- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Indian government responded soberly to the Oct. 29 terrorist attacks in New Delhi, but consecutive terrorist attacks in the disputed region of Kashmir have strained Pakistani-Indian ties. The testy exchanges between India and Pakistan at the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit over the weekend illustrate vulnerability of the improved relationship between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

After terrorists, believed by Indian officials to be members of a Pakistani-based group, killed 62 people in New Delhi as they were busily preparing for a religious festival, India unflinchingly decided to go ahead with plans to open crossing points in Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan control a portion of. Since the Delhi attack, Indian-controlled Kashmir has been hit numerous times by terrorists, who apparently are intent on derailing the peace process and demonstrating their continued ability to wreak violence in wake of the devastating Oct. 8 earthquake. Pakistan must rein in the terrorist groups based on its soil.

Yesterday, after two attacks this week, terrorists in Indian-controlled Kashmir launched their third attack, with a car fatal bombing at a busy intersection. A lawmaker and former minister, possibly the targets of the attack, were slightly wounded. On Tuesday, militants lobbed a grenade and opened fire at a political rally. On Monday, militants attacked police, triggering a gun battle.

Those attacks have taken a toll. At the SAARC summit, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that cross-border terrorist attacks have “an effect on public opinion,” adding, “There is no question of demilitarization or deployment of army while there is no stop to cross-border terrorism and continued attempts of infiltration.”

Pakistan’s prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, meanwhile, said there was a “trust deficit” between the two countries. The exchanges contrasted sharply with the SAARC summit of January 2004, when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and then-India Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee agreed to launch the peace process.

Demilitarization would allow the people of Kashmir to restore some normality to their everyday lives, but it is difficult to achieve given the barrage of attacks. Pakistan has been willing to round up some high-ranking al Qaeda members, but has been unwilling to move against the groups seeking Kashmir’s secession from India. Given the stakes, U.S. officials should lean harder on Pakistan to do so. If Islamabad responds, Washington should also apply pressure on India to respond with substantial concessions.

The Indian-Pakistani relationship and the stability of the Musharraf government in Pakistan are critical to counter-terror goals and regional stability. The terrorist attacks in Kashmir and tension at the recent SAARC summit should serve as a call to action for all parties.

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