- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

A none-too-quiet front in the war on terror could open if India and Pakistan continue their combustible face-off over Kashmir. An armed clash (even if it isn't the atom-splitting kind) could significantly disrupt U.S. efforts to capture al Qaeda remnants along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and could expand the conflict. But if America weighs in too heavily on the issue, it could alienate the very Pakistanis it depends on to help ferret out al Qaeda remnants.

What the White House needs, therefore, in order to defuse the Indian-Pakistani tension is for a trusted friend, Great Britain, to broker a settlement of the Kashmiri dispute. Britain holds considerable clout in the region and has proved its commitment to helping America in the wake of September 11. Sadly, U.S. and British officials have generated a chorus of comments regarding Kashmir, with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw declaring that India can't be expected to start talks while Pakistan allows militants to infiltrate Kashmir. A couple of days before, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had suggested this infiltration had stopped.

The Bush administration must quickly step up efforts to coordinate diplomatic strategy on Kashmir. This won't be easy. Britain has had a traditional alliance with India, and may be loath to exert the kind of pressure on New Delhi that effective peace-brokering demands. But, if India will commit to better protecting the human rights of the Kashmiris, Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf will be better able to command his military to stop the infiltration.

Many al Qaeda operatives are believed to have crossed the Afghan-Pakistani border and taken up residence in Pakistan. Akbar Ahmed, formerly the administrative head of the south Waziristan region along the border, believes Mr. Musharraf can't seal the rugged, ravine-pocked border due to geology and the fiercely independent nature of the Pashtun tribes living there. American troops must therefore tread carefully in the region, and enlist the support of villagers in their hunt for al Qaeda operatives.

What makes things tricky is that the tribes in Waziristan are deeply supportive of the Kashmiri people, who in 1947 were promised a never-delivered referendum to choose whether they would be part of India or Pakistan. In fact, the Pakistani villagers along the Afghan border send tribal emissaries to help the Kashmiris fight Indian rule, said Mr. Ahmed. So, any trouble in Kashmir would resonate on the border and lead to a broadening, chaotic conflict. If the Pashtun people begin to send large numbers of combatants to Kashmir, then al Qaeda remnants could more easily get smuggled through and America could soon face a new front to grapple with.

As elections are held in Kashmir, Pakistan, and in the Indian state of Gujarat in September and October, tensions over Kashmir could escalate and the parties could become increasingly bellicose. The White House must mobilize now to enlist the help of Britain. The war on terror may have many fronts, but America scarcely needs new ones.

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