- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

There was radiation in the air around an Asian summit yesterday, though not because certain attendees had actually launched their nuclear weapons. But they were talking about it. Russian President Vladimir Putin had offered to broker a peace between Pakistan and India on the sidelines of the 15-nation summit that ends today, but he failed, miserably.

While Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee refused even to shake the hand of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the Pak general defended his right to use nuclear weapons first. Mr. Putin failed to even get a commitment from Mr. Vajpayee to go to Moscow for another round. But Mr. Putin's effort, while well-intentioned, held little promise to begin with. With Russia fighting its own separatist movement in Chechnya, Mr. Putin was an unlikely moderator. Not to mention that Kazakhstan's capital of Almaty where people have suffered under the rule of the former communist dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev is hardly the city to satisfy democratic yearnings. Now is the time for America to step to the forefront as mediator in a conflict that would otherwise show no signs of cooling in the near future.

"We're sitting on a powder keg and we don't want it to explode in our faces," Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Pakistan's information minister from 1997 to 1999, told editors and reporters recently at The Washington Times. He said U.S. intelligence agencies and troops must act delicately in trying to assist in a resolution, but that America is vitally needed to act as a neutral mediator. "The United States has a policy of acting as a fire brigade, but it has never put forward a strategic resolution to the underlying dispute," he said.

America's first resolution should be to prevent war in the region by insisting that both sides stop their war rhetoric and pull back their troops from the Line of Control. With almost 1 million troops stationed on both sides of the India-Pakistan border and with Pakistan having recently test-fired another round of missiles, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were sent to the region for emergency exercises in diplomacy to try to diffuse tensions. President Bush has urged Gen. Musharraf to stop Pakistan's infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir into India. Mr. Bush should step up his mediation efforts by addressing the root of the problem in the Indian-Pakistan conflict the disputed Kashmiri region, which is the unprotected homeland of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs who want to control their own destiny.

Two nuclear powers moving toward war should be given first priority on the Bush administration's foreign policy agenda. With Mr. Putin's failure hanging heavy over two countries with ticking time bombs and nuclear ones at that there is no better time for the United States to encourage both countries to step back from the awful precipice of war.

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