In fact, the politicians on both sides of the border are making a blunder. They believe that the solution to the Kashmir issue is a precondition for the development of relations, whereas the situation is exactly the opposite, says Boris Volkhonsky, expert of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. In his opinion, it is the development of relations across the spectrum of mutual interests that will help in solving the Kashmir problem at the end (not soon).
So, once again the relationship between the two neighbors have reached an impasse because of the Kashmir issue, says Boris Volkhonsky:
“However, it is clear that attempts to begin with Kashmir for addressing the whole complex of problems that have accumulated in the bilateral relationship are doomed to failure. Even if we assume that the politicians can reach any decision, it will inevitably be perceived negatively in at least one of the two countries. For example, accepting the status quo (i.e., giving the status of the state border to the current line of actual control) will be treated as a national betrayal both in India and in Pakistan. Clearly, neither of the leaders of the two countries wants to commit political suicide, so each side will insist on maximum satisfaction of their claims until the end. This means that the issue will hit a deadlock again and again.”
It is hardly possible to recognize as fruitful the idea of holding a plebiscite on the territory of Kashmir, as formulated in the UN resolution way back in 1949. Today the territory of the former principality of Jammu and Kashmir is divided between three countries (apart from India and Pakistan, China also controls a small part of the territory) and these three parts are run by different administrations. Even the Pakistan controlled territory was divided into the nominally independent “Free Kashmir” (Azad Kashmir) and the so-called “Northern Territories” of Gilgit and Baltistan. Plebiscite on separate territories by the same rules is simply impossible. Moreover, in this case, there arises the question of how to take into account the opinion, say, of “Kashmiri Pandits” who left the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1980s and 90s (and their number, according to various sources, varies from 150 to 350 thousand.). And another question: how to take into account the interests of the predominantly Hindu population of Jammu while deciding the issue of self-determination in the mainly Muslim Kashmir, if both sides insist on the indivisibility of the historical territory?
This implies only one, at first glance paradoxical, solution, says Boris Volkhonski. In order to resolve the Kashmir issue, we need to forget about it. In the end, India and Pakistan have a large number of unsolved problems in other areas – from the expansion of bilateral trade to joint participation in the peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan after 2014. If these problems are not solved, it entails too serious costs for India. In particular, animosity with Pakistan actually closes for India the land routes of access to the vast markets and sources of raw materials in Central Asia and hinders the development of relations not only with the Central Asian states, but also with Russia and Eastern Europe.
Historical experience shows that this is the only solution. Anyway, in Europe the old territorial disputes were resolved just in this way, for example, the Swedish-Finnish dispute about the ownership of the Aland Islands. Even more telling example is Alsace, which was the subject of Franco-German rivalry and led to war between the two leading nations of Western Europe many times. And today the capital of Alsace Strasbourg has become the capital of a united Europe.
Of course, such a solution to the Kashmir issue is still far away, but there is no other way, says the Russian expert.