In recent memory, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan have received the lion’s share of the attention of U.S. policy in Central Asia. This is not surprising. It would be hard to ignore two wars and the issue of preventing nuclear proliferation either by Iran or from an unstable Pakistan. Yet, U.S. foreign policy has omitted a region that has sparked conflict between two nuclear armed states as recently as 1999. That region is Kashmir.
Resolution of this longstanding conflict is necessary not only to prevent the possibility of nuclear war, which would have catastrophic impact on the world as a whole, but also to advance U.S. objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The lack of a coherent U.S. Kashmiri policy is most damaging in connection to the Afghanistan War. As Muzamil Jaleel observed recently, Kashmir and Afghanistan “are linked so much now that India and Pakistan are fueling ethnic tension in Afghanistan.”
However, resolution of the Kashmir conflict has been subordinated to other policy objectives. For example, the United States recently agreed to lift restrictions on most dual-use technology exports to India and concluded a multi-billion dollar deal for military transport planes. While these latest developments are aimed at strengthening India to help counter Chinese regional influence, they have also been deeply worrying to Pakistan.
Instead the United States must integrate Kashmir into the regional calculus. This means pushing both Pakistan and India to open sustained dialogue that would work toward creating an autonomous or even independent Kashmir. Failing to do so would be detrimental not only to U.S. policy objectives in central Asia but to regional and perhaps even world stability.
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