Go On, Seize the Peace

in Program

Originally published in The Indian Express

By Michael Krepon – The attack on the Samjhauta Express underlines that the higher one climbs toward the summit of peace-making, the more daunting the challenges. But leaders on both sides must remain steadfast. The tragedy on board the Samjhauta Express has clarified the abject moral and political bankruptcy of terrorist acts directed against a Kashmir settlement. The finalisation of a nuclear accidents measure agreement by Indian and Pakistani officials, and their continued, private discussions about further progress toward a settlement, constitute a befitting response to the savage violence directed against those who merely wish to cross borders peaceably. The test of political leadership in both countries at this crucial juncture is, quite simply, to lead. When a fair settlement of long-contentious issues is so close at hand, penalties come to those who obstruct or linger. In most corners of this fractious world, peace-making is also good politics.

To be sure, there are no quick fixes in peace-making. But who could possibly argue that the contours of a just and equitable settlement over Kashmir have appeared overnight? It has taken decades for India and Pakistan to jettison failed policies and stale diplomatic formulations in order to reach this hopeful stage. The biggest roadblock to a Kashmir settlement is no longer substantive differences over key issues. Instead, the biggest challenge to peace-making today is the parlous state of domestic politics in India and Pakistan. Those who counsel waiting longer – perhaps another few years – before conditions are “ripe” for a settlement, do the peace process no favours. Would the outline of a settlement in two years be appreciably different than it is today? And who could confidently predict that domestic political conditions would be more conducive to peace-making two years hence?

An agreement in principle on the key elements of a Kashmir settlement has never been this close at hand, which is why the Samjhauta Express was torched. Whenever uncharacteristic progress is achieved in a longstanding dispute, leaders can either seize the moment or duck for cover. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq demonstrated great personal courage when he travelled to Pakistan and called on militants to lay down their arms. Other political leaders, with far less to lose, have tried to apply the brakes, seeking refuge behind public opinion, which they claim is not yet ready for a settlement. If true leadership constituted following public opinion, we could all choose our leaders in the lottery.

In retrospect, two key shifts have brought India and Pakistan within sight of a Kashmir settlement. The first was the tacit decision by leaders in Pakistan and India to frame the Kashmir issue in human terms, rather than as a religious or territorial dispute. When Delhi and Islamabad decided to put people first, many things started to fall into place, beginning with a cease-fire along the Line of Control and the simple, yet powerfully symbolic gesture of allowing divided families to meet.

Once trucks and trade began to cross the Kashmir divide, the die of normalisation was further cast. It is now up to political leaders in both countries to clarify that those who died on the Samjhauta Express have not died in vain by accelerating border crossings and trade.

The extension of roadways and railways into Jammu and Kashmir raises the obvious question as to why transit and trade must be artificially confined within the borders of the old princely state. Infrastructure projects that link Jammu and Kashmir to more distant destinations can facilitate and accelerate the process of normalisation now under way. The more dead-enders seek to stop transit and trade, the more they marginalise themselves.

The second key shift toward normalisation has been reflected by the government of Pakistan’s decision to de-link nuclear confidence-building and risk reduction from the Kashmir dispute. In actuality, the linkage between peace and security on the one hand, and the nuclear issue on the other, remains as intertwined as ever, but progress on both fronts initially required separate negotiating baskets. The accident measures agreement, as with the hotline upgrade and ballistic missile flight test pre-notification agreement, all attest to responsible nuclear stewardship.

The first phase of an offsetting nuclear competition is usually the most hair-raising. With continued engagement on nuclear risk reduction and progress on Kashmir, India and Pakistan can demonstrate that they have put the worst phase of their nuclear competition in the rearview mirror.

The synthesis between peace and security and nuclear risk reduction has now reached a new and crucial stage. During this phase more acts of terrorism can be expected in both India and Pakistan. Acts of domestic terrorism now constitute a common enemy that surpasses external security challenges. Dead-enders will seek to up the ante the more the peace process succeeds, which raises the possibility of acts of nuclear terrorism that could pose severe challenges to domestic tranquility and economic growth.

The attack on the Samjhauta Express clarifies that, the higher one climbs toward the summit of peace making, the more daunting the challenges. If the peace process is to succeed, cooperation between intelligence agencies will be required – both with respect to Kashmir and nuclear risk reduction. That such cooperation is now both necessary and even conceivable attests to the progress made so far between India and Pakistan.

Realists and cynics will no doubt scoff at the notion that cooperation on intelligence sharing is remotely conceivable. But realists and cynics did not predict that, so soon after Kargil and the twin peaks crisis of 2001-2002, India and Pakistan would now be within shouting distance of agreed principles for settling the Kashmir dispute.

Michael Krepon is Co-founder of the Stimson Center and the author or editor of eleven books and over 350 articles.


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