India, Pakistan, and Central Asia

14 Aug, 1998    ·   133

Dinshaw Mistry points out that if India and Pakistan were to focus more on Central Asia, there would be a de-escalation of the Kashmir problem

In the report on the workshop on possibilities for co-operation in Central Asia , one did not find a deeper discussion on diverging Indian and Pakistani perspectives on Central Asia . For example, on the issue of Russian influence in the region, India would not oppose continuing (and indeed even strengthened) Russian influence in Central Asia . Pakistan on the other hand, may do so.



To take another example, in Afghanistan, clearly India, Iran and Russia are on one side (the anti-Taleban groups); Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are presently on the opposing pro-Taleban side.Thus in at least some parts of Central Asia, the situation is zero-sum, because from India's and Pakistan's respective perspectives, they are backing opposing factions in the region.



Can energy co-operation or trade convert this into a win-win situation. If there are enough commercial and economic spin-offs in the region for both sides to gain, then both India and Pakistan may be encouraged to look for mutual opportunities in the region.



Even if it is not a complete win-win situation, would India's geopolitical interests be served if Pakistan in fact moves further towards Central Asia (beyond its current tentative moves towards some degree of economic co-operation), and thus possibly away from Kashmir.



If Pakistan focuses more on Central Asia , it could turn out to India 's advantage in two ways. First, from a geopolitical perspective, Pakistan may choose to concentrate more on Central Asia and in the process may find fewer reasons to focus on Kashmir --the latter outcome is certainly to India 's benefit.



Second, and relatedly, Pakistan's focus on Kashmir is in part rooted in concerns for its national identity—if in fact Pakistan finds that its national identity is furthered through engagement in Central Asia, then this provides an additional reason for Pakistan's disinterest (or at least some amount of disengagement) from Kashmir, again to India's advantage.



Conversely, India may "lose" in terms of economic opportunities or geopolitics in the region; but would it lose too much or just marginally. And are these "losses" likely to be worth potential gains of (the theoretical possibility of) Pakistan 's partial disengagement from and lesser focus on Kashmir ?