Kashmir, Terrorism and Proliferation
Since September 11, 2001, the United States has increased its commitments in Central and South Asia, forging strategic partnerships with newly independent states and reaffirming ties with both allies and former adversaries. Yet, even after the destruction of the Taliban regime, terrorism remains a major problem in a region beset by conflict and instability. This is a particular problem in the disputed region of Kashmir, where many extremists fleeing Afghanistan have taken refuge-and taken up arms. As a result, Kashmir has evolved from a long-simmering regional dispute into a major challenge in the war on terrorism that demands American attention. However, despite Pakistan's considerable assistance to the United States during the war in Afghanistan, Washington should not permit that assistance to color its appraisal of the realities of the complex dispute. In Kashmir, India is battling terrorists and insurgents on a routine basis operating from sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan. Pakistan claims that the violence is indigenous and based on a struggle for self-determination.
The fundamental problem is that independence for Kashmir could set a dangerous precedent and reactivate struggles for independence among other ethnic groups demanding statehood in South Asia -Sikhs, Assamese, Nagas, Mizos, Maipuris, Tripurans, Chakmas, Baluchis, Pashtuns and Sindhis-and beyond (the Balkans, Africa, etc.). It could also reactivate the war of secession through terrorism by the Tamils within Sri Lanka (resolved by the Norwegians in 2003). Encouraging Kashmir's independence or its annexation by Pakistan could lead, in short, to the unraveling of South Asia, including Pakistan. It would aggravate similar secessionist conflicts involving terrorism in Chechnya in Russia, Xinjiang in China and Mindanao in Philippines. Like Kashmir and India, these are all Muslim majority provinces in non-Muslim majority states. The "Balkanization" of South Asia is not in America's national interest.
Instead, America should persuade Pakistan to recognize the Line of Control. This is the pragmatic solution. Consider the example of the 1914 British-drawn MacMahon Line between China and India, which the former initially rejected. Both sides have now agreed that the Line of Control will become the international frontier between the two states. In July 2003, India and China formally acknowledged Tibet as part of China and Sikkim as part of India. With the ethnic cleansing of Buddhist Tibetans and ethnic swamping by Han Chinese, the Tibetan question is geopolitically over. Likewise, though Afghanistan initially challenged the 1892 British-drawn Durand Line when Pakistan was created in 1947, it has since accepted the demarcation.
American facilitation on the Kashmir issue should also take into account the realities of power between India and Pakistan. Pakistan has failed to seize Kashmir by military force in four wars. Its support for insurgencies in Kashmir has produced no change in the territorial situation. The United States should also keep in mind that India could have provoked an exodus of Kashmiri Muslims into Pakistan, like China in Tibet, and then swamped sparsely populated Kashmir with Hindus and Sikhs.
At a time when Hindu nationalism is on the rise, Kashmiri independence or accession to Pakistan will reopen the wounds of the bloody partition of British India in 1947 into India and Pakistan. This could risk a devastating India-Pakistan conflict and provoke Hindu-Muslim carnage in India. Transferring 5 million Kashmiri Muslims to Pakistan for their well-being would naturally raise questions about the status of the 150 million Indian Muslims that would remain in the rest of India. Should they not also be sent to Pakistan for their well-being? Ceding Kashmir to Pakistan will not solve the Muslim question in India and could well undermine their status in India. Moreover, widespread Hindu-Muslim conflict could radicalize segments of the Indian Muslim population, inciting them to join the Al-Qaeda terrorist network as in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Should the status quo become difficult to maintain-as more and more indications suggest-the most viable alternative appears to be Asia's answer to the European Union. The possibility of strengthening economic and social cooperation under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is welcome, seeking as it does the elimination of all trade and investment barriers. Much like the hope that wars in the Balkans would become self-evidently counterproductive (and more difficult to start) once all those countries enter the EU, encouraging the deepening of SAARC could go a long way toward creating the conditions for normalizing relations between the region's two nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan, thereby rendering nuclear weapons unnecessary in South Asia and advancing US global policy against nuclear proliferation.
While many obstacles for the deepening of SAARC remain, South Asia has at least one advantage over its European predecessor: all the countries of South Asia inherited British political and economic institutions and use English as a common language. Thus, prudent guidance and support by Washington for the growth of SAARC may diminish the importance of the Kashmir issue in the near future. This would be a positive step forward in the war on terror.