India's peace initiative

Pakistan: Resumption of talks could defuse nuclear weapons race, if not resolve Kashmir dispute.

May 29, 2001

THE WORLD should breathe relief that Pakistan's ruler, Pervez Musharraf, is accepting the invitation to visit India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

This can be viewed as India accepting General Musharraf's public willingness to talk any time. Or as a resumption of the summitry suspended two years ago when Prime Minister Vajpayee went to Lahore to seek peace with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom General Musharraf subsequently overthrew.

The two nations, embroiled in a nuclear weapons race with India ahead, present the most volatile threat of nuclear exchange in the world today. They have fought several times since mutual independence in 1947, and have never been truly at peace.

The meeting is arranged when General Musharraf's legitimacy is questioned and when Mr. Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist government is undermined by scandal. Also when Washington's cooperation with Pakistan against Soviet rule in Afghanistan is superseded by annoyance at Pakistan's support of Islamic extremism there and by U.S. warming toward India as a democratic rival to China.

Talks between the two alone can merely manage their tension. The 54-year struggle over the divided state of Jammu and Kashmir divides them. India, now ending a unilateral cease-fire against Kashmiri insurgents who spurned it, is not seeking talks with them.

In 1947, the Hindu maharajah gave his state to secular India when the Muslim majority favored Islamic Pakistan, oblivious to the fears of Hindu and Buddhist minorities. In the ensuing war, Pakistan acquired part and India a greater part, which is in dispute. China detached a sliver.

Only a long process might resolve the fundamental question of Kashmir, blurring sovereignty in the manner of the Anglo-Irish Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland. The coming talks could at best probe willingness to begin. But the region will be safer if the leaders can demilitarize their quarrel and remove the threat of nuclear escalation.

Then, perhaps, Pakistan might divert resources toward what its people need most, which is to emulate India's domestic economic and technological liberation.

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