Relations between India and Pakistan have to get worse before they get better. If they can get better. But you can be certain that they will get worse. India and Pakistan are not engaged in a confrontation over geography. There is in truth no dispute over Kashmir; it is not struggle over a line stretching back into history, in the sense that India has a dispute with China in Aksai Chin. The confrontation is not over Kashmir but over Kashmiris - and not all Kashmiris either.
The war is over only those Kashmiris who are Muslims. If the people living in the Kashmir valley had been Hindus, like those in the deserts of bordering Rajasthan, there would have been no war between the two countries.
Pakistan, which was carved out of India as a separate nation for Muslims in 1947, wants to absorb only Muslim Kashmir. It does not want Kashmiri Hindus - and any Kashmiri Hindu silly enough to want to become a citizen of Pakistan would be extremely unwelcome there. Pakistan does not want those parts of Jammu and Kashmir state that have a non-Muslim majority, such as the Hindu Jammu region or the Buddhist Ladakh area. It wants only to absorb the Muslim valley, and will not come to any terms with India until it has either achieved its objective or become mentally and economically exhausted in the process.
The Pakistani claim lies in the rationale behind the partition of India. But over five decades, that claim has been weakened by unspoken contradictions and unadmitted facts. Pakistan was formed for all the Muslims of India who wanted refuge from a Hindu majority, but the irony is that not all Indian Muslims are now welcome in Pakistan. Even the Mohajirs who left the land of their forefathers in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 1947 and 1948 have become vermin in Karachi. Their leader is a double refugee; having taken refuge from India in 1947, he has now taken refuge from Pakistan and lives in London. Pakistan refused to take back all the Bihari Pakistan national stranded in Bangladesh after 1971, when the Bengalis discovered that a common religion was not sufficient cause for a common country.
There are still hundreds of thousands of Bihari Muslims, the men trundling rickshaws and generations of poor women lost to indigence or prostitution, who have not been taken back by Pakistan, the country created precisely for them.
Pakistan has no place for Muslims who believed in Pakistan in 1947. But it continues to demand the integration of Kashmiri Muslims who in 1947 did not particularly want to join Pakistan. If the situation sounds more like a maze than a problem, then you are at last beginning to understand its true nature. And here's the paradox: Hindu-majority India cannot give up Kashmir precisely because Kashmir has a majority of Muslims. It is the only Muslim-majority state in a country that built its foundations on cultural cohesion instead of religious divide.
If India surrenders Kashmir to Pakistan with the indifference it would never show over Gujarat or Rajasthan, then New Delhi's claim to secularism becomes fundamentally flawed. India cannot be the same country if it surrenders Kashmir. This is one reason why Pakistan wants Kashmir so badly.
The political problem has its birth in the ideology of the two nations. And this confrontation has now spread its tentacles into communal emotion, pride, fantasy and conviction. There cannot be a rational framework for a dialogue because the arguments are not born of the logic of need. The rest of the world may find it appalling that two large and potentially rich countries cannot set aside one dispute and cooperate to find a better life for their literally hungry millions. But reason is rarely any challenge to imagined realities. Religion has become the opium of the Subcontinent.
It is this element of irrational enmity that makes the nuclear potential of the two countries all the more dangerous. India's history of democracy means as much defeat as well as victory.
Pakistan's democracy is hostage to maverick elements, as every elected leader has discovered - almost always to his or her cost. There is no knowing where the next coup will come from; or who will emerge as tomorrow's decision-maker in a country speeding towards a Taliban-environment as its economy crumbles and social cohesion cracks. The implicit restraint of the moment in Islamabad today could become vulnerable to the desperation of a leader tomorrow.
Two nations were created out of two ideas 50 years ago. Relations between India and Pakistan will improve only when one of the two ideas fails. The idea of communism that collapsed in East Germany led to German unification. On the Subcontinent, only when the equation between sect and nationalism outlives its appeal will India and Pakistan come to terms. Only then will there be South Asian miracle.
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