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Kashmir Conflict: Is South Asia Heading Towards Clash of Civilizations?

Nayyar N Khan

Armed conflicts both on micro and macro level have always played a significant role in shaping the political landscape when envisaged through the prism of contemporary sprouting propensities. The entire South Asian region has been shaded by the disquieting apprehension of security concerns, cross-border conflicts and poor connectivity ranging from poverty to extremism. The insubstantial status quo in one of the densely peopledregion in the world has made it one of the least cohesivein the world besides having certain shared bonds across the international borders. India and Pakistan being two nuclear states have always been on vanguards since their creation in 1947. Political religion has always been a dominant factor in classifying the geo-political trends while analyzing the Indo-Pak relations. Although India maintained her secular traditions as pledged by her founding fathers but in practice religion was one of the stimulating elements that wedged the Indian politics over years. 2014 victory of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) hastransformed the intentions and hallways of South Asian politics. BJP’s previous term in government faded the political map (secularism) of India and in 2019 electoral results painted a new face of Indian democracy replacing the secularism with fanaticism. While Pakistani politicians, on the other hand have consistently failed to identify the common “Political Nomenclature” as a distinctive icon of their country. Instead of strengthening the democratic character politicians have always preferred to take refuge under the imported umbrella of identification and sadly ignored the rights of the struggling masses. Consequently in 2018 general elections a new breed of recruits laid down the democratic armaments to the mighty military centers. So the final hope of struggling masses was compromised in 2018 general elections in Pakistan. With the new Indian identity after BJP’s victory the dimensions of regional conflicts also shifted from political to more deeply implanted in religious ones. The conflict over Jammu Kashmir has its historical roots in human rights and right of freedom and development. Over the years and decades both India and Pakistan have turned the Kashmir conflict into a religious one and have intentionallyunheeded the imperative variables to find the lasting solution of the conflict. 
While, on the other hand, the emergence of China as a regional and global leader and her stature as a leadingeconomic giant has further complicated the regional conflicts in South Asia because of the growing Chinese political stimulus escorted by the goods and services. At one hand China has influenced the region of Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of disputed state of Jammu Kashmir bordering Xinjiang, while on the other continuous diplomatic muscles are used while determining the border issues with India. Rising fundamentalism within the Chinese territories and counter strategies to tackle and handle the flagging circumstances has widen the range of conflict from territorial to an ideological and regional one ranging from China to Central Asia and on the other side of the border into Pakistan.
NATO and U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan to fight and curtail radicalism had put a halt on the other regional conflicts in the region since 2001. After the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan to combat the growing phenomenon of terrorism China is committed to an ever-increasing presence in Pakistan and Pakistani administered Kashmir (Gilgit Baltistan). Since the past few years, Chinese strategy vis-à-vis Gilgit Baltistan appears to be ranging toward gaining unspoken control of the region — both economically and politico-diplomatically. By ballooning hoards and subsidizing various “development projects” in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Kashmir , the activities involving several thousand Chinese personnel belonging to the construction giants (apparently) seem to point towards an interventionist Chinese geo-strategic agenda in the region. After the Chinese mega project of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is a vital route for One Belt One Road initiative, passing through Gilgit has exposed the futuristic designs by ignoring the internationally disputed nature of the territory. Chinese physical presence and trade route projects in the disputed regions of Jammu Kashmir further tangles the Kashmir dispute by adding the conflicting variables and making the triangular nature an imbalance one. Considering Chinese involvement at one hand and Af-Pak insubstantial situation on other hand with Hindu nationalist party BJP in power in India projects the startling situation. Four neighboring countries of Jammu Kashmir namely India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China add around 40% of the world population and three are nuclear powers out of seven in the entire world and the fourth one, Russia is not at a far distance. The passage and corridor that opens to Central Asia passes through the mountains of Jammu Kashmir where Chinese are eying for a trade-route thus combining it with the strategic and security importance in the decades to come. Core nations and ruling elites will be the beneficiaries of the growing tendencies in the region but an adverse effect on the peripheries and poor masses will deepen with these growing ties in the region. Out of peripheries Jammu Kashmir is strategically located at the mid of all these escalating enterprises and might prove to be the epicenter of exploding “Clash of Civilizations”.
Having been a victim of the bi-lateral tensions and clashes between religiously divided India and Pakistan for the last seven decades and now the geo-strategic involvement of China in the region, Kashmiri people are being dispossessed of their fundamental human, democratic, economic, cultural, social and political rights with every passing day. Kashmir issue is more deeply embedded into human rights regime, right of the people to live in peace and harmony than the “political-economy” of its geostrategic location and thus needs to be addressed in a more humane way transcending the egoist politics. If only the political-economy is taken into consideration by the trio of China, India and Pakistan then most likely a clash of interests between Chinese version of Communism, Hinduism and Islamic fundamentalism will unearth the calamity in Himalayas. These growing rigidities between the trios will coagulate the Huntington’s theory of “Clash of Civilizations”. According to Samuel Huntington’s classification of Civilizations three out of eight are contiguous the topography of Himalayas and directly linked to Kashmir dispute. These are Confucian, Hindu and Islamic Civilizations. The political economy of geo-strategic location of Jammu Kashmir would prove one of the major fault lines for these three civilizations to clash in future, and again Kashmir dispute would be derailed from its original spirit. And yet again the victims of this geo-political strife would be primarily the poor masses of Jammu Kashmir along with a catastrophic effect on the economic conditions of the poor masses of entire region majority of whom is already living below the poverty line in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. 
Therefore, Western nations, being the vocal advocate of international human rights need to virtually step in to resolve the Kashmir conflict according to the democratic wishes of Kashmiri people living in a worryingly militarized fragile region. Almost every second person of the total human population on Earth is residing on the borders of Jammu Kashmir, thus the conflict concentration is intimidating openly to the very existence of half of the world population. At this critical moment of history it is a litmus test for the Western leadership whether their political wisdom has graduated or they still live in a fantasy world dreaming about the unachievable and impractical solutions. The political wisdom of Kashmiri leadership in particular and other affiliated parties in general could detour a possible clash of civilizations in the region. Amid the increasing volatile situation, a pluralistic approach ensuring the protection of a separate, secular national identity of Jammu Kashmir, respect of international human rights and democratic practices can only guarantee the lasting peace in the entire region. If, however, Muslims of Jammu Kashmir and Pakistan insist for pan Islamic movement for the Kashmir’s ownership, no doubt, clash of civilizations is knocking in the region inviting nothing but catastrophe and instability.  

(Nayyar N Khan is a US based human rights, peace activist and a freelance journalist of Kashmiri origin. He can be reached at globalpeace2002@hotmail.com)

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