Kashmir has once again emerged as a major flash point between South Asia's nuclear-armed rivals, India and Pakistan, says a report released by the US Institute of Peace on August 5.
The Indian government's insistence on Kashmir being a purely domestic issue is "a fiction maintained only by a large security presence", said a USIP report written by Happymon Jacob, an associate professor of diplomacy and disarmament at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
The Indian government's August 2019 withdrawal of statehood status for the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir region intensified disaffection among separatists and the Kashmiri public, said Jacob who is also a columnist with The Hindu.
New Delhi will increasingly find it hard to manage its narrative about constitutional and political changes ushering in peace to Kashmir. Most indicators of violence in Kashmir have been on the rise since the August 2019 decision.
The USIP report explored the strategies India and Pakistan have adopted toward Kashmir in the year since August 2019, and examines a potential road map for resolving the Kashmir conflict.
This report examines the insurgency and militancy in Kashmir and the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir in the wake of the major constitutional changes carried out by India in August 2019. This study is based on discussions and interviews with senior retired and serving Indian and Pakistani officials and on insights gained from the author's participation in closed-door track 2 meetings between India and Pakistan.
Here are highlights of the USIP special report titled: Toward a Kashmir Endgame? How India and Pakistan Could Negotiate a Lasting Solution:
· Kashmir has been a cauldron of discontent since August 2019, when the Indian government altered the special constitutional status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and split it into two "union territories" under direct federal administration.
· For now, the Indian government seems to have closed off options for a negotiated settlement of Kashmir with Pakistan as well as with separatist parties in Kashmir. New Delhi's strategy is to tighten its control of Kashmir while creating space for more pro-India politics. But this approach has intensified disaffection in Kashmir while opening the door for increased Pakistani interference.
· Pakistan has responded by stitching together a strategy designed to cast doubt on the diplomatic basis of the current bilateral cease-fire and fuel violence within Kashmir while raising tensions on the border.
· These mutually exclusive and highly militarized strategies have the potential to dangerously re-escalate tensions between India and Pakistan.
· Although bilateral attempts at conflict resolution in Kashmir seem unlikely in the near future, both sides may come to see the advantages of talking. When the time is ripe, the two sides should revisit the "Kashmir formula" that was negotiated and nearly finalized in 2004-07 through back channels.
New Delhi's traditional strategy was to arrive at a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership, but its new strategy emphasizes the domestic political management of Kashmir, the report said adding: "The question, however, remains whether New Delhi is equipped to create a new narrative and politics in Kashmir. Creating a new political narrative in a profoundly conflict-ridden space such as Kashmir would require an empathetic and conflict-sensitive approach, something that is missing in New Delhi at the moment."
"As things stand today, India and Pakistan are following radically divergent strategies in Kashmir that are unlikely to bring them to the negotiating table any time soon. Whether their strategies and direction change may depend above all on internal political dynamics within Kashmir itself. New Delhi's ability to pacify the security situation and to create and manage new political narratives in the valley are key to stabilizing the situation there. But New Delhi's ability to do that depends not only on its own political willingness but also on Pakistan's political and military designs in Kashmir. Paradoxically, India's determination to dictate what happens in Kashmir and Pakistan's determination to frustrate that ambition may, sooner or later, force them to recognize that they must work together to bring peace and stability to Kashmir," Happymon Jacob concluded.