From Kashmir to Kabul, and then down the Indus

July 15, 2009


With India and Pakistan trying to reach a rapprochement on the sidelines of a summit in Egypt, it’s worth reading this summary by the Council on Foreign Relations – based on interviews with five South Asia experts – on why it matters across the region as far as Afghanistan.

The tensions between India and Pakistan have a powerful impact on stability in Afghanistan. They prevent the Pakistan Army from focusing fully on taking on the Taliban and other militant groups; the two countries are rivals for influence in Afghanistan itself; and both remain vulnerable to a fresh flare-up should Pakistan-based militants launch another Mumbai-style attack on India.

“Thus, the long-standing dispute over Kashmir is one part of a wider regional dynamic that has direct implications for Washington’s ability to support a stable Afghan state and to address the threat posed by terrorist groups in South Asia,” CFR quotes its own South Asia specialist Daniel Markey as saying.

“And until a settlement is reached, there will be no dearth of “spoilers” eager for opportunities to inflame India-Pakistan relations,” it quotes Georgetown University’s Howard Shaffer as saying.

The five experts concur that the United States’ ability to influence relations between India and Pakistan is limited — India has always rejected outside mediation in the Kashmir dispute — but suggest Washington might be able to nudge the process along discreetly from the sidelines. And with the death toll rising among foreign troops in Afghanistan, the United States is likely to be trying to do everything it can to encourage stability in the region. (U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits India this week.) 

The five experts are less specific about how they expect India and Pakistan to reach agreement, although as discussed in an earlier post, there is much talk about whether the two countries can build on a draft roadmap for peace established two years ago. If the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama can convince the Pakistan Army to end support for militant groups, and help Pakistan’s civilian government win control of national security policy from the military, says Indian analyst C. Raja Mohan, “Obama will find it no problem at all to convince Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to sign off on the Kashmir deal that he has already negotiated.”


Another must read this week is this article on the growing row between India and Pakistan over water supplies. It provides the best background I’ve read on the tensions between India and Pakistan over the rivers – including the Indus – which start in the Himalayan mountains and then flow through the Indian side of the former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir before reaching Pakistani territory.

Until now, the two countries have been able to manage their shared rivers through the Indus Waters Treaty (pdf document), which after being agreed in 1960 under the auspices of the World Bank has survived two full-scale wars and many spikes in tensions. But as the glaciers which provide the source of the rivers recede, while demands for water for power and irrigation rise, the treaty is beginning to look increasingly frayed at the edges. Given all the other causes of instability in the region, the last thing South Asia needs are water wars.

(Photos: British soldier in Helmand; Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama; the source of the Nubra river in Siachen)


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