China only hope for a Kashmir solution ?
Afsan Chowdhury writes for DOT
A major objective of establishing Saarc was to create a regional body that brought everyone together at the same level And thus be able to put some pressure on the overwhelmingly superior power of India. But the era of SAARC is over though it awaits a formal burial. Meanwhile new realities in the form of China has risen which has altered the region. India is no longer the bigger power but China is whose presence everyone feels in the region.
The latest skirmish between India and Pakistan shows that South Asian countries have not matured beyond a level. Both India and Pakistan thrive on the endless spewing of mutual hate and local audience lap it up. Peace may not happen without external push.
Benefits of the Kashmir problem
In Pakistan such attacks have greatly helped the army retain control of the state as the fundamental cluster of power. So Pakistan will never want to end the Kashmir problem.
India uses Kashmir for its internal political mobilization. Reports say, the latest skirmish has greatly benefited the party in power and may help it come to power in the next round. Given such a basic role of Kashmir in the internal governance of both countries, the problem will not end on its own.
The smaller SA countries have no say in the bi-lateral endless war though it may endanger many. Given the situation today and left on their own, the region is unable to solve its problem. That is why China, as a regional murubbi power may be able to play a bigger role in stabilizing South Asia as its powerful but not involved in the dispute.
Is China a factor to both ?
Neither country can exert pressure on the other. The decline of the West/US has created this vacuum. This gap has not been filled by another so the need for a mediator country is very needed. But will India accept China as one since it even faces each other militarily at Doklam on the Bhutan border?
India may resist this move not just as a matter of nationalist principle but trade rivalry as well. But the reality is, China is growing at a much greater pace compared to India and the economic gap between both is growing. So India may have to accept the asymmetric status some day though not now. Meanwhile, South Asia is growing rapidly too and in each growth story China is playing a part.
If laws of mutual need in economics assert itself, the chances of an Indo-Sino intimacy is much more possible than expected now. Ultimately the ruling class which controls policy will have to decide if mutual cooperation benefits both or not. China will have to accept the role of a partner in India and not a dominant lender as it has in other SA countries.
The economic case for Kashmiri peace
Nobody has made an economic case yet for peace in Kashmir and whatever is said in favour of permanent hostility is vague as well. So a boiling Kashmir is seen as good for both countries. However, if a more sophisticated opportunity cost based strategic analysis for peace is done, it may well have an impact.
China may actually be the catalyst here as it will benefit from peace in Kashmir and is capable of putting pressure on Pakistan as its main patron of the army. For India. its the mutual trade factor that will work for both though India’s dependence on Kashmir for political jingoism is high.
The smaller countries therefore should seek safety in greater inter-action with China although it has low long term regional vision and has not sold BIR fully to the region. But only China has the clout and interest to create a situation that will make conflict too expensive to manage by any SA country.
China as a mediator in Kashmir seems far away reality now but its the only country that sees more trade as an incentive for peace which is what is needed today.
The writer is a journalist, a media professional, a researcher and a social activist.