- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 8, 2004

Pakistan and India will soon discuss how to avert an accidental nuclear exchange. The two countries have drafted an eight-point road map for peace. A November cease-fire has held. These developments indicate that the two countries are steadfast in their rapprochement, especially since they have driven these initiatives themselves. But the rest of the world is an anxious bystander. An enduring truce, and perhaps peace, between India and Pakistan is critical, not only for those countries, but for global nonproliferation and counter-terror efforts as well.

Later this month, Pakistan and India will negotiate a so-called nuclear restraint regime, also referred to as a nuclear confidence-building measure. Their meeting, to be held in New Delhi, will be geared toward preventing unauthorized and accidental strikes. Building such a framework has been under discussion at various South Asian conferences for years, and Pakistani officials have been calling for such talks since at least February. The two governments have given few details of the framework, but Professor Richard Stoll, an expert on Pakistan at Rice University, said it probably entails a direct communication link between high-ranking Pakistani and Indian officials. Since the two countries have fought three wars and have been entrenched in a protracted cold war, such a link is vital.

The United States established such a hotline with the Soviet Union in 1963, and used it twice, in 1967 and 1973, during Arab-Israeli wars. Pakistan would likely use the link to notify India of upcoming nuclear tests and significant military exercises. Giving a neutral third party an aerial reconnaissance role to monitor, for example, the movements of weaponry can also build mutual trust. It remains unclear whether Pakistan and India will include this kind of surveillance in their framework.

On April 24, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, said his country and India had finalized a plan for peace. The two sides have been reticent in divulging the details of the plan. This could well be because of a potential domestic backlash in either country to some details of the framework before it is negotiated. The desire for secrecy is therefore understandable, but the leaders of both countries should try to engage their populations in the process as much as possible. No durable peace can be held without the widespread support of the Indian and Pakistani populations.

Finally, the ongoing cease-fire between Pakistan and India along the line of control, or defacto border, is certainly welcome. The movement of Pakistani jihadis into India had an obvious chilling effect on the peace effort. The cease-fire promised to be more challenging to keep as the Himalayan ice in the Kashmir region began to melt, but so far, even India has welcomed Pakistan’s efforts to halt the movement of militants.

The cold war between the two countries is the single most significant cause of economic blight on both countries. Pakistan spends 4 percent of its GDP on defense, about $3 billion. This spending diverts needed funds for hospitals, roads and schools. It also props up the military at the expense of civilian institutions, and bolsters the people’s reliance on madrassas, or Islamic schools. The Pakistani army will only begrudgingly, if at all, give up its current share of the budget. For India, the hostilities with Pakistan create uncertainty and curb investment. While China is able to attract $50 billion a year in foreign direct investment, India only draws $5 billion.

The Indian-Pakistani dispute over the region of Kashmir, which is claimed by both sides, feeds Islamic militancy. The cold war stymies the development of democracy in Pakistan and economic prosperity in both countries. The stand-off also has led to what is widely described as a Pakistani nuclear capability that is insufficiently secured. Measures that thaw the hostilities and lead to improved nuclear security will pay global dividends.

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