Turmoil in Kashmir has reopened an old wound and hardened anti-India sentiment in Pakistan
IT HAS been a dispiriting decade for those who dream of Pakistan taking full control of Kashmir, the Himalayan former kingdom that India claims for itself. Pakistan-based activists have long feared Islamabad's heart is no longer in their cause. Some feel the big political parties are more interested in accepting the status quo of a divided Kashmir and focusing on trade. The Pakistani army, battling domestic extremists, is unwilling to reprise the 1990s, when it helped arm and train jihadists in Indian Kashmir (though it has refused Indian demands to crush them entirely).
But violence in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, is now fanning separatists' hopes for a revival of their cause. It was triggered by the killing last month by Indian security forces of Burhan Wani, a popular commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, an insurgent group Delhi appears determined to shut down. People in the Kashmir valley, on the Indian-controlled side, defied curfews to turn out for his funeral. Through skilful use of social media the 22-year-old Mr Wani had become especially popular with a younger generation resentful of Indian rule.
Pakistani pundits have dwelt on India's efforts to reinstate order and the deaths of more than 50 civilians since Mr Wani was killed on July 8th. Islamist organisations such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (which the UN lists as a terrorist front group) descended on Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, to stage a protest against India.
The dispute over Kashmir began at the partition of British India in 1947, when the last maharajah of Kashmir dithered over which country to join. He chose India but only after Pakistan, which viewed a contiguous Muslim-majority area as a natural part of its territory, had sent tribal insurgents who grabbed half the land. Both countries still lay claim to the half of Kashmir they do not control.
According to Parvez Ahmed, a Pakistan-based leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of Kashmiri separatist groups, the recent unrest has transformed the debate within Pakistan. "No one is talking about trade or holding candles at the border any more," he says--a mocking reference to vigils held by Pakistan's peace lobby at Wagah, the only crossing point along the 2,900km (1,800 mile) border with India.
Before regional elections held on July 21st in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, candidates rushed to burnish their credentials as supporters of the separatist cause. At a victory rally the following day in the state capital, Muzaffarabad, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister, said that the country was "awaiting the day when Kashmir will become Pakistan". Such rhetoric has further aggravated relations with India. These had already been damaged by an attack carried out in January on an Indian airbase at Pathankot, near the border, by jihadists India believes were directed by handlers in Pakistan.
India on August 9th summoned Pakistan's high commissioner in New Delhi to protest at what it called continued infiltration of militants across the "Line of Control", the demarcation in Kashmir that neither side recognises as a border. The move came days after India's home minister, Rajnath Singh, at a regional conference in Islamabad, called for isolation of countries deemed to be supporters of "terrorism".
Most mainstream Pakistani politicians privately accept that their country's longstanding demand for a plebiscite that would allow Kashmiris on either side to decide their future, as called for in a UN resolution in 1948, will never be met. Support for cross-border violence fell considerably in the early 2000s when it became clear that the cost to Pakistan's reputation was too high. Some fear that Indian Kashmiris might not even opt to join Pakistan if given the chance, so badly has Pakistan's economy fallen behind India's. They may be right: in Indian Kashmir the talk is usually of a zadi--freedom--not of joining Pakistan.
Realists know that the only policy with a chance of success is something like a proposal in 2004 by Pervez Musharraf, a former military dictator. This involved no exchange of territory but freedom for Kashmiris to move between the two sides, demilitarisation and greater self-government for the region. But such a compromise would require warm relations with India. Mr Sharif would like nothing better. In December he hosted Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, on the first visit by an Indian premier in 12 years. If Mr Modi is to return, as he plans to in November for another regional summit, the issue of Kashmir will need to simmer down again.