With India and Pakistan, Step Up Preventive Diplomacy

Article excerpt

While Americans are understandably preoccupied with events in Afghanistan, tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have rapidly escalated. Should war break out, the conflict in Afghanistan could quickly become little more than an afterthought.

The immediate cause for the current crisis is the Dec. 13 attack by terrorists on India's parliament building that left 14 dead. This outrage followed on the heels of an October suicide bombing of the Kashmir legislative assembly that took 38 lives. In both instances, India has blamed militant groups based in Pakistan, and accused Islamabad of clandestinely encouraging the attacks. Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attacks, but denied any involvement.

India and Pakistan have already fought two wars over Kashmir, and in 1999 engaged in a sharp armed confrontation that almost escalated into war. Credible evidence backs India's contention that Pakistan actively supports the insurgency that has roiled the Indian portion of Kashmir since 1989.

Since the attack on Parliament House, pressure in India has sharply risen for a forceful response - which could include air strikes or even action by ground forces - against militant training camps in the part of Kashmir held by Pakistan. India has demanded that Pakistan shut down the terrorist groups.

Over the past week, the crisis has escalated. Both India and Pakistan have expelled the other's diplomats. Plane, train, and bus service between the two countries has been stopped. Both armed forces are on heightened alert and have taken up positions along the border. Artillery duels across the Kashmir line of control occur nearly every day.

Washington has denounced the attack on Parliament as a "brutal assault on Indian democracy" and has put the two key militant groups on its foreign terrorist list - a step India has long urged. New Delhi's anguish raises difficult questions for the United States. President Bush has called for an all-out war on terrorism and the states that harbor terrorists. But what if our ally in the fight against terrorism, Pakistan, is itself supporting terrorism? Is it all right for the United States to punish terrorists in Afghanistan, but not for India to do so in Pakistan? …