Has 2014 – the year when US and NATO troops will withdraw from Afghanistan – any surprises in stock for us? The answer could be could both `yes’ and `no’. Looking for an answer to the question, there is need for understanding relevance of Kashmir for South Asian region and importance of Pakistan for the world and more particularly for peace and stability in the region after the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
In the post 9/11 situation, after the US ousted Taliban a major geo-strategic shift occurred in the region. In this, shift Kashmir also got catapulted to the centre stage of the regional politics. Moreover, keeping in view history of the dispute, its centrality during the cold war and having emerged as nuclear flashpoint its resolution cannot be delinked from peace and stability in the region. That is why many continue to see Kashmir as gateway to peace in Afghanistan- in the words of William Dalrymple new arena for ‘hostility between two regional nuclear powers’.
In 1947, India did not want to see Kashmir becoming part of its Union for strengthening its secular ideology but for strategic reasons. As Lamb rightly puts it, ‘the state for being key frontier region had for a century attracted the attention of the British strategists and this attitude was to a great degree inherited by their successors.’ During the cold war for Pakistan and India, directly and indirectly aligning with one or the other super power the stalemate over Kashmir continued and sword of uncertainty menacingly remained on the heads of its people. This uncertainty did not end even after the end of cold war instead; its edges sharpened to the discomfort of 13 million people of the state. In the post cold war period, nuclearization of the South Asia is the most dangerous development- and Kashmir as core issue has emerged as a potent threat to global peace and . Quoting collective judgment of various experts Stephen Cohen sees ‘major conflict between India and Pakistan during the next fifteen years that will overshadows all regional issues. Continued turmoil in Afghanistan and Pakistan will spill over into Kashmir and other parts of the sub-continent, promoting Indian leaders to take more aggressive preemptive and retaliatory action.’ Moreover, the two countries will see weapons of mass destruction as a strategic imperative and will continue to amass nuclear warheads.
Notwithstanding, ‘India emerging as a global power Pakistan is ‘indeed crucial and important to the world,’ writes Bruce Riedel, one of Americas leading experts on US Security, South Asia and author of Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and Future of Global Jihad, “Pakistan is an extremely important country in its own right. If geography had placed it somewhere else in the world, it would be seen as one of emerging critical nations of twenty first century, but geography puts it in the shadow of India.” Stating that the country ‘needs more attention’, he believes that ‘Now sixth largest country in the world in terms of population, ‘ with fast growth rate, soon it will be world’s fifth-largest country and the largest Muslim country, outpacing Indonesia. It may soon have the fourth-largest nuclear arsenal in the world….No country is more important with respect to nuclear arms than Pakistan.”
With all its ‘courtship, marriage, divorce and courtship’ relations, Washington knows it fully that cooperation with Pakistan is more important than with any other country for peaceful withdrawal from Afghanistan. This was endorsed a few days back by US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbin in Islamabad. Dobbin who took his assignment in May, this year made two meeting with Nawaz Sharif in a fortnight. After his in-depth meeting with Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, Foreign Secretary, Jalil A Jilani and Chief of Army Staff in Islamabad with all subtleties, recognizing the influence of Pakistan in Afghanistan was appreciative of its role in bringing peace in war torn country. His remarks, “We have achieved a fairly stable and positive level and I anticipate we will expand that cooperation,” seen in retrospect do hold a promise of America addressing Pakistan’s concerns for ensuring peace and stability in the region. It was none but US President, Obama who more than once during his first tenure talked of regional approach for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute and saw it as gateway to peace in Afghanistan. Kashmir’s centrality to peace in the region, in US estimation did not diminish even during the worst phase in US-Pakistan relations. The New America Foundation, a US think-tank after death of Osama in Abbotabad in September 2011 published a study, ‘Pakistan And the US at strategic cross roads. Subtly suggesting US role in Kashmir it said, “There is also a strong case for taking action on Kashmir for Kashmirs sake to reduce recurring clashes and allow Kashmiris to escape the constant menace of violence and geopolitical maneuvering.”
The PPP led government failed grasp the situation and build a narrative to bring lasting peace in the region. It did not have finger even pulse of its people. People of Pakistan see resolution of Kashmir as first priority not trade. This has been substantiated by some recent studies. In the Gallup poll carried out November 18-25, 2012, 66% Pakistani considered Kashmir important “Very Important”, 25% considered it “Somewhat Important” and only 6% did not see it that important. And 76 percent see its resolution important for peace with India. Apart from Gallup Pakistan, in a recently conducted Washington- based PEW Research Centre survey, 68% Pakistani respondents have opined that the situation in Kashmir was a serious issue for Pakistan and 79% declared India to be the “biggest threat to their nation”.
With US having renewed its shuttle diplomacy perhaps not seen since the time of Kissinger, the coming months are going to be full of diplomatic activity between Islamabad, Kabul, and Washington. It is going to be hectic for New Delhi and Islamabad and Islamabad and Beijing. In this building up scenario, there is a positive aspect for resolution of Kashmir but it all now depends upon Nawaz Sharif’s handling of the situation and his commitment to strategic interest of his country. His ability not to fall in the booby trap of ‘trade first’ laid down by his predecessors in office