One step back from the abyss

India-Pakistan: Both would lose a war between them

only al-Qaida gained from terrorism in India.

January 01, 2002

YESTERDAY'S reduction of tensions between India and Pakistan was, as The Times of India said, "the much-needed move towards sobriety."

After Pakistan arrested Hafiz Saeed, who had pretended to step down as leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group, India's foreign minister saw a "step forward." On Monday, India asked Pakistan to arrest and extradite 20 suspects. How many may be delivered is unanswered.

India still considers the Dec. 13 terrorist attack on its parliament an aggression by Pakistan carried out at least indirectly by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). Pakistan, always supporting Kashmiri insurgents, considers them legitimate freedom fighters.

So both have declared alerts, and deployed troops to their long border.

But a fourth war between them, both nuclear-armed with highly professional armies, could destroy Pakistan and dismember India.

If both stand to lose from such a war, who would gain? Al-Qaida and its allies, hoping to distract Pakistan from Afghanistan and dislodge it from the coalition against terrorism into an alliance of militant Islam against all others.

India and Pakistan should not allow themselves to be manipulated by such forces.

The summit of the seven-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), starting Friday in Katmandu, Nepal, is the chance for India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to defuse their crisis.

Indian leaders are right to be alarmed that President Musharraf is going there via China, but they are to blame for banning Indian air space to Pakistani civil aviation.

The proper Indian response to Pakistan's crackdown on terrorists is to pull troops back from the border. A withdrawal should trigger a dynamic reduction of tensions. Once they are back from the brink, the two could rationally discuss where to meet next.

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