- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

India’s new government is proving its will to continue to ratchet down tensions with Pakistan over one of the world’s most dangerous potential flashpoints. India began this week to reduce its troops in its portion of the territory of Kashmir. The military reduction appears to be India’s first since the insurgency in Kashmir began in 1989. Also, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made his maiden voyage to Kashmir yesterday.

Pakistan and India have fought two wars since 1947 over the disputed territory of Kashmir, before the two countries had gone nuclear. Needless to say, another war between the nuclear-armed countries would be disastrous, and each is keen to avoid that prospect. Successful peace talks are also important for the U.S.-led counterterror effort, since the Kashmir dispute fuels an Islamic insurgency that could at any time shift its focus to international targets.

There were doubts whether Mr. Singh, who took office in May, would be as determined or able to negotiate peace as his predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mr. Singh, though, appears to be methodically plodding a course for peace with Pakistan.

India is believed to have between 250,000 and 500,000 troops in Kashmir, and is expected to pull out tens of thousands. This follows Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s proposed demilitarization of Kashmir. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said the move was “a good development” that would build confidence and facilitate the dialogue.

The troop withdrawal coincided with Mr. Singh’s first visit to Kashmir, where he unveiled a $5.3 billion economic revival plan for the state, which is aimed at creating 24,000 jobs. The funds would be used to build new houses, schools, hospitals, railway lines, phone connections, and irrigation and power generation systems. Mr. Singh also pledged to speak to all parties that have disavowed violence.

Mr. Singh’s initiative comes despite an outbreak of violence by suspected Islamist militants. Mr. Singh, though, is wisely not letting the militant violence determine the course of the peace with Pakistan and the Kashmiri people.

Still, India’s troop withdrawal puts extra onus on Pakistan to crack down on terrorist training camps and the movement of Pakistani militants into Indian-controlled Kashmir. Next week, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz will arrive in New Delhi for talks. Both sides should work hard to keep the momentum going, and U.S. officials should not refrain from nudging them along.

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