Why the route to a stable South Asia runs through Kashmir?


The conflict in and over Kashmir has once again flared out in the open. This time the catalyst for the mass anger of people which spilled over to the streets was militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing. Some 46 people have been reported killed at the time of writing and hundreds injured by the counter narrative of violence by the state. Spin doctors of various hues, colours and stripes are busy portraying the current uprising as “orchestrated” and “engineered” by Pakistan. Other ludicrous and bizarre explanations, totally disconnected, from reality, are being spewed with gay abandon. The prosaic reality is that the protests are as spontaneous as can be and many people have died and the conflict continues to exact a death toll. This very fact and its implications should concentrate the minds of powers that be to institute a sober conflict resolution paradigm over Kashmir. But the default reflex of the state is to contain and manage the conflict- a power political consideration that defies rationality and reason. 

What do rationality and reason suggest? 

The conflict in and over Kashmir is a multilayered  issue that defies simple and facile solutions- especially the employment of force and power to deal with it. There is the inner dimension of the conflict and outer dimensions. At the risk of sounding clichéd, the conflict is a religio nationalist, territorial sovereign dispute that imparts a certain sacrality and teleology to territory. The major players involved are Kashmiris, India and Pakistan. India is the status quo power which controls  the centre of gravity of Jammu and Kashmir- the vale of Kashmir-, Pakistan controls another slice of territory. Both countries context their respective sovereign claims over Kashmir. Caught in the melee of territorial claims are the aspirations of Kashmiris. All this imparts a certain zero sum character to the conflict rendering it rather intractable in the process. But, this should not detract from resolving the conflict. The reasons pertain to peace and stability, security and prosperity in South Asia and by extension beyond.

To illustrate this point, consider Pakistan’s claims on Kashmir first. Pakistan has expended  considerable political and diplomatic clout and heft, significant national energy in pursuing its claims on Kashmir. It has also endured significant international pressure to either give up its claim on Kashmir or arrive at a Modus Vivendi with India on Kashmir. But it has resisted all this incurring reputational costs in the process. The implication here is obvious: while Pakistan may vary its politico- strategic dynamic and approach towards Kashmir, depending upon the permutations and combinations of regional and global order, it will not give up its claim. Pakistan’s foreign and defence policies are to a large extent informed by Kashmir.  It is clear then that If there is to be a rapprochement between India and Pakistan and if positive change sought by the international community vis a vis Pakistan is to be catalyzed and brought to fruition, the route lies through Kashmir.

This has  regional and global implications. Regionally, South Asia is seen as a potentially dynamic region- especially economically. I might go to the extent of stating that after Brexit, the centre of gravity of economic globalization might shift to South Asia. If dividends are to be reaped from this shift, then peace and stability are the sine qua non of taking advantage of this potential trend. Pakistan, which might qualify to be a “pivotal state” in South Asia is critical here. Unless and until, Pakistan is ensconced in the sinews of global trade and economic flows which axiomatically means economic liberalization of the country, South Asia will neither be peaceful nor stable. Extant power structures of the country will militate against trade and economic liberalization because the  ideational logics and strategic culture of this power elite is oriented towards geo strategic and legacy issues –the core of which is Kashmir. If there is no forward movement on Kashmir, Pakistan’s power elite, on account of path dependence- institutional, strategic and cultural- will not budge from its historical and contemporary stance on Kashmir. Yes, there might be tactical  concessions but no principled or strategic ones. This means that South Asia will not be an island of peace and security which is the yardstick for global economic , financial and trade flows to flow to regions and countries. 

However, if there is forward movement on Kashmir complemented by a sober and prudent politico security dynamic vis a vis Afghanistan then there is every possible hope for a bold and beautiful future for South Asia. A sober conflict resolution paradigm that incorporates the interests of Pakistan, India and the aspirations of Kashmiris will impart momentum to a peaceful , stable and prosperous South Asia. Pakistan will have no reason to pursue insalubrious techniques and strategies towards India and India will be released from what is a drag on it. And Kashmiri aspirations will also be satisfied, Cumulatively, the effect will be to focus on economic growth and development releasing South Asia from the bongade of persistent , intergenerational poverty and inequality that defines the region.

If, however, insalubrious policies , which include a truculent and aggressive stance towards Pakistan, these will only make the country truculent. Pakistan might then retreat into itself and its truculence could have costly inter state implications and consequences. This inward retreat, given that Pakistan is not a great power but a swing state, have deleterious consequences on South Asia and by implication South Asian security and stability and hence by extension the world. Prudence and sobriety then warrant that a dynamic conflict resolution paradigm that redounds to be benefit of all stakeholders be instituted.  The route , to repeat, lies through Kashmir.The spontaneous protests after Burhan Wani’s killing and the violence these have generated catalyze powers that be and spur them to action now!

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