Kashmiri thaw

October 11, 2004

THE RAPPROCHEMENT over Kashmir begun earlier this year between Pakistan and India had started to stagnate by this summer. But that has changed with the reported bonhomie during the recent one-hour meeting between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and new Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the United Nations in New York.

Building on a peace initiative begun earlier this year by General Musharraf and Mr. Singh's predecessor, the first meeting of the two leaders appears to have moved forward the thawing of almost six decades of tensions and armed conflict between the two South Asian nuclear powers over the disputed territory.

The leaders parted amid reports of deals in progress on demilitarizing the world's highest and coldest battlefield, the Siachen Glacier. There, airlifted Indian troops have been deployed at great expense for the last 20 years atop a 20,000-foot mountain looking down on their Pakistani counterparts. There was talk, too, of an agreement on an important and profitable oil pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India. And most critically, the meeting concluded with a joint statement that in unprecedented fashion talked of sincerely exploring "possible options for a peaceful negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue."

India and Pakistan have much further to go to finally bring peace to that troubled region.

Pakistan has yet to convincingly collar the cross-border terrorists it has harbored in its portion of Kashmir, and India must soften eventually its hard-line security stance in its part of Kashmir, where there have been long-standing reports of human rights abuses by Indian troops. And ultimately, both must resolve legitimate Kashmiri aspirations for self-determination.

But this year's Indo-Pakistani dialogue over Kashmir is a far and welcome cry from their three wars over the region. As recently as two years ago, it should be remembered, tensions between the two were so high that then-CIA Director George J. Tenet declared that they were as close to nuclear war as they had ever been.

Fundamentalists in both countries surely will attempt to derail this warming. So it is important that such concrete exercises in trust as the glacier stand-down and the pipeline deal - which would save India billions of dollars in costs for an undersea pipeline from Iran and would earn Pakistan an estimated $500 million a year - bear fruit as soon as possible.

Indians and Pakistanis have everything to gain, particularly economically, from an end to their more than a half-century of hostilities. The sooner this nascent peace process produces such dividends, the more momentum may build for peace in Kashmir.

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