The Kashmir imbroglio has plagued our subcontinent for several decades now. Billions of rupees and thousands of innocent lives later, the conflict is persistent as ever. The four main stakeholders – India’s political leadership, its security forces, militants (both indigenous and those supported by Pakistan) and the people of Kashmir – have all been through the sequence of violence, establishment of relative peace and its breakdown, in a relentless cycle.

Punitive cross-border strikes by the Indian Army, overtures of talks and unilateral ceasefires have all been to naught. If anything, the intensity of violence, cold-blooded assassinations and stone pelting seem to be on the rise. The “solutions” proffered by various quarters reek of déjà vu, which intensifies cynicism as officials, politicians and soldiers keep changing, but Kashmiris stay in the same simmering predicament.

Albert Einstein once remarked that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different outcomes is a mark of insanity. Common Kashmiris, who are bearing the brunt of this conflict, might agree, for it describes the situation in the Valley aptly.

All terrorist movements eventually end or weaken to the point of ineffectiveness. However, pure force has never been the solution. Security forces can only set the stage for the stakeholders to engage in a dialogue and work out a negotiated agreement. Therein lies the problem.

Notwithstanding grand statements about Kashmir being an integral part of India, the reality is that India and Pakistan each control roughly 40% of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, with the remaining 20% (Aksai Chin) under Chinese control. Both India and Pakistan claim authority over all of Jammu and Kashmir, offering infallible arguments from their points of view. China has clearly thrown in its lot with Pakistan, which is only too happy since this partnership plugs the financial and ordnance deficit created by the United States pulling out of Afghanistan. Indeed, Pakistan’s synergy with China goes far beyond aid, which was the primary benefit it received from the US.

Over the last decade, India’s two adversarial neighbours have been developing military interoperability and an “economic corridor” that runs the length of Pakistan and gives China access to the Arabian Sea. It is a win-win for Pakistan and China in more ways than just financial and military. The alignment of the economic corridor places Chinese assets and interests right in the path of India’s depth strike capabilities. The Chinese presence in Southwest Pakistan ensures that any Indian riposte in Baluchistan is nipped in the bud. And, of course, by getting access to the warm water port of Gwadar, China also completes its encirclement of India.

Simply put, there is no strategic incentive whatsoever for Pakistan (or China, for that matter) to end the Kashmir insurgency. Keeping it going, on the other hand, bleeds the Indian economy and ties down a sizeable chunk of the Indian Army. Besides, as far as Pakistan is concerned, this is not a choice anyway. Its terror factories have spun out of control, as is evident from the havoc being wreaked by radical groups within the country. Pakistan’s best option is to funnel these terrorists into Indian territories, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

Bring in women

India seems to have exhausted its conventional options. Surgical strikes, incessant shelling, admonishing Pakistan on international forums, backdoor diplomacy, unilateral ceasefires and informal visits by Indian leaders have all met the same truculent response of continued terrorism. The country’s internal situation is similar. The government uses a strong hand to suppress militancy and the situation appears to get better statistically before swinging back at the slightest trigger, showing that peace brought through overwhelming military deployment is always temporary.

Perhaps, more imaginative solutions are needed.

A prerequisite for resolving complex conflicts is finding the middle ground and commonality of interests; it is from there a meaningful resolution can emerge. Taking extreme positions, such as both sides claiming all of Kashmir as their own, may appeal to vote banks, but they are poor gambits in practical negotiations.

Finding common ground between enemies is more challenging but, unfortunately, every conflict zone has at least one commonality between foes – the grief of their women.

Whether it is the mother of Burhan Wani, who was hailed by many in the Valley as a role model but despised by others as a terrorist, or the mother of the slain soldier Aurangzeb, who was lionised by many but reviled by his killers – a mother’s grief is the same. The one commonality between the security forces, militants and common citizens caught in the crossfire is the grief and misery of their families, especially women. Traumas of any conflict are always suffered far more by women, and yet they have very little say in the peace process.

A growing body of research shows that women, when involved in negotiations, facilitate dialogue between estranged positions and discern key success factors better than men. Substantial inclusion of women in peace negotiations not only improves the chances of success by 64% but also makes it 35% more likely to sustain for at least 15 years. Unsurprisingly so. Women are hardwired to think through long-term consequences for their children and focus on consensual stability rather than pyrrhic victories.

The recent turn of events in Kashmir has transferred control from an elected government to the governor appointed by the Centre. How the governor chooses to exercise that power could help script the future of Kashmiris and the subcontinent. The script could either be an enhanced version of “iron fist in velvet glove” – a euphemism for hard military operations while trying to win hearts and minds – or co-opting those with skin in the game. Involving Kashmir’s women in the conflict resolution process might seem naïve to the hawks, but perhaps naivety should be given a chance where Machiavellianism has failed to deliver.

The author is a former soldier. Views are personal.