False hope for Indo-Pakistani accord India's crisis: Government coalition falls apart, no successor in sight.

April 03, 1997

A FRAGILE IMPROVEMENT of relations between India and Pakistan has been overtaken by political crisis in India. Four days of talks in New Delhi between the foreign ministers, Salman Haider of India and Shamshad Ahmad of Pakistan, ended in remarkably cordial tones, though without solution of the substantive issue that perennially threatens war between them.

The Hindu-dominated secular state of India and the Islamic state of Pakistan have fought three wars in their half-century, two over Kashmir. Most of that Muslim-majority mountain land is India's state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan demands a plebiscite, assuming that would transfer sovereignty to Pakistan. Kashmir's independence, which neither India nor Pakistan wants, might win were it an option.

For these two countries, the kind of peace that would end their unacknowledged nuclear race and reward them economically requires compromise over Kashmir. The Indian leftist coalition government of H. D. Deve Gowda, which launched this peace initiative, is tottering. Its largest partner, the formerly ruling Congress Party, pulled the plug. The intent of the 77-year-old Congress leader, Sitaram Kesri, is a mystery. Mr. Deve Gowda has until April 11 to resurrect a coalition, which seems doubtful without Congress. Indians are bracing for prolonged confusion.

Pakistan's government, by comparison, just got stronger. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rules by virtue of a thumping victory for his Pakistan Muslim League in the February election that followed the sacking of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto by President Farooq Leghari. By eliminating such extraordinary presidential powers over the choice of prime ministers, Mr. Sharif's nation suddenly has a democratically stronger government than India, which has rarely been the case.

India's crisis is a shame because the resumed ministerial talks with Pakistan seemed to be getting somewhere. They cannot be resumed until India has resolved its political crisis and produced a government commanding a parliamentary majority. Nobody knows when.

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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