Kashmir has always captured the imagination of the Pakistani people and stirred their emotions. This is partly because of shared religion but also because Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, and its ruling elite have very close ethnic and cultural association with Kashmir.
But 9/11 led to dwindling preoccupation with Kashmir among Pakistanis. Especially for the generation that grew up in the 2000s and had first-hand experience of terrorism and fear, domestic issues became more pressing. Kashmir, therefore, took a backseat to even those in policy circles. In fact, for many in Pakistan, Kashmir became a needless burden that was sinking the Pakistani ship. “Save Pakistan before saving Kashmir” became a common mantra, especially in the liberal intellectual and elite circles.
Pakistani perceptions underwent another change in 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in India. That coincided with Pakistan’s successful military operations against terrorist groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan that were causing mayhem in the country. With stability inside of Pakistan and the surge of violence in India against Muslims, along with the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy by the Modi government in 2019, the Kashmir issue returned to the fore of Pakistani imagination, and this time on steroids with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the helm.
As divisive as the Kashmir issue is, it is important for both Pakistan and India to recognize why it is important to resolve the issue. Here are five reasons why Kashmir requires urgent attention:
1. Peace Either Everywhere or Nowhere
The events of 9/11 proved the point that underdevelopment, violence, and instability in one part of the world will directly impact the rest of the world – even the most developed countries in the West were not safe or secure. This has been the gist of U.N. calls for integrating security and development to stabilize the Global South to secure the Global North. This new policy approach was best articulated by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who argued that “famines and instability thousands of miles away lead to conflict, despair, mass migration, and fanaticism that can affect us all.” Therefore, continued violence and subjugation in Kashmir on a slow burn is unlikely to remain within the borders of Kashmir. The repercussions may erupt around the world in different ways.
2. Status Quo Benefits Only a Few
The Kashmir issue is a byproduct of the British colonial project in India that led to a strained relationship between Pakistan and India. The international community has showed little capacity or interest to resolve the issue for 70 long years. The issue lingered on because the new status quo benefited many actors involved in the region and some external actors that thrive on the war industry. With the Modi government acting unilaterally to revoke Article 370, the status quo has become even more firm and volatile, leaving only extreme options for both sides.
3. The Untold Costs
Kashmir doesn’t bleed alone; Pakistan and India bleed with it perpetually. For as long as the Kashmir continues to bleed through militarization, killings, rape, and draconian tactics, the chaos will continue to permeate and affect the lives of the people in the region. This is why Pakistan has been insisting on resolving the Kashmir issue for the benefit of Kashmiri people first, and then the overall stability of the region. In many ways, the true potential of India, Pakistan, and Kashmir itself is a hostage to the inability of status quo powers (in this case India) to resolve the Kashmir issue.
4. Principles Matter
For Pakistan and India, Kashmir isn’t some far away land like Afghanistan was for the U.S., that it could exit at will. Pakistan and India share borders, cultures, traditions, and much more with the Kashmiris. To then stand for the rights of Kashmir may be exhausting and taxing, but it is principally right. As much as anyone argues otherwise through a reductionist “realist” lens, principles do matter in policymaking and international relations, especially in the mid and long run. Therefore, it is important that the international community fulfills its commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue.
5. Rule by Fear
In today’s world we should not allow for governance and fascist practices from the 19th century. Rule by fear or force is untenable. Kashmir is the most militarized region in the world, with India having deployed 900,000 soldiers here and Pakistan around 50,000. More people have died due to border shellings than war between Pakistan and India. Modi’s forceful annexation of Kashmir has renewed a wave of terror and fear in Kashmir with curfews, internet blackouts, growing violence, and killings. Kashmir is not getting safer; it’s only getting more insecure and unsustainable to govern for the Indian government – the effects of which will destabilize the entire region.
Kashmir is an integral part of the Kashmiri people, who have faced the worst consequences of decades of mindless subjugation of their rights. It is convenient for Western countries to ignore the plight of Kashmiris for a larger geopolitical game at play against China, but the prolonged human catastrophe in Kashmir will render the great power competition irrelevant if the unresolved crisis persists.