Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met once again in New York at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to gesture diplomatic friendship. Although critics expect little change in policies from both sides, it is in the interest of both Pakistan and India to seek a break from the past and work for a more peaceful region.
Pakistan and India have quarreled about their dispute over Kashmir for more than half of a millennium now. The dispute has translated into direct wars between India and Pakistan, resulting in both sides acquiring nuclear weapons.
In addition, India and Pakistan invest heavily in maintaining an army that is very big and expensive. This is done despite a massive population living in dire poverty.
The Kashmir dispute harms everyone in the region. Both Pakistan and India spend a disproportionate amount of their national budget on maintaining soldiers along the borders, mobilizing resources and arming troops. Those resources could be better invested in the education and economies of the two countries to empower all of its citizens.
The dispute also defines the foreign policy agenda of India and Pakistan.
Both nuclear states compete with each other to influence the politics of other countries in the region either through supporting their political agenda or supporting groups that are against the agenda. Although these policies are unpleasant and sometime hostile to other countries in the region, India and Pakistan justifies this practice to protect geo-political interests.
Afghanistan is a good example. Both India and Pakistan pursue divergent foreign policy interest in Kabul. One side supports the elected Afghan regime; the other is blamed for supporting the insurgency.
Resentment against Pakistan and India’s policies is also growing among Afghans.
Working hard to re-establish itself as a democratic, peaceful state, Afghanistan finds itself cramped among the conflicting geo-political interests and policies of Pakistan and India. There is a general sense of mistrust among Afghans on whether Pakistan really desires friendly ties with Afghanistan; and if relations can ever evolve into those of two good neighbors.
Some Afghans are also weary of Indian involvement in Afghan politics invoking security concerns in Islamabad. However, it is not easy for Afghanistan to break out of the interference of the two countries for it does not control the dispute in Kashmir, nor does it have any influence on Indian or Pakistani policymakers.
Moving forward, Pakistan and India need to accept that their protracted dispute over Kashmir is hurting not only their own people and economy, but it is also aggravating resentment against them in the region.
It is fostering radicalization and hostilities on all sides, which should be stopped and reversed. It is time for both nations to exercise leadership and seek a break from the past by pursuing their interests in a peaceful way out of mutual respect, collaboration, and trust. Beautiful Kashmir should a region that hosts international tourists, not soldiers and arms.