US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S recent summit meeting with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has spurred hopes for a political dialogue well beyond the Korean Peninsula. After the Trump-Kim meet, Shehbaz Sharif, a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) and the brother of unseated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, expressed hope in a tweet: ‘If the United States and North Korea can return from the brink of a nuclear flashpoint, there is no reason why Pakistan and India cannot do the same…’
That reflects admirable sentiment, but little else. For starters, the Indo-Pakistan problem is structural and is far more knotted than the mere de-nuclearisation of a recalcitrant country even if the latter task is also a tough one. Pakistan has waged a number of wars with India to wrest Kashmir. None of these military adventures brought that country any closer to its dream. One, in 1971, ended in a splitting up of the country as it was formed in 1947. If it were led by realists, it would have realised that taking over India’s northern-most state by force is an impossible goal and left it aside. Pakistan has not done that.
That raises a very different question: why has Pakistan pursued the objective of detaching Kashmir from India when it knows that it cannot be done? The answer goes back to the very foundation of Pakistan, when leaders of the Muslim League sought parity with Hindus and not just a patch of land for a new country. That quest for parity was quixotic even then. Since 1947, it has led Pakistan ever farther down the path of folly. Kashmir—a Muslim- dominated part of the diverse state of Jammu and Kashmir— is what it calls the ‘unfinished business’ of Partition. This kind of atavism in international relations is hardly conducive to a peace deal between the two countries.
Since then, Pakistan’s attitude has hardened to Kashmir as the end-all of Delhi-Islamabad ties. That makes any durable peace extremely difficult to achieve: India is unlikely to allow any change of borders or transfer of population, while Pakistan won’t rest until it gets Kashmir. There is an option that has been explored since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru: transforming the Line of Control (LoC) into a border. For India, that would be a big concession, but it is too little for Pakistan. ‘Irrelevant borders’ was another idea that was broached, but then deemed impractical. Firing across the LoC goes on. Peace? Not really.