Focus on KashmirDecember 22, 2008
In order to achieve peace along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the US should help resolve the dispute over Kashmir
Until the recent terror attacks in Mumbai, the incoming Obama administration might have been tempted to push the Kashmir dispute to the back burner. That is no longer possible. Kashmir is at the centre of the spreading web of crisis that now threatens to destabilise the subcontinent. As long as this conflict remains unsolved, there will be little hope for tranquillity in India, peace in Afghanistan or stability in Pakistan.
The standoff in Kashmir has for years been filed in the world’s “frozen conflicts” drawer, along with others in places like Nagorno-Karabagh andTransdinistria. Obama should pull it out of that drawer and place it near the top of his foreign policy priority list.
Since its earliest days as a nation, Pakistan has focused on what its leaders consider their single overwhelming security threat: India. Fear of India shapes all of Pakistan’s security policies. Why has Pakistan worked so hard to promote pro-Pakistani groups in Afghanistan, including a host of pro-Taliban warlords? Not simply because of Afghanistan itself, but because it wants to assure that Afghanistan does not tilt toward India.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who is deeply unhappy with Pakistan’s refusal or inability to crack down on militants in the border region, appears to be tilting just that way. He has allowed India to open consulates in several cities, and suggested that he might invite India to train Afghan troops or build dams near the Pakistani border. This drives Pakistan, and especially the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, to paroxysms of fear and outrage. Many in the region believe the ISI was connected to the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul last July, in which more than 40 people were killed. Disturbing evidence ties the ISI to terrorists who staged the recent Mumbai attacks.
The ISI, for its part, believes India is using Afghan territory and assets to foment trouble inside Pakistan. It sees India’s hand, for example, behind ethnic upheaval in its western province of Baluchistan. Pakistan and India have turned Afghanistan into the scene of even more spy-versus-spy intrigue than it was during the days of the Great Game, when two different powers, Britain and Russia, jousted to control it.
Kashmir is the single greatest flashpoint in the troubled Pakistan-India relationship. The two countries fought wars there in 1947-48, 1965 and 1999. They and their proxies are still engaged in a relentless conflict amid the region’s magnificent lakes and hills. Bombings, assassinations and disappearances have been part of life for as long as most Kashmiri people can remember.
Both Pakistan and India claim that Kashmir is rightly theirs. Both support militant Kashmiri factions while insisting publicly that they do nothing of the kind. Each fears that the other wants to use Kashmir for hostile purposes.
No country can fairly be expected to make security concessions unless it feels safe. Pakistan will not move decisively to crush Taliban and al-Qaida forces as long as it sees those forces as part of its defence against spreading Indian power. That makes reshaping India-Pakistan relations a key priority for the US – and they cannot be reshaped without some resolution in Kashmir.
Untangling the Kashmir conflict will not be easy, but the stakes are high. Intensive diplomacy involving Washington, Islamabad and New Delhi might produce a formula for peace. Accords that have ended other communal conflicts, perhaps including the Belfast Agreement of 1998, could serve as models.
Officials of the incoming administration are suggesting that they may recommend sending more US troops to Afghanistan. This would be folly. Afghans have always rallied against foreign troops, and every time a US attack kills civilians in a “collateral damage” incident, more outraged Afghans turn to the Taliban. More broadly, no military strategy can work in Afghanistan as long as India and Pakistan use Afghan territory as a stage on which to play out their strategic rivalry.
Afghanistan will remain unstable until that rivalry is calmed. It will not be calmed as long as the Kashmir dispute rages. The road to stability in Afghanistan, then, runs first through Kashmir.
Stephen Kinzer | Guardian, UK