India, Pakistan, and Kashmir

India and Pakistan have for weeks been locked in combat on Kashmir's towering peaks. The origins of the conflict go back half a century to the partition of British India. But the immediate flare-up can be traced to the infiltration of a few hundred Islamic guerrillas into highlands on India's side of the cease-fire line that divides Kashmir.

Pakistan denies any responsibility for the guerrillas' movements, but that strains credibility. Pakistani military alertness in the region is intense. India's response has been equally intense. Thousands of troops have been moved to challenge the intruders. Air power has also been used by India, heightening the showdown. Both sides have lost dozens, if not hundreds, of men.

This battle over a bit of beautiful but uninhabitable land could seem of little moment - except for the possibility of escalation by two nuclear-armed nations. The latest outbreak of war in Kashmir underscores the need to finally resolve this dispute.

The first step could come this weekend. Pakistan should accept India's belated offer to hold talks to end the fighting. Despite India's statement that it will discuss nothing but removal of the infiltrating guerrillas, talks must eventually move toward ways of permanently defusing the Kashmir powder keg. The interests of Kashmiris themselves, who have suffered from both Indian oppression and Pakistani infiltration, must be part of any genuine resolution.

The Lahore Declaration, signed by the leaders of the two countries in February, was a rare step toward greater cooperation between Pakistan and India. It should be built upon to end the fighting and move on to wider peacemaking.

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