The Kashmir disputes are rooted in the division of Indian Subcontinent. It is still a sour point in India-Pakistan relations. Occasionally, tensions between the two countries escalate to an alarming level due to the power struggle and insurgency in Kashmir. To de-escalate tensions between the South Asian nuclear powers, sincere and sustained efforts are needed. A pragmatic approach involving dialogue as the option is essential to resolve the issue: war is not an option at all.
Though holding talks gets backing from all quarters, the bitter truth is- talks do not occur on the ground level for one or the other reason. Unfortunately, no concrete measures are taken to create a conducive climate for talks to happen. Consequently, the tension between the two neighboring countries escalates and threatens to snowball into a catastrophe beyond control.
Recently, Pakistan’s premier Imran Khan had written a letter to India’spremier Narendra Modi. The letter brought Khan’s proposal for the resumption of dialogue between the two countries. But his offer was not accepted by Modi government which cited the present security situation as the reason for dismissing the offer.
The dismissal of the offer highlights the level of hatred and distrust operating between the two sides. It also reflects the complexity and unpredictable nature of ties between New Delhi and Islamabad. Both express a desire for mutually beneficial relations but fail to make them.
India as usual demands that for talks to happen, Pakistan must stop “sending men and arms to India”. In such a situation, talks never occur and the situation deteriorates further: distrust rises, ties sour further and border clashes pick up at the cost of life and property on both sides of the border. The current alarming situation seems far away from improving at least in the foreseeable future given the two countries’ firm stances over Kashmir and controversial points of view toward talks to happen.
Though the two countries share the history of bad times, there were times when they preferred talks and signed peace agreements. The relations have been marred by the violent partition of 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 relations have been seriously affected by their mutual hostilities and distrusts.
The violent partition did succeed in creating two sovereign nations- secular India (with a Hindu majority population) and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (with a Muslim majority) but it displaced about 12.5 million people and killed about one 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 while the skirmishes, military standoffs continue as a routine on the border.
Talks have taken place to sign Shimla Agreement, Agra Agreement and Lahore Agreement, but the relationship soured significantly from the 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 cross-border insurgency and terrorist attacks inside India.
In the wake of coming to power of new governments in both the countries (Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Government in Pakistan in 2013 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi Government in India in 2014), a brief thaw was felt in their troubled relations. There were 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 Uri attack. Since then there has been no positive development in the relationship between Islamabad and New Delhi.
In September last, the two countries’ Foreign Ministers were set to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly but the meeting did not take place as India pulled out claiming Pakistan’s unhelpful conduct toward the meeting.
The meeting was expected to come as a breakthrough towards improving the ties of the two arch rivals. But ‘no meeting’ shuttered all hopes. As a result, the two countries are back to the blame game ritual. Such a state of affairs has never been helpful to the politically unstable Kashmir; nor will it ever be. Conversely, the rhetoric adds fuel to fire, prolonging the sufferings of the Kashmiris.
The United States played constructive roles to normalize India-Pakistan relations in the past. It is worthwhile to mention that the US has vital interests in South Asia. It wants to see India as a major player and to prevent further nuclear proliferation in the region. It also wants to enhance economic cooperation, defense ties, and to cooperate on issues like terrorism, drug trafficking and peacebuilding in Afghanistan.
America can show serious efforts aimed at bringing India and Pakistan on the negotiation table. A Peaceful resolution of Kashmir disputes can help the US in many ways: one, America would be able to show its diplomatic prowess by resolving the issue peacefully. Two, it can set an example of peacemaking in South Asia without bloodshed. Three, America can erase the impression that it simply believes in muscular approach. Four, Pakistan will not bandwagon with China if India-Pakistan relations improve.
Both the countries 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.
Sheikh Shabir Kulgami is a Kashmiri (Indian) political commentator, analyst and columnist. He writes extensively on South Asia.