Jean-Luc Racine, Senior Fellow, Center for South Asian Studies, School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (Paris)


William Milam, Senior Policy Scholar, Wilson Center, and former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan

Pamela Constable, Pew Journalist-in Residence, School for Advanced International Studies, and South Asia bureau chief, Washington Post.

In the tinderbox of South Asia, the onset of spring is often a time of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir. A year ago, following separate terrorist attacks on Kashmir's state assembly building and the Indian parliament in New Delhi, the two nuclear-armed rivals squared off in a confrontation that came perilously close to full-fledged war. The two sides mobilized more than a million men under arms along their common border. Each withdrew diplomats from the capital of the other. Land and air links between the two were shut down. Firing across the Kashmir line of control, a frequent occurrence even under the best of circumstances, intensified, and casualty figures mounted. Adroit diplomatic intervention from Washington may have prevented a catastrophic conflict.

Now, however, there are renewed fears that India and Pakistan are headed into a fresh confrontation. And unlike the situation a year ago, the Bush administration is preoccupied with war and other emergencies elsewhere, and may not be in a position to exercise the crisis management talents it displayed so skillfully in 2002. Rising anxiety among South Asia-watchers provided the backdrop for "Kashmir: A French View," an afternoon seminar co-sponsored by the Center's Asia Program, Middle East Project, and Conflict Prevention Project.

French scholar Jean-Luc Racine described the Kashmir problem as an issue of many dimensions. It can be seen as an Indo-Pakistani dispute, an issue left over from the colonial past. It can be viewed primarily from the vantage point of the Kashmiris themselves, and revolve around questions of how the region is to be governed, and by whom. It can be analyzed in terms of low-intensity warfare, or of terrorism. It can be seen as a potential nuclear flashpoint, and be examined as a non-proliferation issue or a laboratory for nuclear risk reduction measures. It can even be viewed as one of the key battlefields in a global clash of civilizations, a la Samuel Huntington. With so many possible lenses through which to view Kashmir, it is little wonder that the problem has proved so intractable.

Complicating matters further, Racine explained, is the fact that New Delhi, Islamabad, the newly elected government in Kashmir, the political separatists in Kashmir, and the "jihadi" fighters who have come from other places in the Muslim world to fight in Kashmir all have different agendas and pursue different, mutually-incompatible strategies. The same applies to the United States and other key extra-regional actors. Washington, for instance, finds itself trying to balance multiple policy objectives: reducing the possibility of nuclear war; promoting South Asian stability; prosecuting the war against terrorism, which requires Pakistani support; and fostering a long-term relationship with India, the region's rising power.

Wilson Center Senior Policy Scholar William Milam observed that the threat of nuclear war has transformed what once was a regional issue into one with global implications. The international community, he argued, can no longer afford to stand aside and hope that the regional actors can manage the issue for themselves. He counseled that the interested parties forget about a final resolution of the Kashmir issue for the moment, and concentrate on settling less difficult issues whose resolution might, over time, lay the groundwork for a more definitive Kashmir settlement. This will require, among other things, that the United States take a sustained interest in the problem, rather than waiting until a crisis occurs and then springing into crisis management mode. This will also require that India and Pakistan both abandon the idea that it is possible, and acceptable, to wage a bitter conventional warfare while having absolute confidence that neither side will cross the nuclear threshold.

Pew-Journalist-in-Residence Pamela Constable, on leave from her position as Washington Post South Asia bureau chief, offered a far more hopeful analysis than the issue of Kashmir usually fosters. Things in South Asia are changing, Constable noted; this is a moment of great fluidity in the region. Illustrating her case, she mentioned the impact of September 11th; the recent war in Iraq; last fall's state elections in Kashmir, which, she observed, have produced for the first time in many years a government with real claims to legitimacy; and the growing split between Kashmiri inhabitants and the foreign "jihadis" who increasingly pursue an agenda that has little relevance to the people of Kashmir. Even the rise of religious parties in Pakistan, she asserted, and their newfound electoral strength is a reason for hope, since this has given the mullahs and their supporters governing responsibilities that should encourage pragmatism. Pakistan, she concluded, is not a lost cause; it is not a Somalia or an Afghanistan. Encouraging words . . . now comes the hard part.