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The Washington Quarterly 24.2 (2001) 181-193

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Reducing Tension Is Not Enough

Alexander Evans

After 13 violent years, an air of change surrounds Kashmir. In Pakistan, old truths are being reconsidered, even if Pakistan's commitment to Kashmir cannot be. In India, a newly acknowledged confidence has the potential to encourage action. In the United States, a policy grounded in the realities of the Cold War is being replaced by a new set of regional priorities.

Change, in this case, really could be for the better. A more realistic policy from Pakistan, without missing the need to meet Kashmiri desires, could mend a frayed relationship with the West and provide a basis for serious talks with India. The question is, will India respond in kind?

President Bill Clinton's visit in 2000 may have permanently altered the language of U.S. engagement with South Asia, entrenching U.S. interest in a region once branded a backwater. Kashmir will remain on the U.S. agenda, primarily because analysts see it as a potential spark to an explosive wider conflict in South Asia. A leading question for the administration of President George W. Bush will be whether the friendship with India deepens or fractures. New Delhi demands to be taken seriously, but must be treated with care. Pakistan, meanwhile, may not have many friends, but it needs to retain U.S. interest for regional security--and perhaps future access to energy resources in Central Asia--to be assured. Kashmir also deserves attention, not just because of geopolitics, but because all Kashmiris, whatever their religion, politics, or language, deserve just and democratic rule.

Bush may run into difficulties if he attempts to strike a balance among these three parties. Indian diplomats privately fear the possibility of revived U.S. unilateralism under the Bush administration. Initiatives such as national missile defense (NMD) raise more than a few eyebrows in New Delhi. [End Page 181] As one Indian defense analyst put it, forget North Korea or Iraq, NMD is aimed at the emerging missile powers such as India. Perhaps this statement reflects a mild form of Indian paranoia, but it harkens back to the simpler days of the Cold War, during which India was constantly suspicious of U.S. foreign policy. Regardless, sensitive South Asian politicians need to be handled carefully or U.S. involvement could become counterproductive if New Delhi suspects the motivation behind it.

A confident and trusting India, if well led, could seize opportunities to enter into dialogue with moderate Kashmiri opposition leaders. Substantial progress might not be possible, but any form of engagement would be better than the constant irritations of the present distant and authoritarian rule over Kashmir. Initial flirtations between Indian intelligence agencies and Kashmiri militant leaders is one sign that the engagement process has already begun. Simultaneously, an easing of previously stringent visa restrictions has allowed a number of Kashmiri exiles, mostly critics of Indian rule, to return to the Kashmir Valley. Some have been visiting their families, others have been facilitating quiet contact between the Indian government and some of its fiercest Kashmiri opponents.

The pressing questions in 2001 are whether another Indo-Pakistani war will occur and can it be prevented. One more year may have passed in peace, but some imaginative thinking is still urgently required to improve Indo-Pakistani relations. In the past, more active effort has been poured into regurgitating stock solutions to the Kashmir problem than into applying imagination to tackle its various parts. This obsession with solutions is a part of the problem, and perhaps in part explains why the Kashmir problem has festered for so long.

Of course a solution to the Kashmir problem is needed, now more than ever, and it should be pursued. Deeper comprehension of the Kashmir problem is required, however, if the current low-level crisis in Kashmir is ever to be resolved. Greater U.S. interest in the issue is welcome, therefore, and thoughtful analysis coming from the likes of the Kashmir Study Group, operated from New York, and other organizations could pave the way for a more...


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pp. 181-193
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Archived 2009
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