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Keep Up Pressure in S. Asia

June 04, 2002

Despite ongoing skirmishes, international pressure on Pakistan and India appears to have reduced the threat of war. For now. To ensure the two nuclear-armed foes do not cross the line into full-fledged combat, the United States, Russia, Britain, Japan and other nations should keep up the lectures and warnings that they might withdraw aid.

Then President Bush must go one step further and let Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf know unequivocally that, much as we appreciate his support--Musharraf put his presidency at risk from domestic opposition when he backed the United States in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan--the U.S. will not tolerate his army's aid to Islamic militants carrying out attacks in India, especially Kashmir.

Bush used tougher-than-usual language on Pakistan last week, saying Musharraf "must stop the incursions" as he promised. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are due to visit India and Pakistan this week and next. They should emphasize to Musharraf that the halt to border crossings must be permanent, not temporary. He also has to close the camps that train the guerrillas.

As these diplomats lecture Pakistan, they should also tell India that it can reduce tensions by encouraging all parties to take part in free and fair state elections this fall in Kashmir, the only predominantly Muslim state in India. That includes allowing factions supporting independence to be on the ballot.

Independence is probably just a pipe dream. But giving Kashmir's residents a greater say in their affairs would rebut Pakistan's claim of Indian oppression of the state's Muslims. And India would benefit from discussing greater autonomy for the state that has been the cause of two of its three wars with Pakistan.

At the moment, killings by Pakistan-trained terrorists have caused India to mass troops on its western border. In response, Musharraf has moved troops from the border with Afghanistan, where they can intercept Al Qaeda fighters, to the border with India. This undercuts the U.S. war on terror at its front lines. Worse, with a million troops squared off between India and Pakistan, it's only a matter of time before tensions again reach the trigger point.

The United States and the Soviet Union conducted a nuclear face-off for decades. They, however, were thousands of miles apart. India and Pakistan are neighbors and have not worked out detailed methods of reassuring each other that missile tests are peaceful and warheads loaded onto bombs are conventional.

Despite assurances to the contrary, neither side seems to understand the devastation nuclear war would cause.

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