Big Peace via Small Packages

Like species butting heads while awaiting boarding passes on Noah's ark, nations often pair off. First in battle, then reconciliation.

Greece and Troy (still at it). Rome and Gaul. Britain-France. Britain- Germany. Egypt-Israel. US-Russia.

Now India and Pakistan appear at last to be shifting from battle (three wars) to what are usually called confidence-building steps for peace.

The process is notable for two reasons: (1) The world has paid a lot of attention to Indo-Pak crises, very little to good news in small packages. (2) The two nations are mending relations in a particularly sensible way.

TV anchors burst into red alert last year (and rightly so) when India and Pakistan started a nuclear arsenals race. More red alert when Muslim extremists kidnapped Westerners in Kashmir, and Hindu extremists recently killed Christians in India.

In contrast, little attention has been paid to very practical confidence-building steps resulting from summits between Pakistan's Prime Minister Sharif and the past two leaders of India. This week, for instance, the two old enemies neared agreement on linking electric power grids. Add to that the new cross-border bus service, started with some fanfare when Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee rode the bus to a recent summit in Pakistan.

Now, cultural exchanges and economic deals must follow (by bus, air, phone, and Internet). India is once again wooing private-sector investment, ownership, and trade. Some of that logically ought to create cross-border enterprises and marketing.

Pakistani officials have quietly changed their attitude on negotiation. For decades they refused to take small steps until India agreed to talk about control of disputed Kashmir. They apparently have concluded that was a recipe for stalemate. Better to improve relations through small steps that change attitudes. Then talk about the big issues - Kashmir peace and more steps to curb nuclear risks.

That's a wise approach. It deserves support from other world leaders.

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