November 22, 2004


Breaking the Kashmir Impasse: India and Pakistan are like two hamsters running on parallel wheels. (Rajan Menon, November 22, 2004, LA Times)

Both critics and admirers of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will agree on one thing: The man does not lack boldness or an appetite for risk-taking.

Consider some examples. In 1999, as army chief, he seized power from the elected — if rather ineffectual — government of Nawaz Sharif after the prime minister had tried to oust him.

After 9/11, Musharraf abruptly broke with the Taliban, which had acquired and retained power in no small measure thanks to support from Pakistan's powerful military and intelligence services and Pakistani Islamists. He then repositioned his country as an ally in George W. Bush's global war on terrorism. The switch angered Pakistan's Muslim organizations and the Taliban's boosters in the military and put Musharraf on Al Qaeda's enemies list. This has spawned three plots to kill him; one attempt in December came close to succeeding.

The bold proposals that Musharraf made in October concerning Kashmir, then, are of a piece — sudden, surprising and potentially risky. They are also notable both for what he said and for what he did not say. He refrained from restating Pakistan's long-standing claim that Kashmir, as a Muslim-majority state (the only such one in India), rightfully belongs to Pakistan, which was created in 1947 as a homeland for the Muslims of the British Raj. Nor did he repeat Pakistan's demand that India fulfill its pledge to hold a plebiscite so that Kashmiris could choose whether to be part of India or Pakistan.

More significant, Musharraf made three different proposals to break the deadlock on Kashmir: making it an autonomous, demilitarized territory; having it ruled jointly by India and Pakistan; or reconfiguring its current unequal division between India and Pakistan (created by the "line of control" established after the first Indo-Pakistan war over Kashmir and adjusted in 1972).

As a coda to the last idea he suggested making the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley autonomous. (The Indian-controlled part of Kashmir consists of the valley, Hindu-majority Jammu and largely Buddhist Ladakh.)

Settling this dispute will do more to reduce the risk of a nuclear war than any non-proliferation initiative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2004 8:52 AM

Musharraf will be pushing up the daisies long before the end of Bush's second term. The ISI will see to that.

Posted by: Bart at November 22, 2004 12:03 PM