- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

   The incremental peace overtures that India and Pakistan have been making recently are gaining momentum, just in time for a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. To their credit, the leaders of both countries have succumbed to a fit of good faith, which, one hopes, will become infectious. Washington also deserves some recognition for helping to end the two-year diplomatic stalemate between the countries. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri acknowledged recently that the detente was given a push by “friendly countries.”
   Mr. Armitage is today meeting in Islamabad with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali. Later this week, he will travel to Kabul and New Delhi. He will be focusing in Pakistan and India on the ongoing dispute over Kashmir.
   Pakistan and India have been at odds over Kashmir, a majority-Muslim state in India, for half a century. After both countries became independent from Britain in 1947, India agreed to allow the Kashmiris to decide in a referendum whether they wanted to become part of Pakistan or India. But a few years later, India distanced itself from that pledge and Pakistan has failed to rein in terrorist separatist groups active in Kashmir. The countries, which today are armed with nuclear weapons, have fought two wars over the territory and came close to armed conflict again last year.
   As this page noted in mid-April, the United States, which has developed warm ties with both Pakistan and India in the wake of September 11 and has an interest in seeing the dispute resolved, is the right choice for honest broker. While India and Pakistan have their own motivations for ending the conflict, the governments of both countries made quick headway after U.S. officials announced Mr. Armitage’s planned trip to the region.
   On Friday, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced that his country was restoring diplomatic and air links with Pakistan. Shortly afterward, Pakistan formally invited India for talks and restored its links with India. India’s new negotiator for Kashmir, N.N. Vohra, announced Sunday that he was planning another trip to the state to meet with separatist groups that refused to talk with him during his visit last week. Next week, a dozen lawmakers from Pakistan will be meeting with their counterparts in India.
   These developments are applauded in Washington. After all, India and Pakistan are central to Afghanistan’s economic future. And a resolution of the Kashmir conflict will quell Islamic militancy in Pakistan. Most importantly, a squirmish over Kashmir could turn nuclear.
   Anticipating the overtures by India and Pakistan would have seemed foolhardy a couple of weeks ago. The steps attest not only to newfound resolve in Islamabad and New Dehli, but also to the important role the United States can play. So far, Washington appears to have calibrated its diplomatic strategy skillfully. It should remain actively engaged.

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