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India: Let Kashmir go

Resolving the disputed territory would benefit all.

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Tension then bounced down and up. They relaxed with President Musharraf's Jan. 12, 2002, televised address to the nation declaring his intention to crack down on the militants. But the May 2002 attack on an Indian base in Jammu that killed the wives and children of Indian servicemen renewed the drumbeat for war.

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By July 2002, intense American diplomatic pressure, coupled with subtle Pakistan nuclear threats, caused the belligerents to stand their armies down, leaving a sour taste for many Indians: Pakistan remained unpunished.

For some defense planners, Cold Start offered the answer in future crisis. Now Mumbai gives the strategy renewed stimulus. But resolution of Kashmir is where momentum should be building.

In recent years, India has sought to relax tensions by promoting confidence-building measures – a bus line and commercial truck service between Srinagar and Muzzafarrabad, regular meetings between Indian and Pakistani local commanders, a crisis hot line, dialogue with moderate Kashmiri separatists, and improvement in the region's economic and human rights. These steps have tempered conflict but not Kashmiri objection to Indian rule.

New Delhi's reluctance to let Kashmiris define their future – options include independence, division along communal lines, comanagement by both India and Pakistan, a UN trusteeship – butts against recent history demonstrating that "letting go" more than holding on benefits politically divided states. Witness the pacific and beneficial demise of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Serbia/Montenegro.

India's future rests not on maturing Cold Start but becoming a 21st century economic power house. Hanging on to Kashmir does nothing to promote that goal. Letting go not only will benefit New Delhi's modernization by reducing the heavy military burden bad relations with Pakistan engenders, it also will allow Islamabad to redirect its military resources to the tribal areas benefiting Washington's position in Afghanistan.

By rattling South Asian relations, Mumbai's tragedy can give momentum to resolving one of the 20th century's most confounding impasses. A fast diplomatic start, not Cold Start, would benefit all.

Bennett Ramberg served in the State Department during the George H.W. Bush administration. He is the author of three books and editor of three others on international politics.