In search of a solution for Kashmir

Both India and Pakistan have ample reason to settle the longstanding dispute over divided Kashmir, which is boiling after a summer of violent clashes between protesters and Indian security forces.

May reason prevail in divided Kashmir – a region claimed by both India and Pakistan, a focal point of their past wars, and now the scene of intensified violence.

This week has seen the highest number of deaths yet in a summer of protests in the Indian-ruled part of Kashmir. A territorial question mark that goes back to the partition of British-ruled India in 1947, this Himalayan hideaway is one of the world’s most heavily militarized zones, a powder keg lodged between two nuclear-armed states.

It’s in India’s self-interest to compromise over this dispute. India’s economy is growing rapidly. Delhi seeks a greater role as a global player. It has much bigger concerns than to have its future darkened by the shadow of uncertainty that is cast by Kashmir.

The same is true for Pakistan. It has a historic flood on its hands, a serious terrorist challenge, and a fragile democracy and economy to strengthen. (Its military deployment in its part of Kashmir, meanwhile, as well as Pakistan’s historic tension with India, hinder America’s war on terrorism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.)

Surely, these incentives are enough to push Pakistan and India to make equitable compromises.

But as with the Middle East, if logic were the only consideration, a solution would have been found long ago. In Kashmir, as in the Mideast, layers of history obscure the way forward. Terrorist spoilers – and political and military hardliners – complicate the picture. Religious differences play a role, as do local conditions on the ground.

The latter seems particularly relevant to the turbulence now buffeting Kashmir. Protests have occurred almost daily since June, when a 17-year-old student died after being hit by a tear gas shell fired by Indian security forces during a protest.

The mainly Muslim protesters reject rule by Hindu-dominated India, supporting instead either independence or joining with mostly Muslim Pakistan. Grievances over apparently heavy-handed treatment by Indian security forces have fed the demonstrations.

In what is being called a Kashmiri intifada, or uprising, protesters throw rocks and security forces fire tear gas and bullets –at least 88 people have been killed so far this summer, mostly young men and teenagers, according to the Associated Press.

On Monday, rumors of a US Quran-burning set off protests, and 19 people were reportedly killed as troops and protesters clashed. A curfew is on and police warn that violators will be shot on sight, AP reports.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Monday he was willing to talk to Kashmiris and respond to their demands. He’s expressed empathy in the past, and recently called for a program to speed up job creation in Kashmir. Some advise the prime minister to ease emergency measures as a confidence-building measure, but many in the security field oppose the idea.

This specific challenge requires India’s full attention, but it should also serve as a reminder that a solution must be found to an unresolved dispute that has festered for more than 60 years.

In 2007, reason almost prevailed. In secret negotiations, India and Pakistan discussed the idea of an autonomous Kashmir. But circumstances intervened, including a change in leadership in Pakistan and the Mumbai (Bombay) terrorist bombings of 2008.

Pakistan and India returned to talks earlier this year, but the political will must be found to continue talks and to resolve the longstanding problem of Kashmir. It has held back all the players – India, Pakistan, and Kashmir – for far too long.

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