The resumption of diplomatic dialogue between India and Pakistan in late February 2010 shifted the focus back to the Kashmir conflict. Since the break-out of the war in Afghanistan it had become quiet around the conflict in the closeby region of Kashmir. But according to the CIA, Kashmir remains one of the world’s most dangerous areas. Outside the scope of media attention, the tensions continue to turn the region into a volatile area. There is no other conflict where conventional and nuclear armament is so closely related to the problems of a fragile state and to the violence of Islamist terrorist groups. Nowhere else in the world can such a realistic threat of war between two nuclear powers be found; and hardly any other conflict has obstructed the economic development of a whole part of the world for more than half a century as much as the Kashmir crisis.
Kashmir serves as a symbol of religious identity
For India and Pakistan, the conflict about the status of the former kingdom is closely connected to their conception of a state. Kashmir is inhabited by Muslims, and while it is a symbol of religious identity in Pakistan, it also serves as a symbol of the secular character of the Indian Union. At the same time, the region is a domestic trouble spot for both states. The debate about regional autonomy as well as attacks from Islamic terrorist groups have prevented long-term settlements. For Pakistan, the support of Islamist groups as a foreign policy instrument in the fight against India has proven to be increasingly counterproductive. Nowadays, the attacks are not limited to India but affect both countries alike. The attacks in the Pakistani province of Punjab in fall 2009 as a reaction of the military offensive in South Waziristan, have shown an expanding cooperation between terrorist groups in the periphery of Al Qaida, Taliban and Kashmirs.
The path to a solution for Kashmir remains long and difficult
Over the decades, the outcome of the Kashmir conflict has brought India and Pakistan not only to face common social and economic challenges but also a common enemy. The prospects for the cooperation between both states are nevertheless intermingled. The dialogue between Delhi and Islamabad has gradually made the armed border in Kashmir permeable again since 2004. Infiltration and attacks have decreased, India has reduced the size of its troops and even resumed the negotiations with the government in Srinagar regarding the question of autonomy. In 2007, during the most peaceful phase of the war-shaken relationship between both states so far, a formula to end the conflict finally seemed tangible. However, it failed because of the domestic turbulence regarding Pakistan’s former military sovereign Pervez Musharraf. Resuming the dialogue in February 2010, 15 months after the devastating terrorist attacks in Mumbai, was thus only a first and humble step. The path towards a solution for Kashmir will be long and difficult. The main task for India and Pakistan will be to expand their bilateral relationship in order to lead it through the dead end of the Kashmir conflict. The international community needs to support this process because the bilateral approximation between India and Pakistan will also be of crucial impact for the stability of Afghanistan.