An India-Pakistan Peace Train

The world has seen many false peaks in the infrequent trek of India and Pakistan to settle the Himalayan-size issue of Kashmir. Leaders of both nations have often found more reasons not to budge than to create a peaceful South Asia for their 1.2 billion people and to bury the threat of nuclear confrontation.

Despite past failures, however, last week's agreement between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to resume talks next month comes with unusually high hopes, mainly because the political climate is now so improved.

For one, India is ruled by a political party that can't afford to let continuing violence over Kashmir upset India's thriving economy. The party's future relies to some degree on foreign investment, which in turn is tied to maintaining the new, closer relations with the United States. The US wants India and Pakistan to end the Kashmir dispute as fuel-feeder for Islamic radicals in Pakistan.

The peace-talks breakthrough has also emboldened India's governing Bharatiya Janata Party to call elections sooner than expected and run on a peace platform.

The Pakistani leader, meanwhile, now appears to see Islamic militants more as a threat to his rule than as supporters, of whatever value, of attacks in Kashmir. He recently escaped two attempts on his life that were seen as coming from militants.

General Musharraf's new promise to block infiltration of militants into Kashmir needs to be kept if the talks are to succeed. And Mr. Vajpayee needs to move forward on plans to at least grant more autonomy to the mainly Muslim territory.

Such trust-building steps will help sideline each side's hawks. They will also prepare for the necessary removal of Kashmir as an issue for Pakistan's Muslim identity and as one central to India's secular identity.

The US must be even-handed in these talks so peace will help make the region less of a terrorist haven.

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