Take off the kid gloves with Pakistan

While bitter enemies in countries from Ireland to Israel are bowing to the dictates of peace and economic development, the threat of war in South Asia continues to loom large. The economy of Pakistan is bottoming out, yet its leaders seem uninterested in stemming the tide of this downfall. Instead, the focus of the military-led government remains stronger than ever on the debate over Kashmir.

Pakistan's junta continues to concentrate its resources on funding and fueling terrorism in Kashmir, emasculating domestic hopes for a return to a democratic and secular society, thus preventing peace and prosperity both at home and abroad.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf - the self-appointed chief executive of Pakistan who has the dubious distinction of being the coup leader and saboteur of the Lahore peace process - went on record saying that however the people of Kashmir decide their fate, it would be acceptable to Pakistan. But the general has continued to use every forum at home and abroad to reiterate his willingness to conduct his own talks with India at any place and any time on all issues, if Kashmir was included. Yet recent events clearly belie hopes that Mr. Musharraf intends to honor his words.

On July 26, the world welcomed the announcement of a three-month cease-fire and the offer of unconditional talks with the central government of India by the Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest militant group in Indian Kashmir. Majir Dar, the Hizbul commander operating in Indian Kashmir, reportedly made this unexpected announcement after secret meetings with Hizbul followers, and presumably with the group's leader, Sayed Salauddin, who resides in Pakistan.

To this the Indian government exhibited a new and welcome flexibility by immediately responding positively to the offer. Lt. Gen. John Mukherjee, the commander of Indian forces in Kashmir, soon announced the cessation of all operations against the Hizbul, while senior officials from Delhi proceeded to Kashmir to discuss the modalities of talks with the Hizbul. At long last, there was a sign of relief and a glimmer of hope for the people in the Kashmir Valley.

The same prospect for peace unfortunately has not met with similar alacrity by Pakistan's military and fundamentalist religious leaders, who were clearly caught off guard by this show of militant independence.

Pakistani security agents reportedly picked up Mr. Salauddin shortly after the cease-fire agreement, while his Hizbul Mujahideen was promptly ejected from the United Jihad Council, the umbrella alliance of Kashmiri militant outfits. And while official Pakistani responses were initially muted, wholesale attempts have since been under way by the junta to employ its influence over the regional militants to derail the incipient peace talks.

On the night of Aug. 1, more than 100 Hindus, many of them pilgrims to the holy shrine of Amarnath, were massacred by Pakistani-backed terrorists. The massacre has since been followed by the attachment of two deal-breaking caveats to Hizbul's offer of "unconditional" talks.

In terms the State Department has since called "not helpful," Hizbul has demanded a seat for Pakistan at any talks, and that those talks be conducted outside the scope of India's Constitution, thus allowing for a deal on Kashmiri independence to be struck. Indian leaders, who have sought to resolve the issue internally with local Kashmiris, have long resisted both conditions.

It has been widely stated in Washington and other Western capitals that India must negotiate with the Pakistani military, the real power in that country, in order to achieve a definitive peace. The question, however, remains whether the Army really wants peace. All three wars between India and Pakistan have been fought under military governments in Pakistan. A fourth war under the present military leadership remains a possibility, this time with a nuclear shadow cast upon it.

The Pakistani military regime is exhibiting an almost pathological determination to keep South Asia in a constant state of turmoil, doing precious little to curb the Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism breeding in that country, while effectively scuttling others' proactive steps toward peace.

During his visit to the region earlier this year, President Clinton threaded a careful needle of admonishing Pakistan for its support of violence in Kashmir, while keeping the door open for future engagement if such activities abated. Unfortunately, the president's stern warnings have yet to exact much change. Pakistan's intended destruction of the nascent Kashmir peace process requires a firmer response from a US administration, which has in past months recognized the global menace such activities represent.

This recognition was manifested earlier this month when Musharraf was snubbed from interactions with US officials at the UN Millennium Summit, while India's Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee was feted from New York to Washington.

Declaring Pakistan a terrorist state, and thus putting it on par with the terrorist groups it harbors and supports, would encourage Pakistanis to remove the defunct and Draconian military warmongers who have deprived them of any sustainable development. It is clear who wants peace in the region and who does not. Only by challenging Pakistan's duplicitous ways will peace have a hope of triumphing.

Arthur H. Davis served as US ambassador to Paraguay and Panama. He served as an adviser for the US Mission to the UN at the 40th General Assembly.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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