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Fueling Peace

June 10, 2005

India and Pakistan this spring refused to let terrorists cow them from resuming bus service between two parts of Kashmir, after it was shut down for more than half a century. Now the longtime enemies are talking about a massive infrastructure project that could further reduce the prospect of war.

In April, separatists attacked a government compound in Indian-held Kashmir on the eve of the start of scheduled bus service between Pakistani- and Indian-held Kashmir. Several attackers were killed, but bus passengers were unharmed, and many bravely went ahead with their trip.

Expanded transportation links between Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars since becoming independent from Britain in 1947, are important in making it economically riskier to resume hostilities. Another worthwhile linkage would be the proposed natural gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan and into India.

The pipeline is expected to cost more than $4 billion; it would not be finished before 2009. But if completed, it would make India dependent on Pakistan to help supply energy, which is vital to India if it is to continue its economic progress.

The U.S. opposes the pipeline because it wants no benefit to Iran until that country shows that it is not developing nuclear weapons, but Washington's objections should not hold hostage India's need for energy and the chance to promote peace in the Himalayas. Opposition to the pipeline by some in India centers on Pakistan's ability to shut off the tap. But a contract with heavy financial penalties could persuade Islamabad not to sever service; another deterrent would be opposition from Iran, which wants the money from India.

After meeting with India's petroleum and natural gas minister in Islamabad this week, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the pipeline would foster an "enduring relationship." That would be a major improvement after the wars, the first of which resulted in the partition of Kashmir between the two nations.

Another step forward was the visit to Pakistan last week by Hindu nationalist Lal Krishna Advani, whose praise for the founder of Pakistan created such opposition within Advani's political party that he offered to resign as its president.

The nuclear-armed neighbors need to continue pushing forward with bus routes, major projects and diplomatic exchanges to tie them ever closer.

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