Incessant shelling along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir has led to the death of scores of Indian and Pakistani soldiers in the last few months, in addition to the casualties and suffering among civilians on both sides. Like an active volcano spewing smoke constantly, Kashmir is showing all signs of an imminent eruption, and threatening to explode at any time with devastating consequences for all around. Divided de facto between India and Pakistan, but claimed by both, Kashmir has become a matter of nationalistic ego and a source of jingoism for New Delhi and, to a slightly lesser extent, for Islamabad. In this poisoned atmosphere, the issue itself has become confused with a solution seemingly impossible. Indians are made to believe by their government that ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ is an integral part of India, with all Indian maps showing the entire historical state of Jammu and Kashmir as a part of India. Most Indians are left with the impression that their country is in actual control of most or all of Kashmir. But rhetoric and bluster aside, India is in actual control of just over half (about 60 percent) of the historical state of “Jammu and Kashmir”.Owing to the decades of propaganda in their own country about Indian occupation of Kashmir, Pakistanis are also left with the false impression that India occupies all of Kashmir, which rightly belongs to Pakistan. As a percentage of its gross domestic product, Pakistan is one of the highest military spenders in the world, largely as a consequence of the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan’s economy can ill-afford such a high level of military expenditure.Hostility with India also prevents Pakistan from having beneficial trade and economic relations with its much larger neighbor. It also prevents us from exploiting the full potential of trade relations with Afghanistan and Iran and, by extension, with Central Asia as well. Being in Pakistani control for seven decades now, and separated from the rest of Kashmir by lofty mountains, Gilgit-Baltistan seems further from Srinagar and New Delhi than from Islamabad or Urumchi (in western China). There is not a shred of evidence that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan want to change the status quo in favour of amalgamation with the Indian state of ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ under any arrangementLet us imagine the good that could come out of an Indo-Pakistan rapprochement over Kashmir, one that is also acceptable to the people of Kashmir. For the Kashmiris it would mean peace and for India there would be no insurgency, militancy or cross-border terrorism.Kashmir is a festering sore on India’s body politic, a bleeding wound, a drain on the country’s resources and the source of a serious moral crisis. For both India and Pakistan, a solution would result in a massive boost to trade and tourism, and a huge reduction in military expenditures, etc.Is a solution possible? It certainly is, with only minor concessions by both countries. To understand that, let us first describe the historical and geographical entity that is ‘Jammu and Kashmir’.This erstwhile princely state of British India consists of four separate and very distinct components, namely, Gilgit-Baltistan, the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and Jammu.Gilgit-Baltistan in the northwest is 100 per cent Muslim and under Pakistani control since 1947. Even prior to 1947 the region of Gilgit-Baltistan enjoyed autonomy within “Jammu and Kashmir” owing to its geographical remoteness.Being in Pakistani control for seven decades now, and separated from the rest of Kashmir by lofty mountains, Gilgit-Baltistan seems further from Srinagar and New Delhi than from Islamabad or Urumchi (in western China). There is not a shred of evidence that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan want to change the status quo in favour of amalgamation with the Indian state of “Jammu and Kashmir” under any arrangement.Two regions, namely, Ladakh and Jammu, are in Indian control and would remain so under any logical, fair and reasonable solution of the Kashmir issue. Ladakh being Buddhist and Jammu a Hindu-majority area, no Pakistani in his right mind would or should lay claim to either.None of the above three entities are actually ‘Kashmiri’ in any meaningful sense of the word. In fact, the Ladakhis and the people of Jammu have been demanding to be detached from Kashmir and allowed full statehood or union territory status within India. They complain of neglect and discrimination under ethno-religious Kashmiri rule from Srinagar.The fourth entity, the valley of Kashmir, where a large majority is Muslim and which is the repository of ‘Kashmiryat’ (Kashmiriness), is the crux of the matter and the real source of the dispute.The major portion of this entity, including its capital Srinagar, is in Indian control as a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. A small sliver of this entity along the Neelum and Jhelum rivers, in the west and north-west, is administered by Pakistan as a kind of quasi-province called Azad (Free) Kashmir.Despite Indian attempts to blame its Kashmir problem on Pakistani interference, the fact is that the vast majority of the people of the valley, after nearly seven decades of Indian rule, resent Indian domination and demand ‘azadi’ (freedom). Many wave Pakistani flags at protest rallies more as a symbol of rebellion against India, rather than a wish to join Pakistan.Kashmir’s ‘accession’ to India in 1947 was highly controversial, legally dubious and morally unsustainable. Kashmir is a massive drain on Indian military, economic and financial resources, a blot on its conscience and a stain on its democratic credibility.It has been the direct cause of two wars and incessant military skirmishes as well as the source of diplomatic disputes and constant tension between these two close neighbors, who share much in common.A solution is not as difficult or elusive as it may appear, only if India and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan would shed some ego and think with reason. Under such a solution, the status quo (with some very minor adjustments) would continue in Gilgit-Baltistan (which will remain with Pakistan) and in both Ladakh and Jammu (which would remain with India).The Indian-controlled valley of Kashmir and Pakistan-controlled Azad Kashmir could, under this arrangement, unite to become an independent, neutral, non-militarized entity with free access to and from both India and Pakistan, a kind of South Asian Liechtenstein or Andorra. The benefit from this for both India and Pakistan and for the region as a whole would be incalculable.I believe that this plan, by and large, has been on the table for some time but has not been taken up seriously. For neither country wants to be seen to be backing down from its long-held position for fear of a public backlash, ready to be exploited by opportunistic forces in both countries.The writer is a former academic with a doctorate in modern history. He may be contacted at www.raziazmi.com or email@example.comPublished in Daily Times, February 6th 2018.