For over 50 years, the issue of Kashmir – a beautiful mountainous region divided between (and claimed by) India and Pakistan – has been an unhealed wound along the heavily armed border between the two countries, which aside from their hostilities share a common history, culture, and language. It has been at the root of all three wars fought between the two nuclear-armed rivals since their creation. And only a short two years ago, the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament and the Kargil fiasco nearly led the two countries to atomic blows. But, unexpectedly, during the SAARC South Asia summit in Pakistan, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced the beginning of peace talks, even going so far as to broach formerly taboo possibilities for Kashmir. Shrugging off two earlier assassination attempts due to his pro-America stance, Musharraf was ebullient. “I think the victory is for the world,” he said. Militants fighting for Kashmiri independence were predictably upset. “They are bartering the blood of mujahedeen,” said one militant leader. “This is unpardonable.” Despite the official optimism, experts warn that true peace will take years. “I don’t share the optimism that everything will be solved,” former Pakistani foreign secretary Najimuddin Sheikh said. “It is going to be a slow process in terms of resolving the thorny issue of Kashmir.” Nevertheless, the talk of peace is already producing results, such as the resumption of air links, cessation of ongoing minor border skirmishes (including the worlds highest battleground on a Himalayan glacier), opening of talks on water resources, and the creation of a framework for a “SAFTA” South Asian free trade zone.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.