These past few days tensions have risen between Pakistan and India. America is nowhere to be seen as mediator between two nuclear armed powers on the brink of war. Who will step in to the vacuum?
For many Australians, Kashmir is a subject that only arises when the tension between our two cricket loving Commonwealth cousins reaches our headlines. Perhaps Australia, as a country who could mediate, should learn more about the problem.
Kashmir is stunning. I had the great good fortune of spending 2 ½ years around the place in 2005, when I delivered humanitarian aid and reconstruction as part of the massive international response to the earthquake that struck there in 2005.
Kashmir’s mountains and valleys are beautiful. They are ‘new mountains’ being born each day as the Indian subcontinent subducts under Asia, pushing the Himalayas higher each day. The people are friendly, open hearted, warm and proud. They are poor, but hard working. They are welcoming and friendships made there last forever. I shared some of the beauty of the place in a home video of the earthquake relief that I made for family and friends. The stunning geography can be seen here https://youtu.be/-DfQFW2liYk?t=30.
Yet Kashmir is a victim of a badly botched decolonisation on behalf of the British in 1947, and a failure of the nations of Pakistan and India to craft a resolution over the following 70 years. When the British left India the majority Muslim population of Kashmir remained in India as the local government wanted, rather than going to Pakistan as many of the people wanted.
In the 70 years since Partition Pakistan and India have been happy to blame the British for the problem, but have found no solution to a problem that has been theirs for over half a century.
Today Kashmir is a territory with a fragile peace interrupted by sporadic fighting and occasional wars. A UN supervised cease-fire line, called the ‘Line of Control’ keeps the armies of India and Pakistan, both nuclear armed, apart. We are yet to see if current events will be a sporadic spike, or escalate into a full-blown war.
For the world this crisis is seen as a bilateral between the two nations. But in truth the problem is trilateral. The Kashmiri people themselves have a growing fatigue for conflict with many now looking to independence as a solution. Should Kashmir be split permanently, go to Pakistan, go to India, or gain independence? What should the world do and who should mediate given that the US seems to have no real interest?
Australia has sizeable communities of Pakistanis and Indians and could claim neutral ground. But Australia is neither big enough nor brave enough to claim this space.
Mohammed Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia on a recent trip to both countries has proposed himself as mediator. Saudi as a peace mediator would be a sure sign that the world is changing. Is it likely though?
China, a country that played a critical role in the peaceful transition of power in Zimbabwe, may also intervene. China shares a border with both India and Pakistan, although parts of that boarders are disputed.
Equally, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, sees Pakistan as the single largest destination country for Belt Road Initiative investment. China therefore has clear incentive to ensure that economic stability and peace remain in both countries.
Yet having a mediator doesn’t guarantee a solution. What could a resolution be?
I have often thought that in an ideal world, absent politics, nationalism and emotion, one could image an independent Kashmir with a free trade agreement with both India and Pakistan.
Both India and Pakistan would enormously benefit from increased bilateral trade. The two countries would massively benefit from secure borders and both countries would have less incentive to interfere in Afghanistan, a country Pakistan has long accused India of destabilising for no reason than to weaken Pakistan.
Yet to engineer such a deal India and Pakistan would need to be given global incentives to give up their claims on Kashmir and to actively work towards a successful independent country.
Some say India should be given a permanent seat on the UN Security Council as a payoff and as part of a broader UN reform. It is hard to see the current permanent five, Russia, China, France, UK and the US agreeing to another.
But what if the world created another level of Security Council membership? Currently there are five permanent members with a veto, and 10 non-permanent members without a veto. What if we created a second tier of five permanent members to recognise the changing dynamics after World War II, but without veto? India could be one with representation from South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East making up the others? Could that work?
These are big issues and big challenges where leadership from the US is absent. Without strong global leadership it is hard to imagine how any solution can happen. Let’s hope a full blown war is not the result and that wiser heads prevail in Delhi and Islamabad.