The worst flooding in decades has wreaked havoc in Kashmir, the disputed region between Pakistan and India, and one of the world’s most heavily militarized boarders. To date hundreds have lost their lives to the floods and landslides and thousands more remain stranded awaiting assistance. Responding to the flood is a top priority for both nations. Pakistani and Indian troops are diverting some of their attention away from on-going hostilities in order to focus on flood recovery.
However, the political realities outside the bounds of the flood waters will likely limit the extent of the goodwill shared between the nation’s leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who have both offered flood relief assistance to their counterparts. Only weeks ago, high-level peace talks between the leaders were canceled. And though there are numerous examples of pauses in hostilities between nations that are jointly impacted by natural disasters (see Greece/Turkey, the Balkans, the Philippines), rarely do these pauses amount to much over the longterm.
But that is perhaps the result of missed opportunities, and a lack of imagination, rather than just political reality. These brief windows of peace should be supported vigorously and publicly by the international community, and taken advantage of as possible springboards for conflict transformation. If political will and resources are concentrated during these pivotal moments, it may be possible to unstick certain conflict dynamics that are intractable under normal circumstances.
This is especially pertinent given a projected future of more extreme weather events and unpredictable monsoon rains in the region. These weather dynamics are likely to lead to increases in catastrophic natural disasters, and lives lost. Given this reality, leaders in the region (and internationally), should focus not only on building resilience to these disasters – which is imperative – but also on ensuring that disaster responses efforts include within them seeds for the longer-term resolution of conflict.
It has become almost a cliche to say that crises are opportunities. But rarely is the articulation of that concept turned into concrete action. In the case of India-Pakistan, and in the context of floods in Kashmir, now is perhaps a good time to renew the peace process.