At the very time when British India was being bifurcated into two independent ‘dominions’- India and Pakistan, no one could have foreseen how the newly-independent states would be at loggerheads over a small item of ‘unfinished agenda of partition’ for decades to come. Sadly, instead of focusing on the socio-economic uplift of their long-deprived masses, which was also the primary raison d’être of their independence, both countries readily engaged in a fierce tug of war over the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir as soon as they got independence.

The issue of Kashmir is not merely a question of fundamental political and human rights of millions of Kashmiris, but it also involves, directly or indirectly, the fate and future of more than one-and-half billion people living in the South Asian region. Apparently the ‘oldest dispute on the UN agenda’ has become a major hurdle in the way of socio-economic well-being of the inhabitants of this region. Thus every fifth person on the globe has been made to bear the brunt of this longstanding issue. So in terms of its humanitarian impact, undeniably this is the gravest unresolved issue in the contemporary world.

Kashmir dispute has led three full-scale wars between India and Pakistan. Their eternal conflict has given rise to an extensive arms-race in South Asia. Having nuclearised this region, now they are very keen to develop a state-of-the-art delivery system. Their military strategists and ambitious commanders have constantly been devising military strategies and evolving war doctrines against each other like “Strategic Depth”, “Strategic Encirclement”, “Cold Start Doctrine”, “Full Spectrum Deterrence” etc. Now they also feel no hesitation at all in articulating their national interests through non-state actors. Presently Afghanistan has become an active theater of a proxy war between India and Pakistan.

SAARC, a regional organisation meant for prompting economic cooperation among South Asian countries, has become a dysfunctional and irrelevant body owing to mutual conflict between India and Pakistan. Similarly, the long-cherished dream of creating the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) in the region has also shattered. Now the mutual antagonism between the two countries has reached to an extent that they can no longer talk and sit together even at any neutral forum like SAARC.

Pakistan has indeed paid a heavy price for its ‘Kashmir cause’. India played a pivotal role in severing Pakistan’s erstwhile eastern wing in 1971. Thus it is an unfortunate country, which has lost one of its limbs while retrieving its “Jugular Vein” from the enemy. Even today, India misses no opportunity to inflict any injury on rest of its body. At present, India has imposed a complex Fourth Generation War on Pakistan with the help of a large number of violent non-state actors in the form of various pseudo-Jihadists and pseudo-nationalists across the country. Now India is also hell-bent on sabotaging the game-changing CPEC project through its numerous spies like Kulbhushan Yadav.

For India too, the cost of occupying and retaining the state of J&K has also been a bit high. Currently, beside a large number of personnel of civilian law enforcing agencies, India has deployed more than half a million regular military troops in IOK only to consolidate its illegal occupation on the disputed valley. In fact, it is the highest soldier-to-civilian ratio in the world. The atrocities in IOK have also badly distorted India’s image as a large functional democracy in the world. Moreover, India’s overriding ambitions to become a member of UNSC and NSG have been thwarted by Pakistan.

It is quite worrisome that now the international surveys and assessments (like Global Hunger Index, Human Development Index) place the South Asian countries only next to least-developed African countries in the world. Currently, almost half of the population of South Asia lives in absolute poverty. A large segment of the population has no access to safe drinking water, and basic health and sanitation facilities. This region also houses world’s largest segment of illiterate population. The percentage of malnourished and stunted children is also the highest in the world. In India alone, about 80 million people are homeless. Around 60% of Indian population have no access to toilet facility. Ironically, at the same time, South Asia countries are among of the largest importers of arms in the world. These countries spend a major chunk of their national income on defending themselves against each other.

The state of J&K is neither apparently bestowed with extensive mineral resources nor has the vast tracts of cultivable land. Therefore, both countries’ economies hardly depend on this volatile valley. Owing to its close proximity to China, this valley is strategically crucial to both India and Pakistan. However, once both countries make peace with each other, Kashmir’s strategic importance and relevance will also be considerably diminished.

It is a proven fact that Pakistan can’t forcibly conquer the IOK nor can India peacefully hold and absorb this dispute territory. Consuming the extensive state resources of both countries, presently the state of J&K has become a cumbersome liability for both countries. Therefore, it is in the interest of both countries to amicably resolve this longstanding unresolved issue in accordance with aspirations of Kashmiri people. This will certainly be a win-win situation for both countries. Kashmir dispute is the only major source of confrontation between India and Pakistan. Once this issue is resolved, they would be in a better position to spend their extensive economic resources on the socio-economic uplift of their deprived masses instead of harming and destabilizing their perceived enemies. There is no point in incurring high operational costs and jeopardising the lives of thousands of soldiers for nothing in the areas like Siachin.

The South Asian region possesses enormous economic, human and natural resources. This region has great potential to thrive. India is among five BRICKS countries, which are believed to be world’s future emerging major economies. Similarly, Pakistan and Bangladesh are part of so-called Next Eleven- the eleven developing countries, which also have great potential of becoming major economies in 21ist century. But unfortunately, Pak-India mutual confrontation has marred the economic development of all South Asian countries. South Asia is an energy-deficient region. The long-aspired Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project has yet not materialised due to mutual disagreement between India and Pakistan. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) is also likely to meet similar fate. Presently South Asia is the least-integrated region in the world.

India would be the greatest beneficiary of pacific resolution of longstanding Kashmir dispute. In fact, this dispute has become the darkest and ugliest aspect of ‘world’s largest democracy’. It is also one of the major obstacle in the way of ‘Shining India’. If India makes peace with Pakistan after amicably resolving Kashmir dispute, Pakistan would support India’s long-aspired goal of becoming a permanent UNSC member. Moreover, Pakistan would also help India become a member of NSG. Obviously India cannot emerge as the world’s great power without making peace with its immediate neighbouring countries.

India can also become the largest beneficiary of peaceful and prosperous South Asia. Being the largest regional country, it can draw greatest economic benefits from the proposed SAFTA. By improving regional connectivity, it can also have a convenient access to markets of the Central Asian Republics through Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Kashmir is the gateway to South Asian peace and prosperity. At the moment, India holds the key. It is high time the Indian populace decides whether it is ‘Gandhism’ or ‘Modi-ism’ which has to determine the future of India. Indeed, these are the epoch-making moments.