By Sohail Mahmood (for Safe Democracy)

Sohail Mahmood discusses the growing need for a peaceful solution to the age-old conflict between India and Pakistan. Although enmity runs deep, and the issue of Kashmir will be difficult to resolve, by establishing an environment of patience, trust, credibility, and goodwill, peace may be possible in South Asia. It is time that the people of both Pakistan and India unite with the international community in sending a message of peace to their leaders. In Mahmood‘s opinion, a lasting peace is long overdue, to enable both countries to be able to address the important issues of economic and political development, like economic growth, the strengthening of political institutions, and finding a solution to widespread poverty.

Sohail Mahmood is the Associate Dean of the Department of International Relations at Preston University in Islamabad. With a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northern Arizona University, he is one of the leading experts in the world on Musharraf and Pakistan and has published dozens of books and articles on the issue.

WITH FOUR WARS UNDER ITS BELT, rampant international terrorism, and continuing hostility over the Kashmir region, the conflict between India and Pakistan has been one of the main destabilizing factors in South Asia for decades.

Peace in this region of the world is sorely needed; but the process is easier said than done. Many obstacles continue to impede the progress of peace.

The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai aroused suspicions of a Pakistani connection among the Indian media, who linked the bombings to the so-called terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, once based in Pakistan. As a result, President Manmohan Singh immediately called off all peace talks.

Recently, however, Singh met with General Musharraf in the United States, raising hopes that the stalemate in the peace process between Pakistan and India had come to an end. The two countries have until recently considered each other bitter enemies. Future difficulty lies in overcoming those sectors of the population that want continued war.

Reality is perceived in numerous ways by various parties to any dispute; therefore, understanding perceptions, and for that matter misperceptions, is very important. We can perceive reality only through our own ideological lens or frameworks, which in turn shapes our perceptions and changes how we may think or feel on a certain issue.

Some Indian circles perceive Pakistan to be behind the attacks in Mumbai. This is not the first time that Pakistan has been implicated in terrorist attacks on Indian soil: in 2001, 38 people were killed in a devastating attack on the Kashmir Assembly in Srinagar; later that year, an armed attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi left 14 people dead. For both of these attacks, Pakistani-backed Kashmiri militants were believed to be responsible, resulting in a build-up of troops along the Indo-Pakistani border, military exchanges, and heightened fears about the danger of a growing conflict.

Then, in January of 2002, President Musharraf gave a keynote speech pledging that Pakistan would not allow terrorists to operate on Pakistani soil. He called on the government of India to resolve the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir through dialogue. And in January of 2004, the new Congress-led coalition Indian government rekindled peace talks with General Musharraf’s regime in Pakistan. Soon after, a composite dialogue resulted in a number of confidence building measures, and a greater flow of travel between the two countries.

Peace is possible in South Asia, but one of the main stumbling blocks is the issue of Kashmir. The burden of history is heavy in this part of the world: some 80,000 people have been killed in Indian Kashmir since 1989, when a Muslim separatist revolt against Indian rule erupted. India has consistently maintained that Pakistan has been training and supplying weapons to these militant separatists. Since 2003, a fragile ceasefire has managed to stop the fighting. But the people of Kashmir have suffered enormously, and deserve a peaceful solution to so many years of bloodshed.

Kashmir is the key element in building a lasting peace between Pakistan and India. Pakistan has declared itself ready to negotiate a settlement, provided that it reflects the aspirations of the Kashmiris as well as being acceptable to both India and Pakistan. Yet, India will have to make huge concessions in its policy on Kashmir before peace can be possible.

The United States, meanwhile, have encouraged the continuance of dialogue, and offered to facilitate talks on Kashmir. With outside assistance many feel that a real breakthrough may be possible.

In order to accomplish peace, the Indian army must reduce the number of its troops in the Kashmir Valley and a third party must enter the country to stop the human rights violations constantly perpetrated by Indian security forces. Pakistan has already dismantled the militant organizations based in Kashmir but it must consider active cooperation with the Indian army to prevent militants from crossing over into Kashmir.

In the long run an autonomous Kashmir must be created, for peace to be achieved, with a minimum of Pakistani and Indian control, thus adopting the principle of diluted sovereignty. Learning from South Tyrol’s own bid for autonomy in 1972, the Kashmir Muslims must organize and come to recognize the moderate APHC –All Parties Hurriyat Conference– as their legitimate representative. A committee, made up of Indians, Pakistanis, Kashmiris, and some third-party representatives like the UNO, should be pieced together in order to achieve this autonomous shift. The local population deserves the right of self-determination, and with proper planning this part of the world will be able to move forward in peace and justice.

Peace is very important for the growth and development of the Pakistani government and economy. Pakistan needs time and proper planning to rebuild and strengthen its institutions, and to put its economic plans into effect. Economic cooperation over such issues as Iran’s gas pipeline should be able to create an environment of mutual understanding. Without peace with India, the development of Pakistan will be greatly hindered. Pakistan, therefore, must concentrate on the next phase of the composite dialogue: on building up mutual trust and commitment.

Provoking Pakistan now over the allegations regarding the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks would be both needless and counterproductive. The peace process is extremely fragile, and must be handled delicately.

The ideological divide between Muslims and Hindus is vast, and a long history of enmity is not easily reversible. But taking the lingering economic and social problems of the two countries into account, there should be a greater desire for peace simply to be able to divert valuable energy and resources to solve the issue of poverty. The scarce resources of both countries are being squandered on the construction of larger and larger defense initiatives. If peace is established, the areas of domestic politics concerning human development can be given the attention and resources that they so direly need.

Pakistan needs help from abroad. The people of South Asia must send a clear message of their desire for peace to the entire world. The support and resources of the international community will be invaluable in forging strong relations between Pakistan and India, and in beginning a global movement for peace.

The governments of both nations have failed in bringing peace to their people so far. They have ignored pressing social and economic issues in order to bolster their defense budgets. General Musharraf has hidden behind the fa├žade of democracy, whose economic gains have failed to reach down to the masses.

Peace will not be easy in South Asia. The process is long, and an environment of patience, trust, credibility, and goodwill is essential for progress to be made. The stakes are high, but times are changing. General elections in Pakistan are going to be held next year, so it is time for the people to rise up and send a clear message to their country. By organizing themselves massively using the Internet, and other modern tools of communication, their message will not be ignored: We, the people, yearn for peace and justice for all.

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