Kashmir is key to peace in South Asia

Kashmir dispute is recognized by the United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 91 of 21 April 1948 which gave the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir to decide whether Kashmir should become part of India or Pakistan. Subsequently India failed all efforts of the UN and Pakistan for holding the plebiscite. As a consequence three wars have also been fought between India and Pakistan.

Then, in the aftermath of those wars many rounds of bilateral parleys to resolve Kashmir and other issues also failed as India never allowed Kashmir dispute to be discussed on the table. After waiting for a long time for the plebiscite, because of India’s intransigence on the issue, the people of Kashmir started their freedom struggle in 1987 which is still continuing. And in the process they have suffered large scale atrocities at the hands of India’s security forces for the last 23 years.

Now, under the changing world and regional scenarios and evolving future politico-strategic and economic dynamics in this part of the world, it is perceived that it will not be politically and economically feasible for India to maintain status quo in Kashmir. Gradually, within next about four to five years the situation in Afghanistan is likely to stabilize which will ultimately pave the way for Afghanistan and Pakistan acting as transit route for trade from Russia, China and Central Asian States (CARS) to South Asia and other parts of the world. This is very important as the CARs would also like to reconnect that landlocked region to the global economy to attain sustainable economic progress. Their opening towards South Asia is also necessary to ensure diversification of trade links to avoid political and economic pressures from a single source. The need for CARS to open their trade routes to other regions requires construction of infrastructure which will create investment opportunities for the regional countries like India and Pakistan. In this context to meet their energy shortages and growing needs Pakistan and India will like to get much cheaper gas and electricity from CARs. Both countries can also draw large benefits out of trade with those states.

But India cannot draw optimum benefit out of trade with CARs without sustained India- Pakistan trade relations and transit regime. And it is politically not possible for Pakistan to develop this relationship without satisfactory resolution of Kashmir dispute. Hence it is logical to conclude that to realize huge trade benefits with Pakistan and CARs it is necessary that India resolves the Kashmir dispute according to the wishes of Kashmiri people. On the other hand it can be said that maintenance of status quo in Kashmir will cause huge losses to India as because of lack of trade with Central Asia and without an access to their much cheaper energy resources India will be hit by slowing down of its economic growth and prosperity, delaying of the process of becoming a major world power and attainment of a permanent seat in the UNSC as it will not be possible till India changes world perception that by not resolving Kashmir dispute as per wishes of people of Kashmir it remains a major violator of UNSC resolutions.

Therefore it is strategically important for India to make use of recently resumed bilateral dialogue with Pakistan to resolve Kashmir dispute in accordance with the will of people of Kashmir and other disputes with Pakistan with pragmatism to attain permanent peace with Pakistan and draw huge benefits connected with the transit trade with Russia, China, CARs and Pakistan and importing energy resources of CARs using land route through Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is more important for India because due to its good relations with the US and because of long drawn tensions between the US/Western countries and Iran over the nuclear issue and related sanctions on Iran, India may not be able to use the transit trade route through Iran for its trade with Central Asia for a long time.

On the contrary if India does not get serious on resolving disputes with Pakistan it not only risks colossal economic losses in terms of losing trade and energy resources of CARs it will also continue to expose itself to the threats of freedom struggle of Kashmiri people and war with Pakistan thus retarding its current attractive growth rate of 9% and its dreams of becoming a major world power.

After resolution of disputes, India and Pakistan will also be able to cooperate in addressing terrorism and their other internal security issues rather than using their precious resources against each other. Also, where as peaceful scenario and friendship between India and Pakistan will encourage foreign investment in both these countries and Kashmir, other South Asian counties will also benefit economically as SAARC will become an economic promotion forum and foreign investment will also be attracted in these countries. Also Kashmiri people will be able to exploit trade and investment benefits connected with both India and Pakistan, other South Asian countries and world at large. Thus, it can be concluded that in today’s world where means of communication and transportation have contracted distances between various countries and continents, end of India-Pakistan hostile relationship by resolving Kashmir and other disputes will bring permanent peace and numerous economic benefits to the people of India, Pakistan, Kashmir and other South Asian countries enhancing their prosperity and wellbeing.

By: Col. M. Hanif (Retd.)

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