The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir may appear to be intractable. India reiterates that Kashmir is an integral part of its territory, while Pakistan asks for justice for Kashmiri people by holding referendum on its status. If a referendum did take place however, the results would depend on the options given to the people. India is unlikely to agree to a referendum that might result in it losing all claim to Kashmir, so may refuse a referendum that presents the options of merging with India, Pakistan or Independence for Kashmir. Furthermore, the current strength of India may allow it to block all Pakistani demands for a referendum. The status of both countries as nuclear powers denies the possibility of a military solution to the conflict.
In this context, I would argue that the best option for Kashmiris to do is to push for referendum calling for a peaceful, democratic and secular ‘Special Administered Territory’, that would include an increased stake for Kashmiri residents. This territory could be governed by a principle of political dualism and proportional representation, with a diluted military presence from both countries. It might be possible to make some arrangement for independent but correlated treasuries.
A peaceful mass movement might help create a shared Kashmir identity – cultural, economic and political. Goods and capital should then be able to be freely exchanged across both Pakistani- and Indian-administered Kashmir. Such cooperation might help the case for a referendum on a peaceful autonomous region or independent state. One practical step that could help towards improved relations is a push to allow the return of Kashmiri Pundits, which would lesson Hindu-Muslim tensions.
Given the importance of the Kashmir dispute, a specially administered territory might pave the way for a peaceful and integrated South Asia, curbing missile and nuclear ambitions.