Kashmir cools off, but peace still distant
With the world’s attention focused on the hunt for al Qaeda and the Taliban along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, the 19-year conflict in Kashmir to its east has slipped off the radar.
But Kashmir, which former U.S. President Bill Clinton once said was one of the most dangerous places on earth, has just crossed a milestone with the number of people dying in the fighting falling below 1,000 a year.
Seen purely in terms of fatalities, Kashmir is now classed as a “low-intensity conflict” says the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management which tracks deaths due to militant-related violence across South Asia.
Last year was a watershed for Kashmir when the number of civilians, securitymen and militants killed in the conflict fell to 777, down from a high of 4,507 in 2001. The decreasing trend continues this year with 192 people killed until May.
Just to put things in perspective, the comparable figure for Iraq was 13,600 according to the latest U.S. State Department’s annual terrorism report released last month, about 6,000 for Afghanistan and 4,000 in Sri Lanka’s civil war according to Reuters reporters in the two countries.
So is peace at hand in Kashmir and has the stage been set for a “grand reconciliation” that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke about after talks with his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee in Islamabad last week ?
Not quite. The talks, resuming after a year because of political crises in Pakistan, themselves did not throw up any new ideas, much less suggest a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Indeed if anything Pakistan’s new leaders are calling a set of “out-of-the box” proposals that President Pervez Musharraf made as ‘half-baked.””
And in the Kashmir valley itself, for the all improved statistics, the mood is hardly upbeat.
Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, says the violence can get worse, as it did in the 1990s, if India and Pakistan don’t find a solution soon. He spoke of a mood of “despondency” as Kashmiris watch leaders from India and Pakistan meeting every now and then, without moving an inch forward on the 60-year-old dispute.
Even Omar Abdullah, the head of Kashmir’s main political party, the National Conference, says the talks are simply going nowhere. “We have had enough gestures over the years, and are surely not looking for more gestures. We need substantive progress aimed at finding a lasting solution to the problem of Kashmir,” he told the Khaleej Times.
An article in the Pakistan Observer this week said the India-Pakistan talks were more about conflict management than conflict resolution, warning that patience was running thin.
(For a guest contribution from Kashmir posted in March please see here.)