Step by step, America is taking a more active role in what has
famously been a no-man's land of diplomacy: India-Pakistan
With the Indian Army massed on high alert along the Pakistan
border, US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in New Delhi
yesterday hoping to start a bilateral dialogue.
Tensions are lower here after the roundup of 2,000 jihadis in
Pakistan by Gen. Pervez Musharraf earlier this week; officials in
Kashmir say violence in the mountain valley is lessening.
But neither side is talking, so Secretary Powell is presenting
the different viewpoints of the neighbors to each other. Careful not
to use the word "mediate" - a word intolerable to India - Powell is
"carrying some ideas" to New Delhi in an effort to start a bilateral
dialogue on peace.
But weeks of phone calls and shuttle visits by Washington raise a
larger question: Will the Indo-Pakistan standoff become a permanent
nuclear flashpoint, a smaller-sized "Middle East" problem, that the
US will feel a responsibility to broker in perpetuity?
"The US had always taken sort of a distant parental role toward
us. You saw that in '99. But now they are in the trenches," says a
In the 48 hours after five gunmen stormed India's Parliament last
month, outrage in Delhi was widespread here - a collective spasm of
anger and shock.
Now US officials are worried about the possibility of bolder
terrorist attacks in India - possibly by Pakistani extremists who
want to upset a peace process, or exact revenge against General
Musharraf's crackdown on Islamic radicals in Pakistan.
"All it takes is a major explosion, another bomb in Delhi, and
you could see us again on the brink," says one Western official.
"What worries me, after watching the speed of the reaction after
Dec. 13 [the Parliament attack] is that India might not hesitate, as
it did this time."
The nuclear threat - and the post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism in
South and Central Asia - is forcing Washington to play a more active
"This government knows there can't be a war in South Asia," says
Amitabh Mattoo, a member of India's National Security Advisory
Council, downplaying recent fears. "India knows the US has new
interests. But if there is the slightest element of doubt the US is
not acting fairly, Delhi won't cooperate."
Diplomatically, South Asia is a cactus field of prickly
sentiments. Pakistan may be eager for the US to enter the fray,
hoping it will raise the issue of Kashmir. …