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Pakistan Can Defuse the Kashmir Crisis

January 09, 2002|MANSOOR IJAZ

Shock therapy now seems the required antidote to resolve South Asia's nuclear brinkmanship. Last weekend's choreographed handshake in Katmandu between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee--and the rhetoric that followed it--demonstrated again how domestic political considerations for each are wreaking havoc on the security of 1.2 billion people.

The most recent crisis, sparked by a Dec. 13 terrorist attack on India's Parliament, which killed 14, has escalated into a dangerous game of chicken in the Himalayan peaks of Kashmir. The confrontation is fueled by Pakistan's religious zealots, who seek to create an Islamic utopia there, and by India's Hindu nationalists, who seek to control Kashmir's Muslims.

These unrealistic dreams are manifested today by Pakistani military brigades moving from the Afghan border to fortify against massing Indian troops to the east--thus compromising the U.S. war on terror--and light artillery fire across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir. Only one shot need go awry to spark full-scale war; both sides have begun assembly of nuclear warheads.

In India, Vajpayee cannot be seen as soft on terrorism as his party faces crucial state elections in February. To buttress his "wag-the-dog" electoral arguments, Vajpayee has demanded moral equivalency between Al Qaeda's terrorists, who seek to dismantle the Western way of life, and Kashmir's Arab-dominated militants, whose primary agenda is harassing India into relinquishing control over its only Muslim majority state. All the while, New Delhi continues to ignore calls by the United Nations and others to hold elections that would give Kashmiris the right of self-determination.

Bold ideas are needed to bring these nations back from the brink. Pakistan must offer the first.

Musharraf should follow the example of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and invite U.S. Special Forces and counter-terrorism commandos into Pakistan to help root out foreign terrorist cells that have decimated Pakistan's moral authority in Kashmir. One mini-step in this direction was the announcement Tuesday by U. S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the Afghan campaign, that U.S. forces will be allowed to pursue Al Qaeda terrorists fleeing Afghanistan into Pakistan. A more comprehensive offer by Musharraf would pose little risk now; without the Arab financing that evaporated with the World Trade Center attacks, the large-scale violence promised by Pakistani fundamentalists is unlikely to ever materialize.

Musharraf should encourage indigenous Kashmiri militants like Hizbul Moujahedeen to renew the August 2000 unilateral cease-fire offer. In an unprecedented admission of Islamabad's official complicity in Kashmir's guerrilla war, Musharraf last week ordered an end to Pakistani intelligence support for non-indigenous militants operating in Kashmir. And in a telephone call to the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad, as reported in the New York Times, Musharraf summed up his dilemma: Is Pakistan responsible for the behavior of every lunatic or outraged Kashmiri who attacks an Indian official?

Selling these steps to his army's hard-liners shouldn't be complicated. Musharraf could point out that if they stop him, the world community will first condemn Pakistan for its continued support of radical Islamists and then destroy the terrorists without consideration for sovereignty. If the army supports Musharraf, maybe the world will muster the courage to stare down India on finally offering a political solution for Kashmir.

By removing each part of the argument New Delhi's hard-liners have used against Islamabad on the terrorism issue, Musharraf would strengthen Pakistan's moderate political class, further reduce the power of Islamic zealots and bring South Asia a giant step closer to permanent peace.

*

Mansoor Ijaz, an American Muslim of Pakistani origin, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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