ISLAMABAD — When representatives of some of the most prominent groups in Indian-administered Kashmir visit Pakistan toward the middle of this month, many South Asia watchers will be looking for signs of progress in South Asia’s latest peace process.
The recent moves by India and Pakistan, the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors, have encouraged many to expect further conciliatory steps from the two countries, which have fought three wars in their 53-year history and now maintain a tense peace.
Their troubles now largely stem from disagreement over the division of predominantly Muslim Kashmir, one-third of which is under Pakistani control while the rest is administered by India.
In the past few months, India’s announcement of a ceasefire in its military operations against Kashmiri separatist Muslims helped convince many that a lull in the decade-old fighting could provide an opportunity for all concerned groups to begin a new peace process. Pakistan swiftly reciprocated by announcing a withdrawal of some of its military troops deployed along the temporary border in Kashmir known as the Line of Control.
Even with the latest developments in Kashmir, there are many skeptics who are determined to remain pessimistic — mainly because this is not the first time that a peace process in Kashmir has been launched. In the weeks ahead, a two-track peace dialogue — one involving Pakistani and Kashmiri representatives discussing peace prospects, the other involving Indian and Kashmiri representatives discussing ways to end the protracted fighting — may be launched.
The challenge now for all three parties is to sustain the momentum while containing the hardline elements to ensure the peace process does not receive an unexpected and sudden setback. To cite an example not too distant from South Asia, the recent events in the Middle East have adequately demonstrated that no matter how compelling the arguments for peace, it is never too difficult for peace processes to be shattered at short notice.
For India and Pakistan, the two sovereign parties to the dispute, there are three major challenges ahead.
First, under the glare of the international diplomatic spotlight, it is possible that the two countries may opt for a resumption of their broken peace dialogue. However, the danger is that a process that involves only diplomats could well turn in to another nonstarter. To aggressively move the process forward, India and Pakistan would need to increase the dialogue between their national leaders and follow up with bold decisions that would be difficult to reverse.
Second, there is bound to be resistance from within each one of the three parties (Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris) as the peace process gets under way. Just as the prospect of continued conflict doesn’t appeal to everyone, similarly, there is bound to be widespread dismay over the prospect of peace breaking out at the end of a long journey through conflict and bloodshed.
For Pakistan, India and the Kashmiri leadership, the challenge ahead involves successfully steering a peace process down a tumultuous road. The parties to the dispute must be prepared for setbacks such as acts of violence that are unleashed only to derail the chances of peace.
Finally, reorienting societies to adjust to the reality of peaceful times rather than hardline nationalism as in the past is the most profound challenge of the future. Pakistan and India have expended much energy in their 53-year history nurturing hardline nationalism and a sense of hatred for the other, while doing little to promote conciliation.
The long track record of hatred has already diminished prospects for peaceful dialogue and discussion, as communities and generations of people from both sides have become convinced that the other is the true enemy. Such nationalism has also been fueled by the media in each of the two countries, at times, which has engaged in extensive “enemy bashing.”
Reorienting societies must in part be about learning lessons from those who have made rapid progress on the economic front. Both India and Pakistan are countries with large communities of poor people whose future is tied to abject poverty unless they benefit from a reshuffling of priorities to favor economic development.
For those committed to nationalistic zeal, the time has come to accept that the best tools for success in the modern world come from strengthening economies rather than stockpiling nuclear and conventional weapons.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.