There are signs that long-simmering tensions over Kashmir, the disputed border region between Pakistan and
India, may be cooling, if slowly. This week, India announced it had pulled 30,000 troops from Kashmir, the largest draw-down since 1999. It is a small step, given that up to 500,000 Indian troops remain in the region and antagonism still runs high between the two nuclear-armed states, but it is seen as an encouraging one. Kashmir is also of special interest to the U.S., as a de-escalation could allow Pakistan to take a larger role in fighting the Taliban.
- Indian Concession To U.S.? Muslim-Indian blogger Manas Shaik speculates of India's claim that it was reducing troops due to a decrease in violence, "It could also be due to US pressure. But whatever the reason, it's a welcome decision."
- Broad Political Willingness For Peace Kashmir Watch reports, "[Indian Home Affairs Minister] Chidambaram had also remarked that the Central government was ready to speak to all shades of political opinion in the state and was prepared to discuss self-determination, self-rule, autonomy and other such issues. Interestingly, various mainstream political parties have been demanding withdrawal of the troops from the state. Even separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelnai have also demanded total withdrawal of troops from all parts of the state."
- U.S. Must Focus On Kashmir Time's Joe Klein has long argues as much. He wrote days after Obama's inauguration that the "ultimate good strategic sense behind Obama's thinking: Kashmir is at the heart of Pakistan's support for various Islamic extremist groups, including the Afghan Taliban [...] for Afghanistan to settle down on a long-term basis, Pakistan is going to have to turn away from sponsoring Islamic extremist groups...which won't happen until there is some resolution of the historic Kashmir mess. For the moment, though, that will have to be done surreptitiously, if at all." Klein wrote on Thursday:
[The] U.S. military presence in the region gives strength, and credibility, to the most important work that needs to be done--the diplomatic efforts to lower the temperature between Pakistan and India. This has to be the unstated, opaque priority of the coming months. Several years ago, the Indians and Pakistanis came close to a deal on Kashmir. We need to nudge them back to that agreement.
- How India and Pakistan Can Resolve Kashmir Christian Science Monitor's Mansoor Ijaz makes the case for intelligence cooperation against Kashmir-based terror, for "mini free-trade zones" to deepen economic connections, and for both states to mobilize politically behind self-determination in Kashmir. "Two things need to happen: India needs to be prepared to systematically reduce its troops' presence, replacing military might and intimidation with economic growth and opportunity. And Pakistan must be prepared to end support for the jihadists."
- India Must 'Seize The Moment' The Hindu's Suhasini Haidar insists "that the opportunity for a resolution in Jammu and Kashmir is presenting itself. A window of rare opportunity to break a twenty-year-old cycle of violence that must be seized." Haidar writes, "Ironically, the most far-reaching initiative for the resolution of the Kashmir problem to date was the one taken not by this government -- but the NDA government that preceded it, when it announced a ceasefire along the Line of Control in November 2003. That ceasefire, which has largely held for six years, became the springboard for all the initiatives that followed, including the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus."
- Afghanistan's Forgotten Front Foreign Policy's Joshua Gross says it's Kashmir. "Kashmir is a void in U.S. foreign policy, all the more noticeable for its absence in our diplomats' discourse," he writes. "However, the 'hands off' approach ensures the prolongation of a perilous status quo. A perpetually unstable South Asia flooded with jihadi groups, with two combustible nuclear powers, undermines U.S. national security. In the interim, American troops are caught in the web of a conflict dynamic that extends far beyond the borders of Afghanistan. The Obama Administration must finalize the next steps for America's strategy in Afghanistan with a regional perspective. In the quest to stabilize Afghanistan, breaking the diplomatic impasse over Kashmir is a necessity, not a luxury."