Kashmir: An Obstacle To South Asia Stability

10 February 2009

New Delhi: U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke will tread a thin line when he visits New Delhi, aiming to promote stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan without mentioning the Kashmir dispute that many see as a source of the region's conflicts. HOW DID THE KASHMIR CONFLICT START? After India and Pakistan won independence from Britain, the once independent state of Kashmir was expected to join Pakistan, as other Muslim-majority regions did. The Hindu ruler of Kashmir wanted to stay independent but faced an invasion by Muslim tribesmen from Pakistan. In October 1947, he agreed to join India in return for military aid, and the region became a battleground. WHY IS KASHMIR IMPORTANT It is seen as one of the world's potential nuclear flashpoints. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, which both claim in full but rule in part. Indian Kashmir has been hit by a 20-year separatist revolt in which more than 47,000 people have been killed. An attack on the Indian parliament in 2001, blamed on Pakistan-based Kashmiri separatists, brought the countries to the brink of another full-blown conflict, at a time when both had acquired and were testing nuclear weapons. India says that the Mumbai attacks in November that killed 179 people were also carried out by a Pakistani militant group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. WHY IS INDIA SO SENSITIVE ABOUT KASHMIR? New Delhi sees Kashmir as an integral part of India, key to highlighting the secular nature of the Hindu-majority Asian nation. India fears a loss of Kashmir would lead to further demands for independence from other states, especially in its northeast region near China. WHY IS THERE RENEWED FOCUS ON KASHMIR? U.S. President Barack Obama wants to beat a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, crush al Qaeda and make sure neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan is used as a base for followers of Osama bin Laden's global jihad. A solution to Kashmir is seen by many in the region, including Pakistan, as ending a major source of Islamist militancy and terrorist recruitment and allowing the Pakistan military to redouble its efforts in Afghanistan. Analysts say mistrust between India and Pakistan has fuelled conflict in Afghanistan. Islamabad is concerned about New Delhi's growing influence there, and is reluctant to cut ties with the Taliban as a result, analysts say. Obama originally wanted a special Kashmir envoy but India opposed that. New Delhi has always refused to accept outside interference in Kashmir. WHAT DOES HOLBROOKE REALISTICALLY HOPE TO ACHIEVE? Holbrooke's remit does not include Kashmir, so it is unlikely any progress will be made in the dispute. But Holbrooke may be able to help nudge India and Pakistan to some kind of small agreements or confidence-building measures that could reduce mistrust in Afghanistan and perhaps eventually lead to some progress over Kashmir. WHAT DO INDIAN KASHMIRIS WANT? Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state. Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists accept New Delhi's rule, but there remains a vocal demand for independence in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley. There is evidence that a majority of Kashmiri Muslims favour independence. Others would be happy under Pakistan rule. But India points to a roughly 60 percent turnout at a recent state election, despite a separatist boycott, as evidence that most Kashmiris accept New Delhi's rule.