WASHINGTON — As the snow melts in the Himalayas, Pakistan is again sending Islamic militants into Indian-held areas of Kashmir. This, despite US pleas for restraint and Gen. Pervez Musharraf's Jan. 12 pledge to curb Islamic extremism.
Trouble in Kashmir could quickly trigger a conflict between the forward-deployed Indian and Pakistani forces that have faced each other since the attack by Islamic extremists on the Indian Parliament four months ago.
Is there nothing the United States can do to head off a new crisis between South Asia's nuclear-armed adversaries?
Anxious not to disturb its cooperation with Pakistan in tracking down Al Qaeda remnants, Washington is unwilling to threaten a cutoff of its massive post-Sept. 11 economic aid to put pressure on Islamabad.
But there is another way the United States and other concerned powers can help stabilize the situation in Kashmir: Provide India with state-of-the-art ground-based and airborne surveillance equipment that would enable New Delhi to detect infiltration across the cease-fire line in time to stop it.
At a minimum, the US could give India the latest ground-based monitoring equipment developed for use along the Mexican border and for enforcement of the 1973 Sinai Desert cease-fire agreement, especially magnetic sensors sensitive to metal; infrared sensors; long-range, night-vision video cameras; and new types of halogen lighting systems capable of illuminating wide areas at night.
To have a decisive impact, US surveillance help would also have to include sophisticated airborne radar scanners and night-vision video cameras, such as the Lynx and Skyball systems developed for the Predator unmanned monitoring aircraft that has proved so effective in Afghanistan. This would require a waiver of US export restrictions.
Pakistan Army units on their side of the cease-fire line help infiltrators elude Indian detection by firing on Indian forces to divert their attention. In addition to this overt Army role, Pakistani military intelligence agencies bankroll, arm, and train the infiltrators, most of them Pakistanis, Arabs, Afghans, and other non-Kashmiri Islamic militants.
Hopefully, US surveillance assistance to India, or even the possibility of it, would be a powerful deterrent to Pakistani-sponsored infiltration. Should Pakistan proceed with its infiltration anyway, the United States could then consider arrangements for leasing Predator aircraft to New Delhi and for sharing the results of US spy satellite monitoring along the cease-fire line.
The United States and India have already established a Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism, which discussed the possibility of cooperation in monitoring along the cease-fire line at a January meeting attended by monitoring experts from the Pentagon and the Sandia National Laboratory. Sandia experts are now training Indian specialists in monitoring technologies that can be applied along all of India's borders to counter terrorism. But no decision has yet been made to provide US equipment specifically earmarked for use on the Kashmir cease-fire line.
Such a decision would send a powerful signal to Pakistan that the United States regards cross-border incursions by Pakistani-sponsored Islamic militants into Kashmir as a threat to the US interest in a stable South Asia.
At the same time, it would make clear that the US favors a long-term Kashmir settlement based on a recognition of the existing cease-fire line as a permanent international boundary.
Signals of support for a settlement based on the cease-fire line from the US would compel Pakistan to reconsider whether there is anything to be gained by stoking the fires of insurgency in Kashmir.
Pakistani policy rests on the hope that the major powers can be induced to internationalize the dispute, and ultimately support accession of the Indian-controlled Kashmir Valley to Pakistan.
Until now, all that the US has done is to exhort President Musharraf to stop sending Pakistani Islamic militants into Kashmir, and to cut off weapons aid to Kashmiri insurgent groups.
But there are limits to what Musharraf can do, even if he tries, given the entrenched grip of Islamic militant sympathizers in the Pakistan armed forces and intelligence services. If he is, in fact, ready to negotiate a realistic Kashmir solution, American support for a settlement based on the cease-fire line would strengthen his hand. At the same time, it would strengthen moderates in India prepared for such a solution.
Selig S. Harrison is the author of 'India: The Most Dangerous Decades' and five other books on South Asia. He is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy.