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Jonathan Power: Do a Deal on Kashmir

With parliamentary elections behind it, India shouldn’t be back at square one in its quest to settle the bitterly divisive issue of Kashmir, one that has led to three full-scale wars with Pakistan and that nearly brought the two countries to the brink of nuclear combat.

India missed its great opportunity to resolve the burning dispute with Pervez Musharraf before he was overthrown from the Pakistani presidency last year. According to the British and American diplomats I talked to 18 months ago in New Delhi and Islamabad, a deal was tantalizingly close. One British ambassador told me that India had to make very few concessions to strike a final deal and that the main barrier to the agreement was merely “psychological.”

If Musharraf wasn’t prepared to give away the store, the Pakistani compromises came close to it. But despite the seemingly friendly diplomacy of Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the unwarlike prime minister Manmohan Singh and, in the background, (another peace-loving figure) the chairwoman of the Congress Party Sonia Gandhi, India couldn’t bring itself to go the extra mile.

Observers had different explanations for Indian intransigence: that Musharraff was trying to force the pace; that the Indian army, the intelligence services, and senior bureaucrats in the foreign ministry were resisting an accord; that the leadership had not made an effort to educate the electorate as the Pakistan government had done; that the prime minister was weak and only focused on the economy; that his (successful) attempt to lower the grinding poverty in the rural areas was also a preoccupation; that the time consuming nuclear deal with the U.S was critically important; and that India rather liked the status quo, since stubbornness fitted in with its self-image of being the subcontinent’s super power.

There was also the failure of the Bush administration—it pushed a deal through Congress that lifted the long-standing embargo on selling nuclear materials and reactors to India—that was, in Singh's words, “loved” by his country. America could have used the muscle afforded by the nuclear deal to instead help push India to sign on to Musharraf’s magnanimous offer.

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