- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

Pakistan and India recently took steps to ensure that they would not unwittingly enter a nuclear war. Progress in that area is important for the security of the two countries, global non-proliferation efforts and the war on terrorism. Still, there is much the two countries must achieve in order to bolster the safety of their nuclear arsenals and relieve the tensions that could ultimately spark a conflict.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence from the British in 1947. Both sides see their nuclear arsenals as a critical deterrent to another war, since the costs for each would be catastrophic. For many Pakistanis, their country’s nuclear readiness is a source of national pride.

On Aug. 6, Pakistan and India agreed that they would notify each other prior to conducting any ballistic missile tests. They also agreed to establish a military hotline and to discuss any nuclear or other concerns. Those steps are welcomed and important. Indeed, we recommended in a May 2004 editorial that the two countries should establish such a hotline as a key confidence-building measure. The United States created a hotline with the Soviet Union in 1963 and used it twice (1967 and 1973, during the Arab-Israeli wars).

Some nuclear security experts also recommend that Pakistan and India should give a neutral third party an aerial-reconnaissance role to monitor the movements of weaponry, in order to bolster mutual trust. The two sides have not reached such an agreement.

Both countries also remain secretive about the internal safeguards they keep to avert an accidental firing of a nuclear missile and to protect their arsenals from theft or an unauthorized launch by renegade forces. Given the numerous attempts on the life of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and the political instability of Pakistan, those safeguards are vitally important. Both countries could share some details of their nuclear security without making their arsenals vulnerable to foreign attack. Pakistan should also provide more information on how it is ensuring that officials who have worked on the country’s nuclear program are not sharing that know-how with other countries, as Pakistani metallurgist A.Q. Khan did with North Korea, Iran and Libya.

More positively, India and Pakistan also identified potential areas of friction, and took steps to avoid confrontation. The two sides agreed not to increase new guard posts along the so-called line of control that has become the defacto border between the two countries in the disputed area of Kashmir and to extend a two-year old cease-fire in the area. In addition, the local commanders of the Pakistani- and Indian-controlled portions of Kashmir will begin communicating on a regular basis.

On a more mundane but still significant level, the two sides agreed to establish a fiber optic link, allow trade in certain goods to begin and cleared the way for national banks to open branches in each other’s countries. In September, India and Pakistan will discuss strengthening sea and air links.

These incremental steps toward normalizing relations are reassuring as peacemakers try to spread democracy in that part of the world.

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