Cheap Talk in Kashmir

After two years of off-and-on nuclear brinkmanship, India and Pakistan are once again talking about how to settle their differences rather than issuing threats and rattling nuclear sabers. But do the talks now underway have any better chance of success than the countless failed negotiations that have marked the past fifty years?

On November 25, 2003, India and Pakistan agreed to a cease-fire along the Line of Control (LoC), the international border that divides Indian Kashmir from Pakistani Kashmir, as well as the actual ground control (AGPL) in strategic Siachen region. The cease-fire thus covers a huge area: the 778-kilometer LoC, the 150-kilometer AGPL and the 198-kilometer international border. This should pave the way for a meaningful dialogue at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting to be held in Islamabad between January 4-5.

Moreover, Pakistan has partly conceded its demand--which dates to the creation of India and Pakistan a little more than half a century ago--for an internationally supervised referendum in Kashmir to determine the province's sovereignty. A brave concession, no doubt, but India has a more rigorous criterion for believing that Pakistan is truly serious about reaching a peaceful agreement: it wants Pakistan to dismantle the infrastructure of cross-border terrorism--in particular, the training camps for Kashmiri separatists and their international jihadi brethren.

Reining in the violent militants who keep the Kashmiri pot boiling, however, is difficult on both sides. In India and Pakistan, Kashmir is the national question. Every Indian and Pakistani government embraces the Kashmiri cause, both as a useful device to divert attention from their failures and because they fear what their publics might do if they were seen as surrendering to the traditional enemy on so vital an issue.