Battling in Kashmir

India attacks: Conflicts of half-century will recur until a political settlement is reached.

June 02, 1999

WARFARE in Kashmir will do little harm as long as it is limited to the few square miles where insurgents hold out. It can wreak havoc if India and Pakistan allow it to spread.

Both countries have nuclear warheads. Pakistan is more vulnerable for reasons of geography, population and wealth. But each country is a fragile coalition of people that could dissolve under stress.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947, when a Hindu ruler assigned the Muslim population to India. The first of two wars over Kashmir was fought the next year. China holds a mountainous bit in the north.

The situation is further complicated by India and Pakistan's separate testing of nuclear weapons in April 1998. The resulting tension dissipated in February, when the Hindu nationalist prime minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, embraced Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as they inaugurated a bus service between their capitals.

Now that amity turns bitter, after Indian warplanes attacked a few hundred troops dug in near the border within Kashmir. Pakistan shot down two Indian planes on the Pakistani side and claimed that 50,000 people have fled the border area. Pakistan says the insurgents are Kashmiri freedom fighters; India says they are Afghani and Pakistani invaders.

Until both countries reach a permanent accommodation acceptable to Kashmir's people, conflict will flare. Each time it does, the two countries have greater ability to harm each other.

With nuclear forces, a border flare-up endangers world peace. It's time for a settlement, which must begin with a cease-fire but get quickly to fundamental issues.

Pub Date: 6/02/99

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