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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.

Charles G. Cogan: Hands Off Kashmir!

America’s rapprochement with India, and its centerpiece nuclear agreement, is a bright star in the otherwise murky firmament of the George W. Bush years. India is a large power; it is a secular, democratic power, not influenced by Islamist radicalism. Its large Muslim population of 140 million seems generally—so far—not attracted to that kind of fanaticism. India is a country with a population of 1.17 billion whose numbers are destined to exceed those of China by 2050. (Pakistan’s population, much smaller, but not insignificant, is roughly 180 million). The advantage of the U.S.-India rapprochement, in the short and medium term, lies in the fact that this huge country is right next to a string of Muslim countries whose populations are generally (though not universally) hostile to U.S. interests. Because of the strategic importance that the United States places on both India and its troubled sister, Pakistan, policymakers in Washington have periodically tried to play the role of peacemaker in the region, hoping to push both nuclear-armed countries to resolve the bad blood between them—which, for the most part, has revolved around the contested province of Kashmir. In 2009, U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke reportedly tried to include India in his Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) portfolio, which seemed to mean that he wanted to take a crack at the Kashmir problem. The Indians, however, would have none of it, and AfPak remains limited to the two nations that make up the somewhat unwieldy conjunction. [caption id="attachment_4252" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Indian relief map of the Line of Control"][/caption] Steve Coll, in a New Yorker article on March 2, 2009, brought to light a parallel or “back” channel in Indo-Pak negotiations that took place during the regime of Pervez Musharraf. If the discussions had succeeded, and it appears they came close, it could have resulted in a sort of free movement of populations across the Kashmiri line of separation—without a change of sovereignty between the advantageous Indian and unimpressive Pakistani portions. However, Musharraf went into a political tailspin after his dispute with the Pakistan judiciary and had to leave office in August 2008. With his departure, the talks seem to have ended. Ironically, according to Coll, the Indians had come to trust Musharraf, despite the fact that he was the main instigator of the abortive Pakistani attack at Kargil, in Kashmir, in 1999. The arrangement nearly worked out reflects the Indian insistence that the line of separation (called the Line of Control) must not be altered, as this could affect the status of the Indian-held Valley of Kashmir, the beautiful “jewel in the crown” of the whole affair. Moreover, from the Indian point of view, ceding any part of Indian-held Kashmir, in what would be seen as stemming from religious reasons, would compromise the Indian political philosophy of secular government. In any event, a settlement now seems extremely unlikely in the short term, especially after the horrific attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 which originated in Pakistan. As long as Kashmir remains as it is, unequally divided, Islamabad will likely never be satisfied, which means we can expect more Pakistani agitation inside India and an increasingly stronger riposte from New Delhi. There is definitely a fear that the two Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are not only still active; worse, extrapolating from the attack on Mumbai, these groups may have set their sights on more ambitious targets, unleashing havoc within India’s metropolitan cities rather than engaging India’s massive deployments in Jammu and Kashmir. So where do things stand now?

THE INDEX—September 28, 2009

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