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The other day I was watching Charlie Rose’s interview with Ahmed Rashid. Rashid is a Pakistani reporter who recently wrote a book entitled Descent Into Chaos. Its an interesting interview regarding the current situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Rashid had any number of points of criticism for the current administrations in the United States and Pakistan. Among the more important ones however, was the need to address the issue of sanctuary in Pakistan.

Pakistan has gone after Al Qaeda but not the Taliban. In Rashid’s mind, the real threat now is the Pakistani Taliban. The ungovernable Tribal Areas are training terrorists with the goal of attacking weak-kneed European nations currently fighting in, but not totally committed to Afghanistan.

Rashid also believes that the U.S. has failed to democratize the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia. As you can see from the map below, they are directly north of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is contributing to the Islamization of these central republics, which in turn contributes to global instability.

But the one thing that Rashid said that really struck a cord with me, something that had not occurred to me at all, regarded relations between India and Pakistan. There are numerous areas of instability across the Middle East. This instability extends into Indian-Pakistani relations. Rashid asserted that the United States need to focus on the region with a ground up policy in conjunction with a strategic vision for the region. Stabilizing Pakistan is necessary. But you can’t fix Pakistan without dealing with India.

India and Pakistan have a long-standing dispute over the state of Kashmir. Kashmir is a mountainous region of some 7 million people. The population of Kashmir is predominantly Muslim. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the last 60 years over the territory. The frequently violated truce line is known as the “Line of Control.” The traditional borders of Kashmir are outlined in red on the map below. As you can see, parts of Kashmir now lie in India, Pakistan and China.

Map of World Highlighting Kashmir
In 1947 Kashmir joined newly-independent India, rather than Pakistan. India and Pakistan went to war over the disputed region in 1947-49 and again in 1965. Since 1989, militant Islamic forces have used terrorism in an effort to drive India out of Kashmir. In 1998, first India and then Pakistan detonated their first nuclear bombs, eviscerating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the process. In 1999, India fought a brief but deadly confrontation with Pakistani-backed forces who had infiltrated Indian-controlled territory.

India regards all of Kashmir part of India. Pakistan has long favored a plebiscite(in line with an 1949 U.N. resolution) in which Kashmir residents would vote on which country to be a part of. Since the population is predominantly Muslim, it is expected that the residents of Kashmir would choose to join Pakistan. India rejects this approach.

Tens of thousands of people have died in Kashmir since 1989, although today violence is down significantly. A thousand or so Pakistan-based militant groups have infiltrated Kashmir. India has approximately 600,000 soldiers and paramilitary police stationed there.

A cease-fire agreement containing confidence building measures was signed in November 2003.
In 2004, the nations engaged in a series of cricket matches dubbed cricket diplomacy, the first matches between the countries in 15 years.

There have been four rounds of foreign minister level talks since 2004. In the last year or two, Pakistan under President Musharraf has proposed flexible and bold initiatives to resolve dispute. India and Pakistan’s positions seem to be converging around the status quo. India would have to give up its claim to the Pakistani-held Kashmir. Pakistan would give up not only its claim to Indian-held Kashmir but also its demand for the UN-mandated plebiscite.

India can probably be persuaded to accept this arrangement which would likely be judged a defeat for Pakistan. Pakistan has dropped most of its demands. But Rashid alleges that India has not been pushed hard enough by the United States or the international community to solve the Kashmir problem.

If you look at the map again, you can see that the conflict in Kashmir is one anchor in a series of territorial disputes that stretches straight through the Middle East to the Israeli/Palestinian problems. Although in some ways these disputes might stretch back through centuries of ethnic warfare, they have their immediate genesis in the dissolution of the European (read: British) colonial system.

The upside of this conflict is that it involves two democratic countries, however flawed or dysfunctional. One of the causes of foot-dragging on the part of India is the upcoming Indian elections. Perhaps nothing can be expected to be achieved until new administrations are fully entrenched in both Pakistan and India. But once these administrations are in place however, the international community needs to do everything possible to finally end this conflict. It might just be the first domino to fall in the creation of a more stable region stretching all the way through to Israel.

Selected Internet Resources

BBC: Kashmir Flashpoint

UC Berkeley Library: Conflict in Kashmir

Frontline World on Kashmir.

Related Reading:
  • Michael Yon on Afghanistan
  • Winning Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan
  • Why Afghanistan is Different Than Iraq
  • 10,000 Foreign Fighters in Pakistan
  • Newsburglar Archives