A poem written by Sir Alfred Lyall in the mid-19th century and quoted by King Abdur Rahman Khan in his 1900 biography, The Life of Abdur Rahman Khan, Amir of Afghanistan, reads:

The Afghan is but grist in the mill,

And the waters are moving it fast,

Let the stone be upper or nether,

It grinds him to powder at last.

And the lord of the English writes:

Order and justice, and govern with laws;

And the Russian he sneers and says:

Patience and velvet to cover your claws;

But the kingdoms of Islam are crumbling,

And round me a voice ever rings

Of death, and the doom of my country.

Shall I be the last of its kings?

If the word “American” is substituted for the word “English” in the fifth line, this poem would be relevant still, especially following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on December 24, 1979.  The 19th-century “great game,” however, has taken on a new twist since September 11, 2001.  The struggle over Afghanistan now has regional and global ramifications—the prospect of an Indo-Pakistani nuclear war and further acts of terrorism by Muslim extremists, bringing the war into the heartland of the United States and the West.

On October 12, 2001 Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told reporters again that Kashmir “is the most dangerous place in the world” and that “the main purpose of [Secretary of State Colin] Powell’s trip would be to ensure that tensions between the two countries do not escalate.”

With the elimination of the Taliban regime and the Al Qaeda (“base”) of its “special guest,” Osama bin Laden, the Bush administration plans to establish stability in the region.  This includes setting up a multiethnic interim Afghan regime under the symbolic leadership of the octogenarian king, Zahir Shah, and the resolution of the Kashmir issue so as to diffuse the prospect of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

In the long term, it is unlikely that the Northern Alliance (made up of minority Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras) and the various tribal and religious factions of the majority Pashtuns will cooperate under American occupation.  Large-scale U.S. aid may only increase the struggle among the parties for the spoils.  A new danger may arise if disgruntled Pashtuns revive the pre-1980 “Pashtunistan” movement that sought to unite Pashtuns on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The problem with Kashmir is that there is no room for compromise on either side.  Pakistan will not give up her claim  to the valley.  India may relinquish her claim to Azad Kashmir, but she will not give up the valley or any other part that she holds.  Any concession here, the Indian government believes, would be the first step toward the unraveling of India, as it was in the former Yugoslavia.  There will be no change in these positions, no matter which government is in power in Islamabad or New Delhi.

From the Indian standpoint, to accept American mediation would be to acknowledge that there is something to mediate, and that would be the prized Valley of Kashmir.  To India, mediation would be the first step toward losing the Valley and, perhaps, more.  India is a country of seven major religions and about 35 (18 official) major languages.  If India loses Kashmir, the entire turbulent northeast sector of India could go the same way, and then possibly Sikh-majority Punjab and parts of the prosperous Dravidian south, although much of the rest of India is now deeply integrated, thanks mainly to the Bollywood film industry and the economic integration of the country.

The basis for the settlement of the Sino-Indian border dispute was the territorial status quo with marginal adjustments, whatever the legitimacy of the Indian claim to Aksai Chin in the northwest and the Chinese claim to Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast.  Both India and China have accepted these realities and have incorporated them in the 1994 Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement.  Today, the Sino-Indian Himalayan border dispute is resolved de facto.

A solution to Kashmir must be drawn along similar lines.  Beyond the risk of India unraveling like Yugoslavia in a bloodbath (when Slovenia and Croatia were hastily and recklessly recognized) or the probability of Indonesia unraveling after East Timor was dislodged through diplomatic intervention, the future of 144 million Muslims in India depends on maintaining the territorial status quo in Kashmir.  If four million Kashmiri Muslims cannot live in Hindu-majority India, by logical extension, neither can 144 million Muslims in the rest of India.  The leaders of the Indian Muslims in the Hindu-majority areas of British India were mainly responsible for the creation of Pakistan, not the Muslims of the Muslim-majority areas that became West and East Pakistan.

The four million Kashmiri Valley Muslims, out of a total Indian population of one billion, could easily have been swamped through Punjabi Hindu and Sikh settlements.  The Indian government has continued to prevent this for more than 50 years through a special constitutional provision.  Indeed, in Azad Kashmir, the Kashmiri identity does not exist because of Punjabi Muslim settlements and intermarriages with local Kashmiris.

The answer to South Asia’s problems is the same as that being enforced in Israel, a state that was not recognized by the vast majority of the states of the world until after the 1991 Gulf War.  The Palestinians led by Yasser Arafat have learned to recognize that reality.  Similarly, Kashmir is a part of India, Tibet is a part of China, and the Pashtun province of the Northwest Frontier Province is a part of Pakistan.  Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China must face these realities and agree to maintain the territorial status quo and internal sovereignty of one another’s states, whatever the legitimacy of one another’s territorial claims.  Only marginal adjustments may be allowed.