Why Kashmir Has No Easy Solutions: The Grand-Strategic Perspective
What dogs the Indo-Pak relationship? The answer to that question would be simple: Kashmir. However, there is no simple answer to the question as to why Kashmir still remains unresolved.
Even after multiple small and full-scale conflicts, and a recent close shave with nuclear war, both India and Pakistan remain trapped in a stalemate over Kashmir. After the failure of several bilateral and multilateral resolution measures, both parties have started treating Kashmir as a “strategic compulsion.” Simply stated, the Himalayan region has proven to be compulsory for the existence of both Asian giants. After the recent olive branch extended to India and the ceasefire agreement at the LOC, there have been rumours about a secret status quo peace deal over the region. A careful glance at the dynamics would clarify that such a deal would be unattractive to either party.
To date, the Kashmir Issue has been discussed under the auspices of the UNSC Resolutions that limit the solutions -via exercise of the right to self determination- to either accession or declaration of independence. Practically, these solutions are not geopolitically viable in the least. Despite the obvious contention over the region’s massive fresh water reserves there are pressing concerns that remain unaddressed.
Like most nation states, Pakistan and India remain prisoners of their own geography. Had the Himalayas stretched down to the plains of Punjab, sharing Kashmir would not have been an existential concern as such. As it sits, the mountainous terrain of the region discourages military escalations from either side, creating a negative cult of the offensive. The geographic features of Kashmir provide the first line of defence against foreign intrusion. Also, both capitals – Islamabad and Delhi – sit at a figurative stone’s throw from the J&K territory. The Pakistani capital sits less than a hundred miles away from the disputed region. Conversely, the situation would reflect the European conundrum where NATO and the Russian Federation remain under constant threat of a military advance due to the lack of a Kashmir-like topography between the plains stretching from Poland to Moscow.
Strategically speaking, the Indians have never been secretive about their plans to create a “Strategic Wedge” between Pakistan and China. By gaining control of the Gilgit-Baltistan region and stuffing an Indian wedge into the geography, the Sino-Pak land-to-land connectivity can be terminated. On the flip side, there’s another notion that in the event of complete Pakistani control over the Siachen Glacier, the Sino-Pak interoperability in the Indian North-West would be massively augmented, paving way for it becoming conventionally indefensible. That would compromise the cover provided by the great Himalayas against a Chinese advance.
Ideology also complicates this matter. While some have referred to it as the “test-case for secularism in India,” others have touted it as “the unfinished agenda of Partition.” Kashmir remains firmly embedded in the collective national psyche at both ends. Decades ago, the Muslims of the Subcontinent chose to form a separate homeland after the British departure, based on what is known as the Two-Nation theory. India has never officially subscribed to the idea. One can imagine if Kashmir wholly acceded to one side while rejecting the other, it would either vindicate or undermine the theory.
Cables have revealed that Patel and several other Indian founding fathers were perturbed with the idea of freedom for Kashmiris. It was believed that a Kashmiri accession of secession would propel the Indian Union into a “domino” situation, where other regions presumably “under distress” would demand the same, realising India’s nightmare of balkanization. Interestingly, studies published by the Pakistan Army indicate that this concern isn’t entirely foolish. In his book India: A Study In Profile, Lt Gen (R) Javed Hassan states that “India was hostage to a centrifugal rather than a centripetal tradition.” He further notes that this country “had a historical inability to exist as a unified state […] with some encouragement, the alienated parts of India could become centres of insurgencies that would, at best, dismember India.”
By virtue of its geography, Kashmir is essentially Central Asian. Contiguous to Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China, Kashmir possesses a Central Asian or Sino-Turkic character within its Himalayan personality. History reveals that Kashmir has been a part of the ancient Silk Road. Such a region can offer unique cultural, economic and political inroads into its foreign proximity. Analysts have argued that by being in this particular geographic vicinity Pakistan has attracted Chinese interest for transit and economic corridor projects. Naturally, India desires to harness this Central Asian personality to solidify linkages with Afghanistan and other Central Asian Republics (CARs).
So while the Kashmir issue suffers from these structural concerns, any solution – no matter how innovative – will be found wanting. And any subsequent rumours and whispers about any secret deal will be just that: rumours and whispers. That being said, it does not mean that the region is doomed to a strategic limbo. As Friedman said, “there exists no geopolitical riddle that cannot be solved with simple engineering.” Nevertheless, it does mean that a workable solution would neither be complete accession to either party nor complete independence of the state on the basis of self-determination. Territorial adjustments – like the Chenab – show, but in order to head down that road, jingoism would have to be toned down and the adversarial national psyche would need to be placated.
The author is a lawyer.