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How India and Pakistan can resolve Kashmir now

The political atmosphere between the two is ripe for a summit deal.

By Mansoor Ijaz / June 18, 2009

Munich, Germany

On Tuesday, the leaders of India and Pakistan met on the sidelines of a regional summit in Russia. It was their first face-to-face meeting since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) last November, when Pakistani-based militants murdered nearly 160 civilians.

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India's recently re-elected Manmohan Singh, arrived at the summit buoyed by his Congress Party's sweeping victory in India's May elections. Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari arrived at the meeting tempered by the rapid Talibanization of his country – a civilian leader in control of less and less in a country traditionally managed by its armed forces. The meeting, even after Pakistan's government once again feebly looked the other way this month and released the head of the militant organization that claimed responsibility for the Mumbai attacks, underscored the fact that the Taliban are now everyone's problem.

What happened in Mumbai in November is the most recent reminder of the dangers that emanate from Pakistan's raging Islamic militancy problem. That is why India must seize this moment with its politically united electorate to take away the jihadists' raison d'être for destabilizing India – Kashmir.

Riddled with insurgent violence, corruption, and official intimidation, the region has long been disputed by the two countries, including two wars over its status.

Historically, the moments at which peace was most possible between the nuclear-armed neighbors were when hawkish leaders were pragmatic enough to see the mutual benefit in making peace without compromising security.

Atal Behari Vajpayee, India's prime minister in 2000, and Pakistan's military strongman, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, nearly reached a framework for ending the Kashmir dispute. Mr. Singh and General Musharraf almost did so again in the back-channel diplomacy that took place between 2004 and 2007 before the general embroiled himself in domestic controversy.

The conditions for making peace could not be better.

Mr. Zardari does not see India as an existential threat. Singh has a political mandate strong enough to overcome Pakistan's repeated failures to control its home-grown extremists. Zardari sees an advantage in commercial ties that rise far above the importance his Army places on using jihadists as a foreign-policy tool to maintain a grip on Afghanistan or to intimidate India.

Singh and Zardari need to strike a bold compact to solve their problems – now. Tuesday's meeting in the Urals, which will be followed up by a meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two nations, should lead to a peace summit that demands both sides prepare major positions as opposed to taking incremental steps to solve their myriad problems.

Incrementalism will not work in South Asia's political atmosphere anymore. The terrorists are too well armed, too well paid, and too many to leave well enough alone.

If this moment to make peace is not seized with the same gusto with which the terrorists take innocent life, they will strike yet again in a way that ensures peace is not allowed to mature.

Singh and Zardari need to understand that their worst enemy in making peace is not the terrorist – it is time itself.

The Indo-Pakistani summit should have a three-point agenda.

Security & counterterrorism cooperation