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Hassan Malik: Hands on Kashmir! (Why Soothing Indo-Pakistani Regional Tensions is Central to U.S. Efforts in Afghanistan)

In a January 8 article for the World Policy Blog, Charles Cogan argued recently that the United States should not attempt to mediate the long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, as doing so could jeopardize America’s good relations with India and further muddle U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. On the contrary, only by accepting that India-Pakistan relations are a key part of the larger security problem can the United States end the war in Afghanistan. Thus, an active U.S. role in mediating the dispute over Kashmir and other issues dividing India and Pakistan is very much in America’s national interests. First, tensions between India and Pakistan are hindering the latter’s efforts to aid the U.S. military in fighting militant Islamists along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Indeed, senior American military officials like Admiral Michael Mullen have pointed out that Pakistan's need to maintain a heavy troop presence on its border with India limits the resources it can divert to fighting the Islamist insurgency elsewhere in Pakistan. These officials agree that such a presence is justified, given the history and current level of tension between the two states. While some commentators argue that the Pakistani Army is unwilling to fight extremists on its own soil, Admiral Mullen himself has suggested that casualty statistics show Pakistan to be very much engaged in the struggle against Islamist terror. Indeed, Pakistan’s military has already suffered more casualties in its own fight against militant Islamists than has the American military in Afghanistan. Suicide bombings within Pakistan have already claimed more than 11,000 victims. Thus, the Pakistani army's slow progress in its war against militant Islamists is due not to a lack of zeal, but rather is tied largely to its inability (because of lack of capacity) to focus exclusively on fighting terror as long as Indo-Pakistani tension persists. An easing of the tensions would likely enable Pakistan to redeploy more troops to the fight against insurgents, which would be to the benefit of American forces in Afghanistan. Second, poor India-Pakistan relations are central to longer-term but no less serious issues that plague the daily lives of Pakistanis and contribute to the conditions that drive some of the nation's poorest citizens into the hands of extremists. Pakistan's current water crisis is one case in point. While religious identity is at the core of the Kashmir dispute, water also is a root cause of the conflict. The region is the source of the main rivers flowing through much of the Indian and Pakistani Punjab (literally, "land of the five waters") that is South Asia’s breadbasket. Antagonistic relations only encouraged India to construct the dams that, in turn, now limit the flow of water to Pakistan, threatening its agricultural heartland and creating water shortages nationwide. Of course, myopic policymakers and political horse-trading in Pakistan have only made matters worse. But poor India-Pakistan relations remain the major contributing factor to the crisis. Far from fostering cooperation on the issue, they actually create an incentive for India to withhold water from Pakistan. The water crisis in Pakistan hurts the poorest of the poor in Pakistan—prime targets for Al-Qaeda’s recruiters.

Jodi Liss: Pakistan — Loosening The Ties That Bind

However vicious, however Frankenstein-ian the Taliban, it doesn’t explain the origins of Pakistan's precarious condition. With Pakistan’s divided and distracted military, the corruption, the poverty, the radical Islamists, the maybe-loose nukes (despite the denials), anybody could be forgiven for thinking this weak country is on the verge of falling apart. The Taliban looks like an opportunistic virus ready to prey on the systemic weakness of its host. For all the shuttle diplomacy, prodding, and nagging by the United States, the only way really to settle Pakistan’s external problems is to deal with its internal problems. To survive, the country must find the political will to strengthen itself as a unified country. To do that, it has to look past its favorite and most populous province of Punjab, with its comfortable business, educational, and military elite, and its rich and corrupt cronies and special interests. Pakistan must deal with Punjab the way it treats its angry and marginalized provinces of Sindh, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and the restive and resource-rich Baluchistan. The grievances of Baluchistan, Sindh and the NWFP are longstanding. Both the Baluch people and the Pashtun (of the NWFP) resisted becoming part of Pakistan from the start. These provinces have a much lower per capita income and literacy rate than Punjab, and unequal distribution of tax revenues leaves them stuck in poverty.

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