Indian and Pakistani officials engaged in secret talks from 2004 to 2007 that almost resulted in a deal over Kashmir, according to New Yorker journalist Steve Coll. The talks fizzled out in 2007 and have since been set back even further.
Under the plan, the Kashmir conflict would have been resolved through the creation of an autonomous region in which local residents could move freely and conduct trade on both sides of the territorial boundary. Over time, the border would become irrelevant, and declining violence would allow a gradual withdrawal of tens of thousands of troops that now face one another across the region’s mountain passes.
Such shared control is surprising. Musharraf allegedly strongly backed the talks and was able to persuade several hardline Pakistani military leaders to support the initiative also. By early 2007, both India and Pakistan were reportedly preparing to make a public case for a deal in their respective countries, but Musharraf’s battle with Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruined triggered a wave of popular opposition to his rule, drastically reducing the chances of his winning such a controversial measure. Prospects for a truce were further hurt by increased anti-India terrorist attacks and protests in Kashmir after Musharraf’s resignation:
The attempt ultimately failed, not because of substantive differences, Coll writes, but because declining political fortunes left Pakistan’s then-president, Pervez Musharraf, without the clout he needed to sell the agreement at home. Although Musharraf fought for the deal – as did Indian leader Manmohan Singh – he became so weakened politically that he “couldn’t sell himself,” let alone a surprise peace deal with Pakistan’s longtime rival, Coll says, quoting senior Pakistani and Indian officials.
With the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks polarizing public opinion in both countries, the deal (if put back on the table) will be a tough sell for some time.
Peter Cassata is associate editor of the Atlantic Council.