The threat of war between nuclear-equipped India and Pakistan doesn't have the same level of attention from Washington as does the US war on Al Qaeda. But it should. The two conflicts are rapidly becoming linked.
First, the remaining Al Qaeda fighters appear to be supporting terrorist strikes on India from Pakistan, in the name of liberating the largely Muslim Kashmir from Indian rule.
And second, the strong possibility of a Pakistan-India war one that might easily go atomic could devastate the US antiterrorist efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In fact, it may be that Al Qaeda's remaining leadership is trying to further its goal of rallying Muslims into a global jihad by agitating a conflict with largely Hindu India, even to the point of igniting a wider war in South Asia.
Terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament in December, and later on Indian soldiers and their families in Kashmir, have pushed India to threaten the same kind of war on Pakistan that the US did on Afghanistan to root out terrorists.
But while the US may sympathize with India, it needs Pakistan's military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, to crack down on Al Qaeda forces there. By doing little, so far, to end the Pakistan-India showdown, the Bush administration undermines its own war.
A diplomatic fatalism in the West over resolving the territorial dispute over Kashmir has hindered the US and Europe for decades. Ever since the British partition of its colony into India and Pakistan in 1947, the two nations have been estranged in many ways. Kashmir is just the flashpoint for deeper differences between the two nations, driven by silly stereotypes each side holds of the other.
And as global prosperity largely passes them by, the two remain stuck in the domestic politics of extreme, irrational nationalism, which could lead to hair-trigger fingers on nuclear weapons.
Pulling India and Pakistan back from the brink only temporarily will not be enough for US interests. It's very possible that Mr. Musharraf lacks total control over the terrorists striking India and can't be held accountable if those attacks continue. A serious diplomatic intervention by the US is needed to set India and Pakistan on new paths of reconciliation, using various carrots and sticks.
Like the cold war, the war on terrorism may have sideshows that become the main event, à la Vietnam. But the US doesn't need to have an India-Pakistan conflagration distract it from its primary goal of eliminating Al Qaeda.