- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

Pakistan’s underwhelming reaction to India’s recent peace overture highlights the practical limitations of President Pervez Musharraf’s leadership. Mr. Musharraf surely sees the strategic importance of resolving disagreements with India, but his range of action is constrained by powerful Pakistani military and intelligence officials and Islamic politicians. These factions check Mr. Musharraf’s power, but they have also been given a boost by the president, as he seeks to neutralize support for more mainstream political parties.

Last month, India proposed bolstering or restoring rail, air and sea links with Pakistan, and establishing a bus link between India’s and Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir. New Delhi also proposed resuming sporting contacts, and appointed the highly respected L.K. Advani, its deputy prime minister, as senior envoy for negotiations with separatists in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Pakistan originally responded gruffly to the proposal, rebuking India for not putting negotiations over Kashmir on the table for discussions. Since then, Islamabad has become savvier. Pakistan Information and Broadcasting Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said while in New Delhi this week that his government viewed India’s proposals with optimism. But Pakistan has not yet responded comprehensively to India’s proposals.

Islamabad appears to be concerned that granting India overflight rights would allow India to establish frequent flights to Afghanistan, thereby strengthening India’s relationship with Afghanistan. And in this area Mr. Musharraf’s leadership is also limited. Pakistan’s military and intelligence community see Afghanistan not as a neighbor and partner, but rather as a place where Pakistan can broaden its strategic depth. This faction is keen on competing against Indian influence in Afghanistan and resists cracking down on former Taliban officials, in the belief they can someday rise to power and re-establish Pakistan’s sway over Afghanistan.

India could help Mr. Musharraf deal with these elements if it takes its negotiations with Kashmiris seriously and holds open the possibility of eventual talks on the issue with Pakistan. Although New Delhi is negotiating from a position of strength, it would benefit in seeing the Kashmir issue resolved. Also, India should make its peace proposals unconditional to achieve the confidence building it claims it is targeting.

Mr. Musharraf’s rule in Pakistan seems to be mixed blessing for America, providing stability and furthering some U.S. goals, while undermining others — which is why helping the nuclear-armed Pakistan and India to resolve the Kashmir issue remains a key U.S. priority. That can only be achieved with serious and sustained external pressure. The leaders of both countries benefit from having the Kashmir issue stew at a low boil. But international security is undermined by this policy, and the Kashmiri people also suffer. America and others must keep up the pressure and guidance for a resolution.


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