This International Crisis Group briefing reports on the Kashmir conflict and identifies the key political, social, and economic needs of Kashmiris that need to be addressed on both sides of the divided state.
India and Pakistan have consistently subjected Kashmiri interests to their own national security agendas and silenced calls for greater autonomy. With the start of their composite dialogue – comprehensive negotiations to resolve all contentious bilateral issues, including Kashmir, launched in February 2004 – both appeared willing to allow more interaction across the Line of Control (LOC) but failed to engage Kashmiris in the process. As a result, they did not take full advantage of opportunities to enhance cross-LOC cooperation by identifying the most appropriate Kashmir-specific confidence-building measures (CBMs), and bureaucratic resistance in both capitals resulted in uneven implementation of even those that had been agreed. India has suspended the composite dialogue since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistan-based militants, but neither New Delhi nor Islamabad has backtracked on these CBMs. Nevertheless, the CBM process will only achieve major results if the two sides devolve authority to Kashmir’s elected representatives and take other vital steps to win over its alienated public.
Despite the recent rise in militancy, clashes between separatists and security personnel and other violence, Kashmir (known formally as Jammu and Kashmir, J&K) is not the battlefield it was in the 1990s. The Indian government has pledged to reduce its military presence there and has made some overtures to moderate factions of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). It has also refrained from the blatant election rigging that characterised J&K polls in the past. The roots of Kashmiri alienation, however, still run deep, and outbreaks of violence occur regularly. J&K remains heavily militarised, and draconian laws that encourage human rights abuses by security forces remain, fuelling public resentment that the militants could once again exploit.
In Pakistan, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government has taken some action against operatives of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), renamed Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JD), responsible for the Mumbai attacks. The alleged masterminds of this action are being tried, the first time in the country’s history that criminal charges were levied against the perpetrators of terrorism on foreign soil. Pakistan-based militants, however, still regularly infiltrate the LOC, and the military, which retains control of Kashmir policy, continues to support Kashmir-oriented jihadi groups, including the LeT/JD and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. A second Mumbai-like attack in India by these or other Pakistan-based jihadis would bring relations to another low, indeed possibly to the brink of war