- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

As Secretary of State Colin Powell meets this week with leaders of the world's most agitated nuclear states, India and Pakistan, he may face his most difficult mediation mission yet. Pakistan has constructed missile-launch sites near the border with India, and U.S. intelligence detected Indian preparations for the use of missiles in late December. Around 1 million troops have assembled on both sides of the Indian-Pakistani border. Both sides have said they would only use nuclear weapons as a deterrent, but have not ruled out their use. Both countries already believe their security has been compromised: India because of the attack on its parliament Dec. 13 by Islamic extremists from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir; and Pakistan because of India's control of part of Kashmir and its massing of troops along the border last month. Mr. Powell must assess how serious Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is about cracking down on terror, and he must figure out how to effectively use U.S. power to encourage both sides to stand down, without getting in the way.

Before nuclear limitations can be addressed, a dispute over who should control divided Kashmir must be addressed. This will be challenging, as India, for one, wants the conflict to be resolved without American help. "This is a bilateral issue," Indian Home Minister L.K. Advani said in a meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Times last week.

How much room there is for negotiation between countries that have nuclear weapons pointed at each other is another question. For India, Mr. Musharraf's announced crackdown on terrorism must be tested by his actions. While he has been an invaluable partner for the United States in detaining al Qaeda and Taliban fighters despite militant opposition within his country, Mr. Musharraf's failure to prevent the Dec. 13 attack on the Indian parliament was inexcusable. And here, the Indians have a valid point. "What he has done with the Taliban, and yet survived [politically] makes me think he has more power [to stop] terrorism against India," Mr. Advani said.

In his speech addressing terrorism Saturday, Mr. Musharraf proved responsive to U.S. pressure to crack down. Among other things, he announced the banning of five terrorist groups operating in Pakistan. In the meantime, he has detained 1,900 people as part of his crackdown on Islamic militancy. But India still has a right to be skeptical. "The government of India has noted that the major portion of the address of the president of Pakistan yesterday related to reforms to modernize Pakistan," External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said.

In order for India to be convinced, Pakistan will have to do more to crack down on terrorism against India. The identities of those detained by Pakistan and their connections to external terrorism are also not known. Reports that militants are donning new names and regrouping in Kashmir do not help matters. Militant Pakistani groups crusading over Kashmir or other Islamic causes have been supported by the government in Islamabad until recently, when the United States put significant pressure on Mr. Musharraf to prove his commitment to fight terrorism. Mr. Powell must emphasize during his visit that reform in Pakistan must be long-lasting and reach into every corner of the country, and that the United States will not forget the promises Mr. Musharraf has made.

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