Originally published in the Washington Times.
You don’t have to be Jewish to know that land disputes between nations can be volatile and intractable things. Today, one such dispute finds two nuclear powers facing off, and its resolution — in which one-fifth of the world’s population hangs in the balance — is in President Trump’s power to shape.
One year before Israel was born, an autonomous region known as Kashmir came into being, a result of the end of the British Empire in India and the establishment of a neighboring Muslim-majority nation called Pakistan. And since that day in 1947, India and Pakistan have been in conflict over Kashmir, which lies between them. Two weeks ago, India announced that it would abandon Kashmir’s autonomous status and moved quickly to further militarize the region, creating a virtual blackout of information and electricity for millions of residents.
Kashmir is a delicate issue that the United States and the United Nations, as well as India and Pakistan, have worked hard to balance over the years, especially given the nuclear stakes. India’s move is thus a break with this tradition of diplomatic even-handedness and military restraint. If the lessons of Israel-Palestine teach us anything, it is that blunt, unilateral force is not a true solution but a path to conflict and war. Indeed, pressure is building upon the Indian and Pakistani leadership to take decisive action.
Given that India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers, escalation of tensions between the two countries is incredibly dangerous. Just last month, President Trump, in a meeting with new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, offered to personally mediate the dispute.
America is now in a complicated position on the issue. We have forged trading and security alliances with both India and Pakistan over the decades. Each country has a large diaspora in the United States. While nuanced diplomacy has ensured that the United States has not faced a zero-sum game between the two, it is time the United States use its moral and strategic leverage to get both sides to the table to address the issue of Kashmir once and for all. There are humanitarian, legal and security interests in such intervention.
The first step is for the United States to convince India to return to the status-quo-ante: the Line of Control prior to the recent crackdown. That step will build confidence, calm simmering tensions, respect long-standing international agreements and create room for negotiations. Those negotiations — given the scale and gravity of the Kashmir issue — must be mediated and multilateral. Indeed, until President Trump’s offer to mediate, the dispute has festered as a bilateral standoff.
The most immediate benefit to talks will be to the the 12 million people of Kashmir, who continue to suffer. Their plight must be addressed and a number of international organizations like the United Nations and NGOs such as Amnesty International are sounding the alarm bell over human right violations — including persecution of minorities — in the region. Peace between India and Pakistan means security for them and the possibility to at last develop and grow.
It would be hard not to see the applicability of Israel-Palestine. Like Kashmir, this delicate piece of land the size of New Jersey hangs in a balance maintained by international organizations, the United States, and neighboring countries. The U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine sought to give self-determination to two groups, the Jewish people and Palestinian Arabs, in a region that had chafed under British and Ottoman rule.
Over time, the balance has shifted, and the United States has helped Israel make peace with former enemies — but the surrounding countries, friend or foe, play an integral role in the balance of power. If the balance collapses, the Levant could devolve into war.
What’s more, like Kashmir, the Israeli-Palestinian situation is far from being “solved,” and neither side is happy with the status quo — yet maintaining the balance in the region allows a future negotiated peace to be possible. A two-state solution, like an independent Kashmir, is an eventual goal kept alive by an equilibrium of treaties, actions by the two sides and foreign involvement. And when an actor violates the status quo and breaks that equilibrium, the eventual goal of true, stable autonomy is destroyed. And then comes inevitable war.
Cooler heads must prevail. Both sides should immediately accept President Trump’s offer to mediate the conflict, first to de-escalate the current crisis then to address the final status issues that can no longer be ignored. America, fatigued by conflict and eager to stay out of foreign entanglements, must again summon our historic role in promoting peace and democracy. Failure — and the prospect of nuclear war — is simply not an option.
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