by Dr. Arshad M Khan
Dr. Arshad M Khan is a US-based former interdisciplinary Professor of business and engineering

Kashmir, that picturesque valley, has for nearly seven decades frustrated peace overtures on the subcontinent. It has also become a highly combustible, even explosive, tinder box for two nuclear powers where incessant frictions are liable to set it off. Although in human and economic terms the most costly, it is not the only insurgency trammeling development in a region where discontent continues to grow. And therein, paradoxically, might lie the seeds of peace.

In the April 2015 issue of National Geographic, a magazine few would call political, an eye-popping map of India is displayed in its signature graphic style. A rusty, dried-blood light brown, mapped carefully around areas of government control, reveals almost a quarter of the country where the Naxalite rebellion coupled with the Adivasi struggle for land rights has taken hold.  The area runs south from the Nepal border in the north, to Kolkata (Calcutta), then along the Bay of Bengal to near Chennai (Madras).  Westwards, it extends almost to Varanasi on the Ganges, close to Nagpur in Central India, and Bangalore (the IT capital) in the south.

Adding the Kashmir insurgency increases the area of strife to one-third of the country. This omits the insurgencies in Assam and Manipur.  That the prospect of prosperity under such a state of siege is significantly undermined and that Kashmir bleeds the most resources, should draw a rational government focused on economic growth to the negotiating table.  

Official casualty counts in the Naxalite struggle number 12,000, the actual figures often higher.  In Kashmir alone, authoritative sources place the toll of dead and disappeared at over 75,000 with 100,000 torture victims. The 700,000 Indian security forces are kept busy at significant expense.  Global politics leave the Kashmiris with little outside support, although Pakistan, spurred by self-interest, has been a stalwart backer in their struggle to throw off India's yoke.  India portrays the insurgency as terrorism by a minority, despite massive demonstrations that have been put down brutally in the past.  India also refuses to hold a decades old promised plebiscite to allow the Kashmiris to decide their own fate.  The reason is obvious.  Given a choice, the Kashmiris would certainly vote to leave India.  Whether they would join Pakistan or prefer a state of their own is an open question, and offers the possibility of compromise.

In successive articles a respected journalist and long time friend of the subcontinent has proposed (a) the possibility of arbitration and (b) the acceptance of facts on the ground, namely, establishing the current Line of Control as the international border.  Great powers may draw lines on maps but it does not mean a stable border -- the Kurdish example comes to mind. If events took such a course, the people of Kashmir would continue their struggle, probably for an independent homeland because of disillusionment with Pakistan.

That is not all. In the present climate of religious extremism, any Pakistani leader signing off Kashmir will also quite likely be signing his death warrant. No exaggeration, because one only has to remember what happened to the Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who, aware of the risks, spoke out nevertheless against blasphemy laws.  It is worth noting that the German politicians who signed the punitive and humiliating Treaty of Versailles following the First World War were also assassinated - aside from debilitating reparations, the treaty severed large chunks of territory. 

Development without stability is an uphill struggle. It is one reason India and Pakistan in per capita GDP have lagged far behind their independence contemporaries like Indonesia and Malaysia.  Just one  example: Tata's efforts to locate manufacturing facilities near raw material sources, the mines in the Naxalite troubled region, in a move to enhance efficiency and promote area development, proved fruitless. Under threat, it was forced to change plans and relocate elsewhere.

Of all these restive regions, by far the most demanding in expense and personnel is Kashmir. What are the options? Maintaining the status quo? But that is the problem. In a plebiscite the Kashmiris would vote to join Pakistan, and that is anathema to India. It is why India has reneged on its 60-plus year promise to hold one.  Thus the only remaining option is a vote offering a third option -- that of a politically independent Kashmir.  The likely result will require India to yield political control, and Pakistan too might have to relinquish its narrow part of Kashmir, although Azad Kashmiris could very easily vote to remain as is.  But Kashmiris governing themselves is only part of this plan.

The thrust of the proposal is economic: An economic imbrication and eventual interweaving that would bind the parties forever in peace. It envisages an eventual community not dissimilar to Europe. In such a proposed future, the initial shedding of political control loses its sting, and looking back the current animus between the actors will appear risible.

Ask any economist or industry maven about the advantages of intra-subcontinent trade and there is virtually no disagreement. Trade between India and Pakistan would benefit both. Kashmir's natural trading partner is Pakistan - it's to where the rivers flow and its an old story.  Then of course there are tourists, who, returning in much larger numbers to a tranquil valley, would benefit all three entities.

We live in an era where devolution, even independence, for distinct ethnicities is often a preferred solution.  Czechoslovakia split in two, peacefully, while Yugoslavia broke up in a convulsion of violence. There is a choice it seems, if the parties are not too blind to see it. The many Asiatic republics splintering from the former Soviet Union maintain close economic ties to Russia. Devolution has also not been forgotten in Scotland where in the last election the Scots voted a near clean sweep for the Scottish National Party which won 56 out of 59 seats, an unheard of gain of 50.