Ballots Beat Bombs

To vote-vote is better than to war-war. That unpoetic variation on Churchill's saying ("To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war") fits the current US solution for two "I-P" crises: Israel-Palestinians and India-Pakistan.

In May, Colin Powell successfully pushed the Palestinians to plan an election next year, with US hopes that Yasser Arafat will be ousted. And now the secretary of state has called on India to ensure open, fair elections in Kashmir this October as a "first step" toward peace with Pakistan.

Both steps are necessary to help the US war on Al Qaeda.

The local election in India-controlled Kashmir alone won't lead to its Muslim majority choosing either to be a free state, join Pakistan, or stay with India. But if India does free political prisoners seeking a plebiscite on Kashmir's status, and also lets pro-Pakistan parties participate and allows in international observers, then it will have done its part to defuse a nuclear-tipped crisis.

Pakistan's part is to stop anti-India militants from crossing the border and disrupting the vote. Past elections have been tainted by both sides' attempts to influence the outcome.

While Pakistan has done much to end the incursions, Mr. Powell couldn't say this threat had ended for India. Yet both sides now need to inch closer to a fair vote and thus begin to end a long and useless territorial dispute that only holds back the economic potential of 1.3 billion people.

In many disputes, elections can clear the air of threats. Powell is smart to use them now as a diplomatic tool.

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