All roads lead to Kashmir

Athough the road to peace in Kabul does not necessarily begin in Kashmirtion in Kashmirregional experts such as former CIA officer Bruce Riedel have argued that a lasting peace in Afghanistan is impossible without a resolul. So long as Pakistan’s military remains obsessed with the Indian threat and the large number of Indian troops along its eastern border, it is reluctant to redeploy its troops and its resources to go after the Taliban along Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistan fears encirclement by India due to growing Indian influence in Afghanistan after the United States withdraws. Meanwhile, hawks in India seem reluctant to make major concessions in Kashmir.

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Pakistan’s strategic calculus will only change, says Riedel, “once the logic of confrontation with India begins to be undermined.” And that will require renewed back-channel talks and incremental steps toward peace. An overt US push to resolve the Kashmir dispute along the lines of Washington’s recent efforts in the Middle East would likely fail — angering India and exposing its leaders to criticism from hawks on the right. But a softer behind-the-scenes approach could succeed.

After all, back-channel talks between India and Pakistan in 2006 and 2007 came very close to establishing a largely autonomous Kashmir with soft borders between the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled regions, and a gradual demilitarization of the area. Those talks fell apart when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf lost power in August 2008, and the issue has been a political nonstarter since the Pakistani-sponsored terrorist attacks on Mumbai that November.

There are signs of hope. Two weeks ago, both Indian and Pakistani officials signaled that some back-channel diplomacy had resumed. More importantly, Syed Salahudin, the Pakistan-based leader of Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest Kashmiri militant group, announced in Rawalpindi that “India and Pakistan should sit at the negotiating table.” It is the first time in 20 years that Salahudin has come out in support of a negotiated resolution to the Kashmir dispute. Washington should seize the moment — but quietly.

Basharat Peer, an Open Society Fellow, is the author of “Curfewed Night.’’ Sasha Polakow-Suransky, a senior editor at Foreign Affairs, is the author of “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.’’