Kashmiri Dispute Looms Large in Politics of South Asia – December 14, 2009

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Kashmiri dispute looms large in politics of South Asia A de-miner near Srinagar, Kashmir. Photo: Flickr user Haumont Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and is a contributing Worldfocus blogger. Nonaligned India was perceived by most analysts to be largely in the Soviet camp during the Cold War. But the demise of the Soviet Union prompted India to recalibrate its relationship with the world’s only remaining superpower: the United States. Another major factor assisting in this realignment was India’s embrace since the early 1990’s of free market reforms, trade liberalization and privatization measures. These changes opened up the vast Indian market to U.S. exporters and foreign investors. While millions of Indians are still desperately poor, around 300 million Indians have joined the middle class. Thus a new and expanding Indian market is opening up for a wide variety of U.S. exports, and U.S. investment in Indian industry and infrastructure has risen appreciably in the last few decades. As a rising regional power, India is anxious to be recognized as a major player not only in South Asia but on the international stage. The importance of India to the U.S. was highlighted by the choice of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the first foreign dignitary to be accorded the honor of a state visit. A major impediment retarding India’s quest towards great power status is its perennial dispute with neighboring Pakistan over Kashmir. The two oldest conflicts on the agenda of the UN Security Council from the late 1940’s are the Arab-Israeli and Kashmir conflicts. Despite a number of diplomatic meetings spread over five decades, India and Pakistan have yet to overcome the hurdle of Kashmir, over which they have fought three wars. For Pakistan, Kashmir remains the unfinished agenda of the 1947 Partition. For secular multicultural India, Kashmir is a symbol of its heterogeneity. President Obama has publicly stated that the U.S. would help India and Pakistan to normalize their relations, including the dispute over Kashmir. The U.S. can help both countries. If the U.S. can persuade India to withdraw some of its forces on its border with Pakistan, this gesture would enable the latter to commit more of its troops now facing India to its lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. While the Pakistan army has achieved encouraging gains against the Pakistani Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan, its counterinsurgency efforts need to achieve more success. Once the tribal areas are pacified, they will no longer afford a sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda elements that cross the mountainous and porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border at will, to attack U.S. and NATO troops fighting the Taliban insurgents. So it is patently in the U.S. interest to invest more diplomatic capital in New Delhi and Islamabad. India and Pakistan have both suffered from violent extremism. They continue to be plagued by domestic insurgencies. Whether they admit it or not, they have a shared interest in combating the ravages of terrorism in their territories. As the U.S. footprint in both Pakistan and India assumes greater depth, hopefully the U.S. will nudge both countries to consistently focus on a resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio. A mutually acceptable settlement of this issue should be placed on the same pedestal as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in U.S. calculations. – S. Azmat Hassan

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