The situation on the Line of Control (LoC) is fast approaching a point at which it ceases to be large-scale sabre-rattling and edges into outright conflict — an outcome that must not be allowed to happen and one which both sides need to defuse as a matter of the utmost urgency. The Indian defence minister has said that the strength of Indian conventional forces was greater than that of Pakistan and that Pakistan will “feel the pain of adventurism” if things continued as they are. The weight of ordnance being exchanged is considerable, with the Indians reportedly firing more than 1,000 mortar shells into Pakistan on a single day in this month. At least 20 civilians have been killed and scores wounded in this latest exchange.
Each side accuses the other of committing breaches of the 2003 ceasefire, and in the absence of any independent verification, it is impossible to know which is telling a tale that is closer to an objective truth than the other — truth is unfailingly the first casualty of war. The Modi government abruptly cancelled secretary-level talks on the grounds that Pakistan’s High Commissioner to New Delhi had held talks with Kashmiri separatists prior to the high-level moot. And there lies the nub of the conflict — the failure to resolve the Kashmir issue that has been an albatross around the necks of both states since Partition.
No government on either side has ever really got close to cracking the Kashmir nut. Talks have started, stumbled, stopped, restarted, paused and gone into the freezer countless times over the decades. Kashmir — like Palestine and the West Bank — has become one of the great insolubles of geopolitics. Warfare is not going to solve it, and the adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, is correct when he says that dialogue has to be the solution — but with what on the agenda? There is no road map, no shared vision of an endpoint, only eternal tension — and in the middle, the Kashmiris themselves. Where there is a will, there is a way, goes the saying. That will must be urgently sought and nurtured.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2014.