan in talks which they called the ‘Comprehensive Dialogue Process.’
Curiously, the primary party pertinent to the issue, the Kashmiri leadership, has never been included in the talks. Why not? Are they not the principal representatives of the people, the true stakeholders who may claim the greatest interest in what happens to Kashmir? Doesn’t it matter what they think? Are they mere spectators or the real actors in the theater?
Why are the youth in the streets throwing stones at the authorities instead of engaging in some sport at a local recreational field? Why are people with graduate degrees, doctors, lawyers and engineers, joining the resistance and sacrificing their lives and lucrative careers? Why are the mothers of the young people picking up rocks and joining them? Do their desires matter? What has Pakistan to do with that?
India cannot sweep all this under the galicha. The truth is too painfully obvious. Isn’t it time that world powers ask the people what they really want? Perhaps that would force the parties to actually deal with what is at the heart of their differences, the aspirations of the people.
Kashmir is the only nation in the world, which shares its borders with three nuclear powers of the world. Kashmir still remains the nuclear flash point, as the tensions between the BJP-lead government in India has suspended the so called’ peace talks’ between New Delhi and Islamabad. The potential of nuclear war has always been there between these two nuclear rivals, but because of the suspension of the talks, that potential is now real.
In an article in Foreign Affairs entitled “Rising Tensions in Kashmir: A Growing Nuclear Danger on the Subcontinent,” Michael Krepon, author and editor of 21 books and cofounder of the Washington DC-based think tank, the Stimson Center, who heads up programming on nuclear and space issues, wrote: “As Pakistan’s sense of isolation grows and as the conventional military balance shifts even further in India’s favor, Islamabad is relying increasingly on Chinese military help and on nuclear weapons for deterrence. Its nuclear arsenal is growing faster than India’s, with a capacity to produce 15 or more warheads a year, adding more nuclear weapons every year than North Korea has accumulated to date. While India is moving to close this gap, Pakistan is planning to compete even harder with longer-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles to be delivered in the air, on the ground and at sea, as well as with tactical nuclear weapons. Since testing nuclear devices in 1998, India and Pakistan have together flight-tested on average one new type of missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon every year.”
During a meeting held at the Stimson Center last October, Dr. Shezra Mansab, a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, made very clear that attention is clearly focused on this problem. "Our core issue this time is Kashmir. It is an international dispute. It is not an internal problem. The stakes are very high now, we are nuclear neighbours so we need to have peace on the issue of Kashmir and then rest of the things can be solved," she said. She was referring to the relationship peace in Kashmir has with the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan. “No peace can prevail in the region, if this issue is not solved,” Dr. Mansab said.
The uncertainty over Kashmir will lead not only India and Pakistan to disaster but it will also destroy any possibility of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Any resolution of the Kashmir conflict will directly impact the stability of Afghanistan as many experts have started realizing that the key to peace in Afghanistan lies in Kashmir. As Dr. Mansab’s colleague, special envoy on Kashmir Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed said at that same conference, "The Road to peace in Kabul lies in Kashmir in the sense that when you talk of peace, you cannot compartmentalise peace, you can't segregate a section... ok you can have peace in Kabul and let Kashmir burn. That is not going to happen." "So you talk of a comprehensive peace settlement,” Senator Mushahid Hussain added. “Let the people of South Asia not be hostage to the hostility of the past. Let them move forward."
The world powers need to understand very clearly that it is their primary responsibility to make sure that both India and Pakistan realize that their inability to resolve the Kashmir dispute for the last 70 years has led to a growing international nuclear crisis. World peace is a stake.
Real and tangible strategy needs to be initiated with the firm support of the P5, in particular the United States. There is not a slightest possibility of resolving Kashmir dispute without the involvement of the world powers. The lack of resolution after 70 years demands the intervention of a third party.
As Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center notes, “Washington’s ties with New Delhi continue to improve, thanks to the attractiveness of the Indian market and a desire to help India counter China’s military buildup” and economic influence in the region. On the other hand, “Pakistan’s sense of unease has grown with Donald Trump’s habit of painting Islamic terrorism in broad-brush strokes.” But President Trump has shown his willingness to mediate between the parties to resolve that “very, very hot, tinderbox“ of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Now is the time to get started. Washington’s influence in New Delhi and Islamabad can be artfully used by Trump to make a deal that suits all sides and brings the Kashmir leadership into the picture.
All parties need to understand that ultimately the Kashmir issue will only be resolved across the table through tripartite negotiations between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership. And if that is true, then why wait? Any delay will cause more death and destruction in the region.
Any dialogue process demands compromises for the sake of greater good. All parties including India, Pakistan and Kashmir need to show some flexibility in order to reach a final settlement. The contours of compromises should be discussed at the table and not beyond it.
It is time for the war of words between two capitals to stop. The reckless statements by Rajnath Singh, the Home Minister of India who lusts for Azad Kashmir and seems inclined to grab it by force, will not pave the way for a better understanding. Such rhetoric needs to end on all sides.
The leadership of both India and Pakistan must show their statesmanship for the sake of peace and stability in the region of South Asia and beyond.
(Dr. Fai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)