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Pursuing Diplomacy of Small Things to Create a Lasting Peace

April 11, 1999|Paula R. Newberg | Paula R. Newberg is author, most recently, of "Politics at the Heart: The Architecture of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan."

WASHINGTON — Since they met in Lahore, Pakistan, six weeks ago, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan have been pursuing a diplomacy of small things. Visas are easier to procure, limited cross-border travel is available to citizens of both countries and diplomats find their jobs a bit easier.

But Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee of India and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan know the hard work is ahead. The decisions that brought them to this moment--joining what Sharif calls "the coveted nuclear club" by testing weapons last spring--are tested daily as they negotiate through the thickets of international sanctions and world opinion.

When India tested its nuclear weapons last May, it calculated that its growing economy could withstand short-term sanctions, even if coveted foreign investment slowed temporarily. Pakistan, facing possible default with fewer resources, was less sure when it set off its nuclear devices. With both countries promising to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by September, the United States is already seeking a "sanctionless" relationship to allow unfettered aid, trade and investment.

But a few miles from Islamabad and New Delhi lurk problems that can undermine the Lahore agreements. Two wars continue almost unabated, and the agenda of small things pales in their shadows.

In the Himalayan hills, the 10-year conflict in Kashmir occupies hundreds of thousands of troops. Civilian casualties have been rising, and fighting continues between Indian and Pakistani forces arrayed along the line of control that separates them. India and Pakistan maintain their separate claims to Kashmir and disagree fundamentally about how to settle their quarrel.

The Lahore declaration tried to split the difference. It referred to United Nations-sponsored plebiscites that Pakistan promotes as a way to internationalize conflict resolution but also declared hostilities would be concluded according to the "spirit and letter" of the 1973 Simla accords, which ended their last war. Those accords left the Kashmir dispute to be resolved by India and Pakistan alone. Neither process lets Kashmiris decide their own fate. But it is their absence from such discussions that initiated violence a decade ago.

Many Kashmiris fear they will be relegated to the subcontinent's diplomatic back burner. They believe a low-intensity border conflict may be just what both governments need to look tough while focusing their attentions elsewhere. But to sacrifice a people at the altar of diplomatic posturing challenges the democracy to which India and Pakistan both aspire and risks the sustainability of their newfound friendship.

While Kashmir risks India's domestic democratic compact, its proximity to Afghanistan poses even greater difficulties for Pakistan, as recent events have demonstrated. When U.S. cruise missiles hit Afghanistan terrorist camps near Pakistan's border last August, they killed young Pakistanis training for Kashmir. When the U.S. tried to force Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan, one insurgent group immediately offered him sanctuary in Kashmir. Men, materiel, insurgents and ideologues all traverse Pakistani soil to fuel a 20-year Afghan war that has created profound regional instability.

Pakistan long has been implicated in Afghanistan's travails, supporting a range of Afghan fighters--first against the communists, then against each other--to influence Afghanistan's future leadership. This policy has backfired. With its economy in tatters, Pakistan now endures international opprobrium for supporting Taliban leaders who, in turn, spurn Pakistani guidance. Pakistan dearly needs an end to the war in Afghanistan before its own political fate, already too closely tied to Afghan discord, permanently affects its tense relationships in west and central Asia.

Ending the Afghanistan war will be the proving ground for Indo-Pakistani relations. Until it is freed of the self-imposed burdens of Afghanistan--domestic turmoil, sectarian strife, weak governance, economic failures and tarnished diplomatic ties--Pakistan cannot pursue the goods that Indo-Pakistan peace offers.

This is far from easy. Not only must Pakistan rein in its dissident freelancing fighters, who roam between Kashmir and Afghanistan, but it needs to discipline the free-market pluralism that parcels out its official policy to a host of diplomatic, political, military and intelligence operatives.

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