- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Last October, Pakistan and India mobilized about one million troops in an escalation of tensions over the disputed Kashmir region. The two armies have since fought almost daily across the cease-fire line drawn when their last war over the region ended in 1972. India charges Pakistan with supporting Islamic militants' attacks on its military and civilians in Kashmir. Pakistan denies supporting these groups, but its press still calls these terrorists "freedom fighters." A May 14 attack on an Indian base, apparently carried out by one of these organizations, left 34 dead mostly women and children and put the two nations much closer to war. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called on his troops to prepare for a "decisive" battle. Saber-rattling Pakistan is test-firing ballistic missiles at the same time it is asking for U.N. intervention. Hopes seem dim that diplomatic efforts will prevent a conflict that could escalate into the world's first exchange of nuclear weapons.

The seeds of this conflict were sown when the British departed in 1947. It was then that the U.N. ordered a plebiscite to determine whether Kashmiris wished to be part of India or Pakistan. India has never allowed that vote to take place. It views Kashmir in the same way Communist China views Taiwan: as a province that cannot be considered part of any other nation. India's insistence on controlling Kashmir despite its overwhelming Muslim majority is often cited as the reason for the armed resistance there to Indian rule. But Pakistan, for its part, also deserves a major part of the blame.

These so-called "freedom fighters," operating from eastern Pakistan, frequently strike Indian military and civilian targets. They are not just native members of some independence movement. They are terrorists from all over the Islamic world, operating under names such as the Jaish-e-Muhammed, an Islamic fundamentalist group with ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Another, Lashkar-e-Omar, is rumored to be lead by the fugitive Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf promised in a January speech to stop this terrorism and tear out its roots throughout Pakistan. In truth, he has not done very much to suppress these groups.

Last Friday, Mr. Vajpayee sent a letter to President Bush asking him to act quickly to stop Pakistan from sponsoring cross-border terrorism. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will travel to India and Pakistan early next month to try to sustain movement toward peace, but on what terms? Pakistan has earned our support to some extent for its support in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. But India has every right to respond militarily, if necessary to stop the terrorist attacks. Ultimately, both sides will have to compromise more than they will now admit possible. India cannot forever resist Kashmiri self-determination any more than Pakistan can fail to root out the terrorists operating from within its borders.


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