- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 2, 2004

Relations between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan took an atmospheric turn for the better last Friday, relieving widespread concerns that the building rapprochement between the two countries would deteriorate under the new Indian government. Given those concerns, the successful meeting between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New York generated a range of broadly positive reactions in Pakistan and India. Gen. Musharraf said he was “extremely hopeful about the future” in the wake of the meeting, and said he “found Manmohan Singh an extremely sincere man.” Both leaders called the meeting historic, reiterated their commitment to the peace process and pledged to discuss all outstanding issues, including the disputed region of Kashmir.

The Pakistani media was generally optimistic. “Manmohan Singh’s statement that we will be able to write a good new chapter in Pakistan-India relations suggests prospects for a concrete positive development in the coming months are bright,” said Irshad Haqqani in Pakistan’s Jang. The reaction was similar on the Indian side.

Still, the peace process promises to be a long, hard slog. Good atmospherics are all well and good, but they usually do not determine how each nation pursues what it sees as its national interests. While the warm exchanges are welcome, we remain cautiously skeptical until more progress is made. Summit meetings that conclude with bright talk often are not followed with the anticipated action.

Gen. Musharraf is expected, particularly by a coalition of religious parties known as the MMA, to press Pakistan’s desire for greater justice for the people of the Kashmir Himalayan region, a part of which both countries lay claim to. Unless India is prepared to have substantive talks over Kashmir now (an unlikely prospect, since the issue has remained unresolved for decades), it must push for progress on other confidence-building measures, such as the possibility of building a natural-gas pipeline that would cross both countries. Pakistan will have to make greater efforts to halt cross-border terrorism and India should bolster human rights in Kashmir. Whatever peace agreement the two countries may eventually reach, Mr. Singh could have a difficult time selling the deal given his party’s slim, coalition-dependent majority in Parliament.

At stake for Pakistan, India, the United States and others are the war on terrorism, nuclear safety, nuclear proliferation and economic prosperity in this strategically important region. The festering Kashmir issue continues to breed terrorism that targets mostly India, but has now morphed into an international threat. The nuclear-arms race between India and Pakistan has led to nuclear arsenals of questionable security and to nuclear proliferation by Pakistan. The hostility has reduced investment in both countries and led the governments, particularly Pakistan’s, to spend disproportionately on arms.

The good chemistry between Gen. Musharraf and Mr. Singh could lead to greater regional stability. Both leaders now have the difficult job of balancing pressures to secure national objectives with the need to make the concessions a peace process hinges on.

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