NEW DELHI — The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has been one of the constants in South Asian affairs for decades. But President-elect Donald Trump's running mate thinks his boss might have the right touch to break the impasse.
In an interview on “Meet the Press” Sunday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence appeared to suggest that Kashmir is among the spots where Trump can deploy his “extraordinary dealmaking skills to bear on lessening tensions and solving problems in the world.”
He's already made ripples on both sides of the border — and not in a way that seemed to forge common ground. Trump surprised many in India last week when he told Pakistani’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan is a “fantastic country” with “fantastic people.”
But the tensions over Kashmir — elevated recently with a serious of cross-border attacks — remains one of the region’s most intractable problems. And just to make it even more delicate: both India and Pakistan have nuclear arsenals.
Brokering any solution is not easy. Here’s why.
Summer of Discontent
This year, Kashmir has been ravaged by violence since July 8, when Indian security forces killed a popular militant commander. His death triggered weeks of violent clashes between the police and angry youth protesters. More than 70 people died in the unrest and about 100 others were blinded by pellet guns fired by Indian soldiers, officials said.
The region — dotted with lakes and valleys in the shadow of the Himalayas — took an even more perilous turn in late September when Pakistani-based militants attacked an army camp, killing 19 Indian soldiers. India said Pakistan sent the militants across the border, a charge that Islamabad denied. The attack prompted India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, to carry out a strike across the border on Pakistani army posts. Dozens of soldiers have died on both sides in the exchange of heavy fire in recent weeks.
A brief history of the conflict
Claimed by both Pakistan and India, Kashmir has been the site of nearly three decades of armed insurgency. Rebels have demanded complete independence from India or merger with Pakistan.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the Islamic insurgent groups, a charge Islamabad denies. The arch-foes have fought two of three wars over Kashmir.
In 1947, India gained independence from British colonial rule, but the subcontinent was partitioned into Hindu-majority India and mostly Muslim Pakistan. The Hindu king of Jammu and Kashmir at that time signed a treaty acceding the state to India, after Pakistani tribal militias mounted attacks in the region.
India complained about Pakistan’s aggression to the United Nations, which called for a referendum to determine Kashmir’s status. The conditions for the referendum requires Pakistan to withdraw its troops from the region and India to maintain minimum military strength in the state. But the referendum has never been held.
Where is the border?
The two countries have what is called the Line of Control, a de facto border set after battles in 1972. But in reality, both countries are unprepared to accept the heavily militarized line as the permanent border.
What do Kashmiris actually want?
Not everybody in India's state of Jammu and Kashmir agrees about what they want. Some people in India’s Kashmir have been advocating complete independence, others want to be part of Pakistan. Another section of people want more autonomy even as they remain with India. The Hindu-majority regions of the state do not support the separatist groups.
According to a poll conducted in 2010 by the London-based think tank Chatham House, 44 percent in Pakistani-administered Kashmir favored independence, compared with 43 percent in Indian-administered Kashmir.
The conflict is complicated by groups on both sides
Kashmir is not just a source of clash between two sovereign nations. Over the years, many other forces have complicated the matter.
There are armed Islamist groups in Pakistan that fuel and abet attacks on the Indian forces in Kashmir, experts say. And on the Indian side, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference is a coalition of separatist leaders in Kashmir demand varying degrees of independence for Kashmir. They do not participate in the state elections, but they are not waging an armed insurgency either.
At this point, India and Pakistan are locked in a war of words and can’t even agree on whether to have talks about having talks.