The Hidden Conflict: False Optimism and Silent Strategy in Kashmir

By Kumar, Manav | Harvard International Review, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Hidden Conflict: False Optimism and Silent Strategy in Kashmir

Kumar, Manav, Harvard International Review

In the aftermath of the October 2004 meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at the United Nations, the longest unresolved conflict on the agenda of the UN Security Council seems primed to take a step closer towards resolution. The dispute in Kashmir, which was first brought to the United Nations in 1948, has proven to be one of the most intractable and dangerous political disputes facing the international community. Kashmir, which former US President Bill Clinton once called "the most dangerous place on earth," has been transformed into a perilous war zone since an armed insurgency against Indian rule began in the late 1980s. The three parties involved in the dispute--India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiri people--have remained at loggerheads for over half a century without any party making substantive political gains.


The Kashmir conflict has a long and complicated history. Deep-rooted animosity and distrust have often precluded amicable dialogue between the parties, leaving any substantive joint agreements a distant possibility. The deep-seated disagreement has become progressively more hostile as it has become linked to issues of national pride and national identity. These associations have made compromise all the more difficult to reach. The recent rapprochement between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, sparked by former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's unprecedented 2003 peace proposal and the subsequent conciliatory Pakistani response, has made considerable headway in preventing hostilities on the subcontinent. The declaration of a ceasefire, the resumption of full diplomatic ties, the planned high-level talks, and a host of confidence-building measures--ranging from softer borders to arms control measures--have created much excitement over the genuine prospects of sustainable peace.

The Doctor's Spin

While the incipient peace process between India and Pakistan is encouraging, it has contributed to a sense of false optimism. The media hype and its sanguine expectations about the process have masked a recent tragedy on the subcontinent: the collapse of the Kashmir peace process.

Too often the conflict in Kashmir is conflated with the broader dispute between India and Pakistan. While the issue of Kashmir is often at the crux of disagreements between the South Asian neighbors, it is a fundamentally distinct conflict with a separate peace process--a process whose recent failure has unfortunately gone unnoticed. The traditional "Kashmir conflict," which garners the majority of public attention, finds its origin in the 1947 partition of the subcontinent after British withdrawal. This conflict is over the competing claims of New Delhi and Islamabad to the territory of Kashmir; the conflicting interpretations of the events of 1947 have led to three wars over the possession of Kashmir. Moreover, the Kashmir issue has remained a stumbling block in attempts to bolster ties between the two neighbors. While failing to address the issue of Kashmir, the current Indo-Pakistani peace process has had some success at fighting through the historical baggage between the two adversaries and fostering an environment conducive to cooperation.

On the Ground

Although often assumed, it is naive to suggest that Kashmir would cease to be a political-military tinderbox if the South Asian peace process were able to sustain its momentum. Any modus vivendi between India and Pakistan would have little effect on the long-term stability of the region because it excludes a crucial party to the conflict: the Kashmiri people. The real, and arguably more destabilizing, "Kashmir conflict" is the dispute between New Delhi and the state of Kashmir. In response to rigged elections and a track record of poor governance and repression, a popular anti-Indian separatist insurgency took hold in Kashmir during 1989.

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