- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2003

The Pakistani government should be commended both on style and substance for the cease-fire it initiated with India. New Delhi announced a unilateral cease-fire in observance of the Islamic festival that marks the end of Ramadan fasting. The government of President Pervez Musharraf has demonstrated political savoir fare and a willingness to see peace overtures between Pakistan and India gain traction.

On Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali announced his country’s unilateral cease-fire along Pakistan’s border with India, including the volatile Line of Control in the disputed territory of Kashmir. On Monday, Indian officials said they welcomed the move by Pakistan. The next day, military leaders of both countries formalized a joint cease-fire — the first declared between the two countries since the separatist insurgency in Kashmir began 14 years ago. The routine gunfire exchanged across the border by both the regular armies and other actors has taken a terrible human toll. Every few days, a goat herder or other Kashmiri living on the border is caught in the cross fire. At least 35,000 people have been killed since the insurgency began.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the two states were created in 1949 following British colonial rule. Two of those wars were over Kashmir. The Kashmir issue remains the primary point of contention between the countries, and has led to a cold war between the two nuclear powers. In October, India took measures to break the stalemate with Pakistan by announcing its willingness to implement confidence-building measures that include transportation links and friendly border crossings. India also bolstered its outreach in Kashmir by sending heavyweight L.K. Advani, its deputy prime minister, to negotiate with separatists.

This move by India, which was probably motivated in large part by U.S. diplomacy toward peace, put geopolitical pressure on Pakistan to respond. A combination of New Delhi’s overture and U.S. pressure upped the ante on Pakistan.

There are reasons to be hopeful regarding a relative warming between the two countries. For one, weather is on the side of temporary success. Winter in the Himalayan region of Kashmir tends to considerably slow the exchange of gunfire on the border, and will work on the side of a cease-fire. By the time spring arrives, moderates in Kashmir will have become accustomed and attached to the cease-fire. Also, if the cease-fire holds for some time, India will come under pressure to implement the whole range of confidence-building measures it announced in October, some of which are contingent on a brake of militant infiltration from Pakistan into Indian-controlled Kashmir. It will be much more difficult for India to continue to accuse Pakistan of abetting this infiltration if it isn’t firing at Indian troops across the line of control. This hostility by Pakistani regulars has been described by many as a diversionary tactic to help militants cross the border. Finally, once the cease-fire is called, neither of the parties will want to be seen as its spoiler.

Also promising is the political context of the Pakistani-Indian rapprochement. To India’s credit, it has refrained from playing the Hindu nationalist card during an important cycle in local elections. Although local posts in the key states of Rajastan and Madhya Pradesh, which are currently under opposition control, are up for grabs, the government in New Delhi is demonstrating statesmanship on the politically sensitive issue of Kashmir.

Of course, there are always numerous reasons to be skeptical of a lasting peace between India and Pakistan, given the powerful forces in each country (but particularly Pakistan) that are wedded to the standoff. Given the atmospheric improvements, now is the time for the international community, particularly the United States, to keep up its constructive dialogue toward peace. Given Pakistan’s latest overtures, India must respond by exercising more of its confidence-building measures. If the positive momentum holds, the brinkmanship of the past could give way to peaceful one-upmanship.

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