Hopes Dashed for a Breakthrough in India-Pakistan Relations

Despite hopes for a breakthrough through humanitarian collaboration, the 8 October 2005 earthquake with its epicenter in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir has failed to dissipate India and Pakistan’s mutual mistrust.

A report by the International Crisis Group argues that this disappointing outcome was to be expected since banned jihadi groups responsible for cross-border violence in Jammu and Kashmir (the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir) such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaishe Mohammad were allowed by Pakistan’s government to openly conduct relief work in the earthquake-hit areas. Jihadi attacks have escalated in the wake of the earthquake.

After the earthquake, India and Pakistan both missed an opportunity to win Kashmiri hearts and minds. The Indian army acted like an occupation force, concentrating on saving its own personnel in the immediate aftermath of the quake and refusing to let international aid agencies work independently. Likewise, the Pakistani military tended first to its own casualties and rushed in reinforcements along the Line of Control (LOC) dividing Kashmir, instead of trying to save survivors. Failure to consult with local communities made things worse.

India and Pakistan are continuing their “composite dialogue” begun in February 2004, aimed at normalizing relations. But while this process has helped reduce tensions, progress has been limited to peripheral issues. While trade has increased more than 6-fold in the last 5 years, there is not enough willingness on both sides to resolve the most contentious issues, including the status of Kashmir, and to overcome the two countries’ asymmetric interests and goals.

India-Pakistan collaboration on humanitarian relief would have gained the confidence of Kashmiris and countered deeply ingrained mistrust between the two governments. But mistrust limited cooperation. Among the confidence-building measures that have been adopted are rail and road links across the LOC in Kashmir as well as across the international border. But Kashmiris have not been consulted in setting up measures such as the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus line. A year after the bus route re-opened, only about 700 out of many thousands of applicants were allowed to travel. Similarly, the utility of an agreement to open five LOC crossing points after the earthquake to facilitate the delivery of relief goods and reunite divided families has been sharply constrained by making travel clearances contingent on approval by the intelligence agencies on both sides.

In the Kashmir valley, support for militant anti-Indian groups has declined sharply. India is trying to overcome Kashmiri alienation through economic development, improving human rights, and re-opening a dialogue with separatist Kashmiris, but has yet to provide truly tangible benefits to Kashmir. The presence of heavy-handed security forces in both parts of Kashmir continues to alienate many people.

International Crisis Group, India, Pakistan and Kashmir: Stabilising a Cold Peace, Asia Briefing No. 51, 15 June 2006.
Link: http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=4173