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Understanding Kashmir through Texas

It was only a few weeks ago I blogged about good news involving India, Pakistan and Kashmir. The region was celebrating the opening of a new trade route between the two nuclear rivals through the disputed land.

Now Kashmir is back in the news, and there are concerns India and Pakistan may be back on the brink of war over it. Kashmiri separatists (Lashkar-e-toiba) are the leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to blame for carrying out the massacre in Mumbai and fingers are pointing to Pakistan for, at the very least, serving as the refuge and training ground for the terrorists.

Kashmir has inspired more than 60 years of bloodshed. Since 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the region. In 2001 and 2002, they nearly fought a fourth. That¹s when I was in Kashmir. Fortunately it didn¹t happen. There was fighting - artillery duels mainly, daily across the line of control - but all-out war was avoided.

On Wednesday, I interviewed Vikram Singh, a fellow with the Center for a New American Security, a non-partisan research group that examines national security and defense issues. I was trying to understand why Kashmir in the minds of Indians and Pakistanis was worth such a toll in blood.

I remember talking to those on both sides of the conflict while in Kashmir. Indian officials said India would never give up Kashmir. Kashmiri separatists said they would never stop desiring Kashmir. With both sides using words like never, compromise is hard to find.

It was what Vikram said after our interview that triggered a light bulb of understanding for this American. Vikram described the feelings about the conflict in a way to which I could relate.

"Think of Texas," he said, "which was once a part of Mexico." (Kashmir is actually about the size of Kansas.)

Vikram was asking me to imagine if that conflict had never been resolved, or if Mexico suddenly wanted Texas back. Beyond not wanting to give up a huge swath of U.S. geography, Texas is also part of the American psyche.

Its wide-open ranges, its history, cowboys, wildcatters, the stars at night they burn so bright - Texas is not just a place. It embodies much of America's essence. We'd never give up Texas. Kashmir is Texas to India... unfortunately, it¹s also the same to Pakistan.

Other experts have suggested that now could be the best time for India and Pakistan to resolve their long feud over Kashmir. That is extremely naïve.

It cannot be fixed with a week of shuttle diplomacy. Nor can separatists hope to win it by murder and terror. Instead, it will take small steps over years, like trade routes, to bring a resolution.

For now, the best we can hope - for India, for Pakistan and for Kashmir - is that these nuke neighbors back off the brink and lift their fingers from the button.

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