- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2005

The peace process between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India showed signs of life last week, after a month-long delay. The progress is welcome, demonstrating that despite Pakistan’s dismay over growing U.S.-Indian ties, Islamabad remains committed to the thaw with New Delhi. Agreements signed by the two countries’ foreign ministers last week signal a willingness to move beyond symbolic confidence-building measures. The Pakistani-Indian detente is vital to U.S. interests and global counterterror efforts.

India and Pakistan said they would aim to find a “common understanding” on the disputed Siachen glacier before the next round of far-ranging talks in January. Siachen, at 20,700 feet above sea level, is known as the highest battleground in the world. Each side has troops in the disputed region, at a cost of about $1 million a day, but there is no formal border there. Although the two sides did little more than agree to agree on Siachen, any breakthrough on the border region would mark the first substantial deal in the almost 2-year-old peace process and could open the way to other crucial pacts. Thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops have frozen to death keeping sentry in Siachen.

The two sides did not, however, make headway on their key flashpoint issue, the disputed region of Kashmir, which the two sides have fought two wars over. India hinted it is not prepared to negotiate a final status for Kashmir. Instead, India’s foreign minister, Natwar Singh, said he prefers to address the humanitarian side of the dispute, suggesting that his government wants to ease travel and trade in the Himalayan region. The Kashmiris have an ancient culture, and the Line of Control in the region, established in 1947, has divided families. In April, a bus service across the Line of Control in Kashmir was initiated.

The foreign ministers also agreed to give advance warning of ballistic-missile tests, after Pakistan surprised India with its first test earlier this year. India also gave Pakistan a draft memorandum of understanding on measures to reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. The memorandum outlines plans to set up a new hotline, in addition to one already established between senior army commanders. The two countries also agreed to establish a hotline between their coast guards.

All these steps are welcome. The two sides had not made any recent progress. Tensions between India and Pakistan could lead to a nuclear war, and the cold war between the countries gives rise to Islamist radicalism in the region, particularly in Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan. The Pakistanis of that region have taken up arms for fellow Muslims on the Indian side of Kashmir.

In addition, the cold war between India and Pakistan has prompted Islamabad to spend disproportionately on its military, diverting funds from a primary school system that could rival the clout of Islamic madrassas. An eventual peace is vital to U.S. interests and to the region. The Bush administration should continue to nudge the two nations toward peaceful relations.

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