Kashmir is a nuclear tinderbox threatening catastrophe to the South-Asian region. In New Delhi, denial to this statement is galore. In the second week of December 2016, India's former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and his team in the wake of 2016-Intifada visited Kashmir as 'self-appointed troubleshooters', and had a meeting with a group of civil society activists. One of the participants during discussions trying to make a point described the Kashmir Dispute as a 'nuclear flashpoint' that needs a resolution for preventing a nuclear disaster- and death of millions. His refereeing to Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint ruffled feathers of some members of the visiting team. Sinha and Kapil Kak a former air force officer vehemently denied it and denounced it as a 'figment of imagination'. In line with New Delhi policy, there are a couple of senior journalists who are also in denial mode on the subject and denounce it as propaganda.
For quite some years, Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint has been under debates in important think tanks and with military analysts in Washington and various other capitals. Stephen Philp Cohen's new book, 'The South Asia Paper' published in 2016, carries a chapter on the Kashmir Dispute titled, Kashmir: Road Ahead. Stating that since 1989 the Kashmir problem has become intimately linked to the larger question of war and peace in South Asia. He writes, "American officials and experts have built a scenario that leads, ultimately, to the horror of nuclear weapons falling on Indian and Pakistani cities. According to this scenario a local crisis in Kashmir could trigger off a military response by India and Pakistan; then the other side will overreact, leading to direct clash between India and Pakistani forces, after that the war could escalate to exchange of nuclear weapons." 'Even the "suspicion of escalation might lead to a nuclear strike'.
The threat of a nuclear conflagration between two key South Asian players- the nuke States to this day looms large on the region. On 9 March 2017 General Joseph L Votel, of the United States once again talked about the enhancing the risk of conventional conflict between India and Pakistan leading to a nuclear exchange. How India's policy to "diplomatically isolate Pakistan" hinders the improvement of ties between the two countries enhanced the risk? Seeing the developments in the region and "miscalculations" between two countries as "troubling", he informed the US Senate's Armed Services Committee at a hearing that "the conflict between Pakistan and India could escalate into a nuclear exchange, given that both are nuclear powers."
The threat of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan as seen by the General Joseph L Votel is not a statement for the sake of statement that could be dismissed as fantasy. It is a reality that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. The truth remains, but for the intervention of Bill Clinton the Kargil War did not escalate to a nuclear conflagration- thus the sub-continent was saved from devastation. Nonetheless, after the Kargil War, in fact the fears about the Kashmir Dispute triggering a nuclear war between the two countries became more audible and loud. In November 2010, when President Barrack Obama visited India the possibility of a nuclear war over Kashmir between the two countries was once again a cause of a concern in Washington. Bruce Riedel, author of the Obama administration's Af-Pak strategy, in an article in New York Times had candidly pointed out the connection between Kashmir and dangers of a nuclear war in the region. The 2010-Intifada in Kashmir that caused hundreds of opinion pages in the international press had strengthened his belief. In his article he had made some important points:
'• The new uprising in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar makes it imperative to get back to the back channel and finish the talks.'
'• For the U.S., reducing and resolving the India-Pakistan Cold War before it goes hot is critical to stability in South Asia, isolating the extremists and preventing a war in South Asia that could go nuclear. But India is understandably averse to American meddling in its internal affairs. President Obama learned that in the transition, when he briefly floated the idea of an American special envoy for Kashmir and he got a firestorm of Indian resistance.'
Six years after Riedel had raised these points, the situation in Kashmir has not changed or the relations between India and Pakistan have not improved. Instead the 2016-Intifada or uprising has left far deeper and bleeding wounds, with over a thousand children fired with pellets in the eyes and blinded forever. Moreover, this situation has not also changed in 2017. The relations between New Delhi and Islamabad are at the rock-bottom. The reason for the perpetuation of the Kashmir problem is the teeter-totter policy adopted by New Delhi and Islamabad- with one side going up and another going down. "India-Pakistan relations are one of the few major failures of Indian Foreign Policy", writes Shivshankar Menon, former Security Advisor to Prime Minister of India in his book 'Choices-Inside Making India's Foreign Policy' (published 2016). "By any benchmark this is the case, and Jinnah had spoken of Pakistan being to India as Canada is to the United States. But even by less lofty standards than close to alliance or settlement of all differences, such as achieving a modus vivendi whereby each country goes to its own way and leaves the other at peace, India's policies cannot be said to have achieved their goal". What has developed instead is a prolonged state of entrenched hostility." To him in 2004-2007 the stage had been set for changed relationship between the two countries, addressing Jammu and Kashmir. Let us not debate if the envisaged formula could have ended acrimony between the two countries and settled the Kashmir Dispute. Seventy years history testifies denials, procrastination or hideous tactics cannot dissolve the Kashmir problem. The bull needs to be taken by the horns.
To quote Riedel, 'The resolution of the Kashmir would reduce arms race between two countries and the risk of nuclear conflict.' (Avoiding Armageddon 2013)