AS peace is breaking out in Eastern Europe, Nicaragua, and even South Africa, India and Pakistan are are on the warpath over Kashmir. The United States is in a position to play a critical role in restraining the two countries, in particular its long-time ally, Pakistan. With US-Soviet relations better than they have been in years, Washington has less reason to automatically lend its support to Pakistan to balance India's historical friendship with the Soviets. The US should take a close look at the roots of the dispute over Kashmir and at its ramifications for America's interests and values.
For my generation of Indians, born well after the partition of India in 1947, the film ``Gandhi,'' as much as anything we read in our history books, etched in our minds the nature of the Hindu-Muslim divide and its ongoing tragedy. The partition of India into a Muslim Pakistan and theoretically Hindu India, we know well, did not solve any problems and created many new ones. India was left with more than 10 percent of its population still Muslim, and with significant numbers of Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, and others.
India has emerged as a tolerant secular democracy, establishing a Muslim civil code for Muslims to reflect Muslim customs and a Hindu civil code for Hindus. Muslims in India (like Sikhs, Christians, and others) have routinely risen to cabinet posts and other positions of political and judicial significance.
Muslims freely practice their religion in their mosques all over India, not just in Kashmir, much like Sikhs in their gurdwaras, Christians in their churches, and Hindus in their temples. India has gone further than to treat Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and others on par with Hindus; it has provided special benefits, much like affirmative action plans in the US, for such minorities. For example, while Kashmiris are free to buy land anywhere in India, a special constitutional provision bars non-Kashmiris from purchasing land in Kashmir. Thus, Kashmir's Muslim-majority status has been protected, and, unfortunately, the state's full integration into India precluded.
Pakistan's post-independence history has been less complex. For most of the period, military dictatorships have ruled the country. In 1971 East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh. In the 1980s Muslim fundamentalism took root, with General Zia Ul-Haq as its chief patron; the most obnoxious aspects of Muslim law - the public floggings, the stoning to death of women found guilty of adultery - were propagated and enforced with renewed vigor.
Pakistan's present-day democracy is fragile at best. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has little freedom, and the military, especially with respect to India, continues to have the upper hand. Ms. Bhutto has been unable to repeal the anti-women laws which she personally opposes. Because of Supreme Court rulings striking down some provisions of Muslim law, it can be said that Muslim women in India have more rights and greater freedom than the prime minister of Pakistan.
It is no wonder, then, that while the Kashmiri fundamentalist movement has the support of Muslims in other countries, most Muslims in other parts of India do not support the movement.
While there can be no doubt that Kashmir's economy has been mismanaged, the same is true about the rest of the Indian economy. Nevertheless, India's economy, including that of Kashmir, compares favorably with Pakistan's. And, once again, there can be no doubt that Indians, including Kashmiri Indians, have enjoyed more democracy and freedom since the departure of the British in 1947 than their brethren in Pakistan.
The US should take a hard look at what is at issue in the Pakistan-India quarrel. For years, liberal apologists in the US coddled the Soviet Union regardless of its totalitarian government. Conservatives were right in demanding that the East Bloc countries meet western standards of democracy and freedom. Likewise, the US should now take a stand against totalitarian Muslim fundamentalism in Kashmir, Iran, Lebanon, and Pakistan.
The US would be making a mistake to coddle its long-time Pakistani friends during today's rapprochement with the Soviet Union. The US has considerably more in common with India than with Pakistan. The US cannot, without compromising its values, continue to supply Pakistan arms, to wink at is heroin-smuggling, and ignore its close ties with the mullahs of Iran and with Colonel Qaddafi.
The US should immediately end its supply of arms to Pakistan and instead express solidarity with India's position on Kashmir, while continuing to restrain India and Pakistan from going to war.