Brinkmanship or Statemanship?

With the two nuclear powers of 7South Asia now engaged in a dangerous shooting match over a minor Himalayan dispute, the world should be demanding more of India and Pakistan.

And those two nations should be demanding more of themselves.

Both expected to earn respect as major powers after testing a few atom bombs. And in other ways over the years, such as Pakistan helping the US in the Afghan war and India sending a satellite into space and vying to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council, both have signaled deep intentions to be as much of a global player as Japan or Britain. After all, India has more than a billion people, and Pakistan a seventh of that. And they have millions of well-educated people, many in high-tech.

But the Dec. 13 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament has pushed the two back into a hot-cold standoff over the future of tiny Kashmir.

The Kashmir issue plays into each nation's worst nationalist politics, and only cools down when a few statesmen on each side realize neither nation will be taken seriously by foreign diplomats, investors, and others when these potentially great nations can't even resolve a small dispute.

Fortunately, India now has a prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, whose long political life was built on the radical Hindu notion that India should be a great power. But as his time in office fades, he has been forced instead to take his nation to the brink of war with his neighbor over an issue that seems petty compared with his goals.

One might think Mr. Vajpayee would find a sou lmate in Pakistan's military dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, whose actions so far show a willingness to rid his nation of elements that seek confrontation with India. He appears to have decided to block support to any non-Pakistani terrorist trying to liberate Kashmir, while also closing the secret intelligence division of the Army that has worked with anti-India militant groups.

Strong words from the United States and a fear of India actually winning a full-scale war might be driving Mr. Musharraf to take such steps. But in recent months during the war in Afghanistan, he has shown unusual statesmanship in changing course to help elevate Pakistan. And his dramatic initiative to shake Mr. Vajpayee's hand at last week's South Asian summit shows he is trying to rise above the pettiness of the emotional, long-standing dispute over Kashmir.

Musharraf must still do more to persuade India that he will not back violence in Kashmir as a way to steadily bleed India. If he wants to give Pakistan a democracy and a healthy economy, he now must work to eliminate this perennial irritant.

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