To de-escalate India- Pakistan tension, sincere and serious efforts are needed. For that, the international community as well as India and Pakistan must adopt a pragmatic approach. Enough energy and time has been lost in giving statements for dialogue. But backing a dialogue has become a buzzword. Nothing substantial is done to help the two countries out of trouble. Consequently, the tension between the two nuclear armed neighbors is on the rise.
What must be admitted is that the relation between India and Pakistan has been complex because of several historical and political events. The relation has been marred by the violent partition of the British India in 1947, the Kashmir conflict and a number of military conflicts between the two countries. As a result, though the two neighboring countries share cultural, geographic, economic and linguistic links, their ties have been seriously affected by the hostilities and distrust.
The violent partition did succeed in creating the two sovereign nations- secular India (with a Hindu majority population) and an Islamic Republic of Pakistan (with a Muslim majority) but it displaced about 12.5 million people and killed about I million. The displaced ones are still bearing the brunt in one form or the other.
Immediately after gaining their independence, India and Pakistan established diplomatic relations but the violent partition and the subsequent territorial claims gave a severe beating to the relationship. The two countries have engaged in three major wars and one undeclared war while the skirmishes, military standoffs continue almost as a routine on the border. The main cause of the conflict has been Kashmir which both claim entirely.
To improve the relationship, several attempts have been made. Chief among them are Shimla Agreement, Agra Agreement and Lahore agreement, but so far no breakthrough has been made to build a good relationship. The relationship soured significantly from 1980s, in particular, after the Siachen conflict, the Kashmir armed rebellion in 1989, Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in 1998 and the kargil war in 1999. Some Confidence Building Measures like the well-known 2003 ceasefire agreement and the Delhi-Lahore bus service, definitely were able to de-escalate tensions. However, these CBMS lost merit and message due to the occurrence of some attacks in India. The 2001 attack on the Indian parliament had almost pushed the two nuclear armed countries to the nuclear war. The 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings soured the relation further. The most severe blow to the ties was given by Mumbai attack in 2008.
In the wake of the election of new governments in both the countries, a brief thaw was felt in the troubled relation between the two warring countries. There were some bilateral discussions and visits by the top government dignitaries from both sides but the friendly gestures and the bilateral discussions stalled again after the 2016 Pathankot attack in India. India accused Pakistan of carrying out the attack .
A big blow came when in September 2016, a militant attack was carried on an Indian military base at Uri in Indian Kashmir, killing 19 army men. India claimed that the deadliest attack had been masterminded by a jihadist group based in Pakistan but Pakistan claimed that the attack was a local one and a reaction to the unrest which Kashmir witnessed in 2016 for over six months. The attack led to the escalation of tensions between the two countries, almost brought them to the brink of a nuclear war and led to the continuous ceasefire violations, which one country blamed the other for, on the border. Ever since, there has been no positive development in the relationship between the two countries and consequently, there seems to be a little hope of any improvement.
Interestingly in late 2015, meetings were held between the foreign secretaries and the National Security Advisers of the two countries and in those meetings both the countries had agreed to discuss the issues and roadblocks in their relationship. In November 2015, Indian premier Narendra Modi and Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif agreed to resume the bilateral talks. This was followed by a brief visit by Modi to Pakistan while on way to India. Before that Sharif too had visited India, in 2014, on Modi’s swearing ceremony. Despite those efforts, the ties between the two countries have not improved and instead are in an alarming situation at present.
To diffuse the tense situation, the US , in the past, expressed a desire to broker peace between India and Pakistan. It is worthwhile to mention that the US interests in South Asia are important and increasing. The US wants to prevent a major war and to prevent further nuclear weapons proliferation. It wants to enhance economic growth, trade and investment and to cooperate on issues like a stable south Asia, combat drug trafficking and establish peace in Afghanistan. Although the US desire was rejected by India, it needs to be understood that due to the huge improvement in the bilateral ties between India and the US, there is need of good diplomacy and more open mindedness to see how the US goes forward over Kashmir.
On its part, the US administration should show serious efforts aimed at bringing India and Pakistan on the negotiation table to hold talks on their bilateral issues, especially the Kashmir issue to pave a way for peace between them.
Meanwhile, India and Pakistan must recognize that Kashmir issue demands an immediate solution. Both should stop playing a waiting game that one country will finally give up and the issue will resolve on its own. Issues are resolved through active and practical means. Holding unconditional talks is the best way to resolve the issue. Let India, Pakistan and Kashmiris hold talks to find out a solution to the long pending K-issue.
Sheikh Shabir Kulgami is a Kashmiri (Indian) political commentator, analyst and columnist. He writes extensively on South Asia.