Enhancing Regional Peace and Stability: An Initiative from Srinagar, Kashmir

By Akihiro Iwashita  


One of the critical regions for border disputes is in Central Eurasia; the Jammu and Kashmir area stretching from the India-Pakistan “Line of Control” toward the Indo-China “unsettled” border region of Aksai Chin. This area could be a test for new and emerging border dynamics, which the Russia-China border settlement and regional cooperation had initiated and developed since the late 1990s onward on Eurasia. Under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization framework (“Shanghai Five” up to 2001), China’s long border in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan was settled, stabilized and developed. Considering the military conflicts and tension of the 1960s over the border, the recent achievements throughout the region have been amazing and unexpected. Thanks to this success, most of the local residents in the region, regardless of their nationalities and religions, are currently enjoying a revival of trade, transportation and interactions over the border. Here is seen one of the apparent phenomena --- a contemporary revival of the ancient “Silk Road.”

From October 15-18, 2008, the “Dynamics & Revival of Silk Route: Perspective, Challenges & Opportunities” conference was held at the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, India. Distinguished experts from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and even Turkmenistan (a representative from the Indian Embassy) participated. Specialists from Urumchi, China, and Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as from the US, Italy and Japan also were in attendance. Well-known Indian scholars were also there: Mansura Haidar, Professor at the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, P. L. Dash, Professor at the Centre of Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, and Riyaz Punjabi, Vice Chancellor, University of Kashmir.

This conference was one of the most productive conferences that I have ever attended. It was well-organized, well-balanced and included timely opportunities for intensive and fruitful discussions over Central Asia and its surrounding regions under the supervision of Mushtaq A. Kaw and G. M. Mir. The wide range of topics discussed and debated culture and art, history, transportation perspectives, and international affairs around/in Central Asia. Particularly, all of the participants who visited Kashmir for the first time seemed to be strongly impressed by the local challenges Kashmir people had struggled with and by the possibility of Kashmir being reengaged in the North-South “Silk Road” in the near future (through Pamir and Karakoram).

A foreign participant who had attended a conference on the similar topic two years ago told me that a seemingly constructive change around Srinagar was apparent though tight military control at the airport and the main road remained. More than a few of the local residents hope that normalization of regional life steadily progresses, and that Srinagar realizes a revival of the rich and stable prosperity of the past.

International support of this key area must be a necessary condition toward achieving stability and prosperity. To boost regional, economic and cultural cooperation in Central Eurasia, including Jammu and Kashmir where it is geographically transparent at its crossroads but has yet to realize its full potential, the international committee issued a recommendation. In addition to the published text, the committee also agreed on a non-academic agenda: To create a direct route between Kashmir and the Karakoram pass (through the “Line of Control”) and maintain the status quo of the border region. Opening the currently closed border region toward a neighbor and the wider world could bring benefit for local resident, regional neighbors and finally, the country as a whole in the long run.

Over the past twenty years, there have been plenty of rich experiences and lessons for the border arrangement that should prove useful to the Shanghai Organization Cooperation framework. Why shouldn’t India and Pakistan, as observer countries of the SCO, learn from these experiences? Why shouldn’t China move forward, thus breaking from the legacies of the past, as she did with Russia and Central Asia? I believe a new agenda set by the Srinagar Initiative on Central Eurasia could prove to be a major breakthrough in overcoming the long-standing challenges of troubled border areas in the region. Only then will the Srinagar conference’s initiatives be recognized as a small but first step toward turning a new page on the regional revival.

See: Recommendation

Akihiro Iwashita, Director and Professor of the Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University, Japan, was Visiting Fellow of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, US (2007-2008).

*The views expressed in the essay belong solely to the author and do not represent the official position of any organizations to which the author is permanently or was temporarily affiliated.


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