01/03/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

India, Pakistan, Kashmir, and Hope for the Future

This past summer, the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science published a piece by Bruce Riedel, which explained why resolution of India and Pakistan's dispute over Kashmir is essential if the region hopes to reduce terrorism, and attain a modicum of stability.  In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, this excerpt seemed especially relevant and prophetic:

"In a worst-case scenario, a terrorist incident like the July 2006 metro bombings in Mumbai or the hijacking of IA 814 could spark an Indian military response against targets in Pakistan allegedly involved in the planning and orchestration of terrorism. And that could lead to nuclear war."

So the question is, now that the 'attack' has taken place, what next?  It's true that if an investigation uncovers evidence of high-level Pakistani involvement in the Mumbai attacks, we can safely say that productive negotiations between the two countries over Kashmir, leading to warmer relations, are no longer possible.  Even before the attack, I would say that short-term prospects for a settlement were almost non-existent.  But still, are matters so far beyond salvaging?  Afterall, the initial responses to the crisis from both countries have been commendable.  India has shown remarkable restraint given the circumstances, with foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee firmly stating that "[n]obody is talking of military action."  Pakistan too has taken some important steps. While they have not issued a reply to the initial set of demands put forth by the Indian Government, national security briefings will begin today, involving Pakistan's parliament, and notably, the ISI - a sign that at least the ISI's leadership is treating this matter seriously.

I don't want to suggest that the worst is over, that this is no longer a highly delicate situation.  There could easily be missteps, and if it turns out that Pakistan's government played any role in the attacks whatsoever, Pakistan and India might be headed for all-out war.  But the initial responses give me reason to hope that tensions might ease. If that's the case (and there's no question that is a huge if), I don't see a
reason why efforts at rapprochement - over Kashmir, or any other issue -
couldn't resume.