Kashmir is a Muslim majority state. So, one might simplistically argue that India should vacate the place and give it away to Pakistan. But, it is not so simple.
Why is Kashmir a vexing problem?
1. The state has 3 sub-regions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. In Kashmir valley muslims are predominant. However, both in Jammu and Ladakh, non-muslims such as Hindus and Buddhists are dominant. Many Muslims would like to join Pakistan, but all non-Muslims want to be with India there is a controversy here on how many Muslims actually want to be a part of Pakistan. See the comment thread]. The Muslim part sits in between the Hindu part and Buddhist part. This means cutting away the Muslim part and merging with Pakistan is not easy.
2. The region is extremely cold (with some of the coldest temperatures in the inhabited world), snow bound, land locked and hilly (having some of the tallest mountains in the world). Given the geography and the terrain, cutting it up is not as easy as it looks on the map.
3. The hills are considered strategically important to both India and Pakistan. The hills of Kashmir slope into the crucial region of Punjab on both sides of the border. Controlling the hills are important for both the armies.
4. The region carries the Indus water that is extremely crucial for both Pakistan and northern India. Water is the most precious resource in the dry subcontinent and you have to be extremely careful in how you carve the resources.
5. The status of Hindus in Pakistan is infinitely worse than that of the Muslims in India. Although its minority record is not spotless, India has had a couple of Muslim presidents and there are muslim leaders in every spectrum – business, sports, entertainment, arts and sciences. That means any solution that involves Hindus ending up in Pakistan is far worse than a solution involving Muslims ending up in India.
6. Terrorism. The region adjoins extremely troubled regions such as northern Pakistan, Afghanistan, Xinjiang of China and central Asia. This means an independent Kashmir can become a breeding ground of terrorists as a weak Kashmiri government can’t prevail over lethal terrorists. It could become a sort of Somalia and become a bigger headache for the whole region.
7.Pandora’s box. India is a highly heterogeneous country and removing Kashmir could embolden other separatist groups all over the nation. This is why India has to be inflexible at times dealing with the problem.
There are only two scenarios that seem the most feasible to me:
1. Formalize the status quo and make the Line of Control into a permanent border. India would formally give up the regions that it still shows in its map and Pakistan can fully integrate its part of Kashmir. In fact, it was alleged many Pakistani leaders have agreed to this solution in the past – although they didn’t make it public given the fear of coup in Pakistan.
2. Let India and Pakistan give up their control of the valley and make the valley region (about 5% of the disputed area) into a quasi-independent nation with UN control or a guarded neutrality similar to Switzerland. This could act as a sort of buffer state (in the earlier days major powers used to have such buffer days between them). India and Pakistan could provide 50% of armed forced each to this new authority. India would lose some territory but so would Pakistan and it kind of would be more palatable. For India, the advantages are that the rest of state can be completely merged into India with no special status, reduction of army budget required to protect the valley, reduction of border disputes with Pakistan and improvement of its overall brand image in the world stage. Pakistan leaders can claim a massive victory (given that they have got some territory out of India) and resume normal relationship with India.
The second solution might be unpalatable to many Indians, but I believe we don’t have any other credible solution that could help India move on. We have other things to worry about
– we cannot just keep dog fighting in the snow and lose our precious men.