It is back to square one. The pattern is becoming frustratingly familiar; the conflict escalates, one side offers a way out, the other swats away the outstretched hand to raucous applause back home, the conflict escalates, the other side extends an olive branch, and it happens all over again. Kashmir has become more than a territorial dispute; it has morphed into a Gordian knot whose ends are tied to both nations’ heartstrings. Nations quarrel, it’s an inevitable byproduct of global politics, yet nations move past the ill will and the enmity over time. Not Pakistan and India. Europe’s history is littered with conflicts. England, France and Germany alone share between them countless years of war, invasion, occupation and slaughter. The end of the second world war is as old as the Kashmir conflict, yet Europe has all but abolished borders and is motoring along in healthy co-operation while India and Pakistan are locked in a bitter entanglement with no sign of unraveling.

Why? Why must Kashmir be the only barometer of sub continental dialogue, the alpha and omega of bilateral talks? The answer lies less in the actual issue of Kashmir than in the quagmire local politics. Kings and emperors realized a long time ago the value of an enemy, real or imagined. A foreign threat unites the people; the person fighting for his life has little time to focus on distractions such as the literacy rate, women rights and the state of the economy. Yet, Kashmir has become so much more than just an issue to rally behind. In Kashmir the wounds of the Partition are still kept fresh. All the mistrust, rage and bitterness that should have faded over the years is kept alive. For Pakistan the serene vales of Kashmir and the Indian occupation are a testament to the logic of partition, the 900,000 strong Indian detachments the embodiment of oppression. For India, it is the living proof of Pakistani maliciousness, and a significant compensation for the tragedy that split the once proud nation. Add on to that a healthy dose of machismo and religious fanaticism and Kashmir becomes the trump card in every local political debate. It becomes a button that, whenever pressed, releases an outpouring of public sentiments and an instant vote-puller. Bilawal plucked the Kashmir issue out of the blue to announce his grand return to politics. Modi drags Kashmir through the streets, yells provocations and vows retribution to leave his audiences in awe, baying for blood. It is time we recognize Kashmir for what it is; a monument to sub continental hate, the viewing of which leaves everyone frothing at the mouth.

On Friday, the Pakistan Foreign office categorically rejected any conditions on dialogue with India. In response to the Indian ultimatum to ‘either choose us or Kashmir’, Pakistan chose Kashmir. India, without missing a beat, discarded any possibility of the two Prime Ministers meeting at the SAARC summit to be held in November. Aiming to solve the most contentious issue first before moving on to the lesser ones is nigh impossible. Instead, start with the small things, a trade agreement, a renegotiated water treaty, easement of cross border travel, a few joint ventures and a lot of cultural exchange. Only then can both nations trust each other enough to take meaningful steps in Kashmir. A Gordian knot cannot be untied if both sides pull on each end.