India, Pakistan, and Peace

The most important business facing the government of India is resumed negotiations with Pakistan. Reducing the threat of war over disputed Kashmir - and the nuclear confrontation that could entail - would be a tremendous boon to both countries, their region, and the world.

But progress on that front was sidelined two weeks ago by yet another political crisis in New Delhi. The once dominant Congress Party decided to withdraw its support from the fragile ruling coalition and bring down Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and his United Front government after only 10 months in office.

Congress leaders were hoping to reap a new lease on power for themselves, but got only a whirlwind of controversy and recrimination, with little chance of finding new coalition partners to finesse their 140 seats in Parliament (out of 542) into a government. It appeared for a while that the most likely prospect was a new election in summer, with the possibility of further gains for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. But holding the BJP at bay was why Congress backed the United Front coalition to begin with.

Cooler heads seem now to have prevailed, and Congress is back behind the United Front, with the stipulation that Mr. Deve Gowda give place to another leader. After much resistance, he has agreed to step down.

This interlude in New Delhi points up the splintered nature of Indian politics at the moment, with a void of top leadership. In Pakistan, by contrast, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, though hardly a new face, has shown a new determination to break through some of his country's political tangles in order to boost the economy and pursue regional peace.

Notably, Mr. Sharif has gotten rid of an anachronistic law that allowed the unelected Pakistani president to dismiss governments as he saw fit. On the peace front, top Pakistani and Indian diplomats met in late March, and Sharif hopes to have a summit with his Indian counterpart in early May.

That's reason to push the factions in New Delhi to settle on a leader with a reasonable hope of a stable tenure, who can thereby credibly tackle the truly important business shared by both countries.

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