India, Pakistan tone down vitriol

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld heads to the region this week in US effort to defuse hostilities.

Tensions between India and Pakistan appear to be easing this week, after a quiet shuttle mission to Islamabad and New Delhi by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Government officials in India and Pakistan said they would be watching each other's activities in the next few days in hopes that the sudden shift in rhetoric gets translated into actions on the ground.

The conflict between these two rival neighbors over the state of Jammu and Kashmir has brewed for more than 50 years, but became the world's top concern only when both sides talked of using nuclear weapons.

In Islamabad, Armitage secured a promise from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to "stop cross-border infiltration [by Pakistan-based militants into Indian Kashmir] permanently." And in New Delhi, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh told Armitage the pledge was "a step forward" and if India can verify that the pledge is being honored, "India will respond appropriately and positively."

Indian army sources told The Asian Age, a top Indian newspaper, that they will be watching the pattern of infiltration by Pakistani-based militants until June 15 before deciding whether to pull back from the border.

Still, the momentum for war has slowed visibly, due partly to the US ability to give both sides a face-saving way out of the crisis.

"I think the US has shown great sensitivity in this crisis," says Anuradha Chinoy, a professor of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. "They are using the classic pressure-compromise, carrot-and-stick tactics. The carrot is if India can deescalate this crisis, there might be some encouragement of increased trade with India, which India wants. And if Pakistan deescalates, there might be more aid for Pakistan, which it desperately needs."

But if either side insists on continuing with war, they might both face the stick of a permanent US or international presence in the region.

"Both India and Pakistan might be subjected to the US and Britain coming in and watching over the Line of Control," says Professor Chinoy, referring to the 1965 cease-fire line that separates the Pakistani-controlled section of Kashmir from the Indian side. That possibility, she says, would be a humiliating rebuke to both Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Musharraf, who have both based their regimes on preserving their country's national security.

Over the weekend, there were conflicting signals from the border. Indian Army sources say infiltrations from Pakistan have indeed dropped since May 27, the day Musharraf declared that cross-border infiltration had stopped. There has also been a reported drop in shelling by India and Pakistan, and a 70 percent drop in radio communication from Pakistani commanders to their insurgents within Indian Kashmir.

Yet, there were plenty of signs that two countries are still far from peace.

Pakistani forces reported shooting down an Indian unmanned spy plane over its territory near the Pakistani city of Lahore on Saturday.

That same day, pro-Pakistani militants in the southern region of Jammu and Kashmir State killed four members of a village defense council, set up by the Indian army to fight militants. A separate group of militants, crossing into the Kashmiri town of Poonch, killed three Indian army soldiers in an encounter.

Since 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Jammu and Kashmir state.

To some extent, both India and Pakistan can walk away from the current crisis with their heads held high.

By threatening an all-out war with Pakistan, India has managed, after several repeated tries, to get the US to rap Pakistan's knuckles for its support of militant groups who engage in terrorism. And Pakistan has managed to draw international attention to the plight of the Kashmiris, the Muslim-majority residents of Jammu and Kashmir state, whom Pakistan says should be given the right to join Pakistan.

Yet there has been an unintended fruit to all this brinkmanship, say experts here. By pushing the threat of a nuclear exchange into the world's headlines, India and Pakistan have succeeded in gaining the world's attention.

But now, they may find it difficult to shake off any international attempts to solve the Kashmir dispute, which was the spark to Indian and Pakistani tensions in the first place.

Indeed, bilateralism may be the ultimate casualty of the current crisis, writes K.K. Katyal, a longtime columnist for The Hindu, a leading Indian newspaper. "It would be ridiculous for the two countries to be communicating with each other through Washington," he wrote.

In Pakistan, the mood among opinionmakers has turned markedly sour against the Musharraf regime. Liberal columnist Ayaz Amir, writing for the leading Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, wrote, "For an enduring peace between two hostile neighbors, there has to be an element of give and take. At the moment, given the weakness and bumbling of the military rulers, that element is missing. India wants all the take, while giving nothing in return."

K. Subramanyam, a consulting editor for the Times of India, says the greatest outcome of US involvement in the Kashmir crisis is that it now must act as a guarantor for Pakistan to abide by its promises. "In India, General Musharraf has no credibility, but today, the US is communicating to India on behalf of General Musharraf, and they are undertaking responsibility to ensure that he is going to abide by his word," says Mr. Subramanyam.

Now comes the waiting, as the Indians, Pakistanis, Americans, and British all come up with their own proposals for monitoring the levels of infiltration along the Line of Control. India, hoping to exclude any need for outside help – or interference – has offered to conduct "joint patrols" with Pakistan, perhaps including deployment of more unmanned spy planes. The US and Britain, meanwhile, are offering helicopter-borne international monitors and spy satellite technology to keep an eye on the border.

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