Now that India and Pakistan have pulled back toward a tense status quo in Kashmir, a critical question again marches forward: How can peace be brought to this important region?
That question was set in boldface by last year's nuclear-test bout between the two countries. The exchange, touched off by India, left no doubt about the high stakes should yet another Indo-Pakistani military showdown get out of hand.
The world was treated to an easing of subcontinent frictions in February when the prime ministers of India and Pakistan held a summit in Lahore, Pakistan, which seemed to herald an era of fruitful negotiations. In a widely hailed symbolic gesture, they agreed on new transportation links between their countries. More important, they pledged to resolve any future differences peacefully.
The violation of the Kashmir Line of Control (LOC) by Pakistan-backed guerrillas two months ago dashed many of the hopes raised at Lahore. India asserts that the troop advances were orchestrated by Islamabad and included Pakistani regulars as well as guerrillas. Pakistan denies this, saying that only Kashmiri "freedom fighters" were involved. Yet it was Pakistan's call for a retreat behind the LOC that started to wind down the conflict.
Peace will come as both countries recognize an overwhelming joint interest in regional economic development - an interest thwarted by both sides' current investment in warmaking capacity. A Monitor report earlier this week noted that this latest clash in Kashmir could spark a heightened arms race. That would be sheer nationalistic folly.
What's most needed is a negotiated answer to the Kashmir question. The people of that Himalayan territory, not just the Pakistani and Indian governments, should have a voice in the outcome.
The start made back in February was temporarily lost sight of, not lost. That constructive approach should be urged forward by the international community, as well as by all right-thinking Indians and Pakistanis.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society