Network 20/20’s trip coincided with a meeting in Islamabad between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, which was followed by trade talks that have expanded the list of permitted trade goods between the two countries. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi and his predecessor in Musharraf’s government, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, expressed new hope for the Indo-Pakistani relationship during their meetings with us.
The dispute over Kashmir, which began at independence in 1947, is on the table in both formal talks and back-channel negotiations. “If we can solve it, Kashmir will help heal the wounds,” said Kasuri. He added that Pakistani public opinion has been primed for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. A recent poll found that neither country contains “strong majority opposition to Kashmir becoming an independent country or dividing Kashmir between Pakistan and India.” Kasuri was confident, too, that the public would not oppose an agreement on Kashmir. “It will not come as a surprise and it could be done very soon,” he claimed. 15
The Pakistani business leaders we interviewed seemed particularly eager for a rapprochement between Pakistan and India. “Anti-India is no longer an election issue in Pakistan,” said Amit Hashwani, a Karachi businessman and a principal backer of the Citizens Foundation, who has been active in people-to-people exchanges between Pakistani and Indian CEOs.
We did hear animosity toward India from conservatives such as Hamid Gul, the retired Inter-Services Intelligence chief. Amir Siddique, the deputy imam of the Red Mosque (which now is painted beige), complained that Pakistan’s politicians “talk nicely with India” and don’t solve economic problems. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami are often reported to be hostile to India, but India did not feature prominently in our discussions with leaders of those parties.
Curiously, India and Kashmir have appeared only rarely in the lists of “jihad lands” mentioned by al-Qaeda. “Somehow Kashmir has never appealed to the Arab mind,” remarked the Lahore journalist Khaled Ahmed. But in an August tape broadcast on Pakistan’s ARY One World television channel, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s secondin- command, placed special emphasis on India and Kashmir, accusing Musharraf of betraying Muslims there. With renewed firing by armies in Kashmir; with non-violent unrest and government repression in the Indian-administered Valley of Kashmir; and with Indian allegations of a Pakistani role in the July suicide bombing outside its embassy in Kabul, the danger of a military standoff between India and Pakistan is much greater than it has been in recent years. Such a standoff, even if it did not lead to war, would severely diminish cooperation between the United States and Pakistan against al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.
The United States should give priority to neutralizing the Indo-Pakistani rivalry in Afghanistan, first of all by placing a high priority on countering anti-Indian Islamist organizations. We were told of a growing belief among some Pakistanis in and out of the military that there is a fundamental contradiction between Pakistan’s and America’s interests in the region. In this view, the two countries may collaborate in the near run but will ultimately be on opposing sides due to Washington’s interest in strengthening ties with India. The United States should redouble its behind-the-scenes efforts to promote a settlement on Kashmir, and it should pressure India to make credible assurances that its large presence in Afghanistan will not harm Pakistan. Doing this would demonstrate that the U.S. can balance its interests in India with Pakistan’s security needs.
15 See “Pakistani and Indian Public Opinion on Kashmir and Indo-Pakistani Relations,” WorldPublicOpinion.Org, July 16, 2008, http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/home_page/511.php?nid=&id=&pnt=511&lb=