Pakistan and India: Pioneers in global disaster response?

The terrorist bombs that rocked New Delhi recently must not be allowed to wreck a painstakingly crafted peace process between India and Pakistan. The leaders of these two nuclear-powered rivals, President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, will have to muster courage and conviction that rises far above the petty politics of their Army, intelligence, and political constituencies if Indo-Pakistani reconciliation is to remain on track.

Terrorist attacks are nothing new to Delhites. But the modus operandi of strikes on the eve of important religious and communal celebrations (Eid ul-Fitr for Muslims and Diwali for Hindus, in this case) and transformational political events (the decision to open Kashmir's Line of Control and allow aid to flow) demonstrates a growing phenomenon within the global terrorist enterprise: preplanned strikes. These attacks are designed to wreak havoc and undermine collaborations among political leaders whose efforts toward peace wavers at the first sight of carnage.

For years, Hamas terrorists have tried repeatedly - and even successfully at times - to strike terror in the hearts of Middle East peacemakers at the very moments some of the most promising opportunities for reconciliation were at hand. That driving philosophy appears to have been adopted by South Asia's terrorist groups desperate to prevent peace from taking hold in Kashmir during the now almost three-year-old thaw in Indo-Pakistani relations. The terrorists themselves have much to fear in the mutual hard-won bilateral trust Messrs. Musharraf and Singh now enjoy.

This is precisely why these leaders need to take the following uncomplicated steps to ensure the terrorists never gain an upper hand in defining the agenda for Indo-Pakistani relations.

First, Musharraf should visit New Delhi without delay to comfort and condole its bombing-shaken residents. He was born there and has a natural stake in the city's well-being. A day trip to New Delhi could wipe away fear and mistrust held by ordinary Indians and swing South Asia's political pendulum back toward the goodwill and genuine trust Musharraf and Singh still share.

Second, Musharraf should instruct Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to immediately get to the bottom of which militant groups - that might still be operating on Pakistani soil - could have played a role in the Delhi bombings. ISI should start by taking a hard look at Al Qaeda-allied Lashkar-i-Tayyaba militants. While it is conceivable that other hands (Sikh militants, Al Qaeda's farther-flung cells, or even other states seeking to redress strategic imbalances with New Delhi) were involved in the attacks, it is simply inexcusable for Pakistan to continue looking the other way if it finds that terrorist operations continue to be planned, funded, and logistically carried out from its soil.

Third, Singh should accept Musharraf's invitation to cross the Line of Control and visit Pakistani-administered Kashmir's earthquake survivors, taking along a massive dose of needed supplies before hard winter sets in. The goodwill generated from this single act will in itself defuse terrorist ambitions in a way that 100,000 police patrolling New Delhi never could.

Fourth, Singh should drop his condition that only Indian Army pilots can fly India's vast fleet of helicopters which could assist in transporting aid to earthquake victims. If Indians don't want Pakistanis in their cockpits, and understandably the Pakistanis don't want well-trained Indian pilots mapping their sensitive nuclear installations that lie close to the devastated areas, then find neutral alternatives - Jordanian, Egyptian, United Arab Emiraties, or Russian pilots could do the job.

Finally, India and Pakistan can use their twin tragedies to lead the world in rethinking how we manage natural disasters and large-scale terrorist attacks. With more than 300,000 lives lost and tens of billions of dollars in damage done from three worldwide natural disasters in the past 12 months, there is a growing need to establish a global disaster-management organization that is capable of rapid response in the case of natural or man-made disasters.

Reserves of heavy machinery and equipment, temporary shelters, cots, blankets, storable foodstuffs, medicines, and fresh water supplies need to be kept on demand at enough strategically located points around the world that within hours the right equipment and personnel would be at the scene of a disaster. With enough legislative groundwork, multinational companies, such as Caterpillar and John Deere, or Mitsubishi and Daewoo, could be granted tax breaks for contributing heavy machinery assets to these global pools.

Terror acts and natural disasters are an opportunity to find mutually beneficial ways to improve the human predicament. India and Pakistan's tragedies can prove beyond doubt that human-to-human contact across borders can heal history's gaping wounds, offer an opportunity for peace never thought possible before, and enable a larger platform for South Asia's political leaders to lead not just their own people, but the people of the world, to deal with human crises more effectively.

Mansoor Ijaz, chairman of Crescent Investment Management LLC, coauthored the blueprint for a cease-fire of hostilities between Indian security forces and Muslim militants in Kashmir in July 2000.

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