Path to prosperity

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 July, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 July, 1999, 12:00am

The Kashmir conflict may have set back economic recovery in India and Pakistan, and destroyed hopes of reconciliation. But India's recapture of key strategic positions will not harm Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's chances in the September election.

Coupled with Mr Vajpayee's insistence that India will solve its problems without outside help, the military success will strengthen the caretaker premier's image as a strong leader, just as his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif was in Washington for stern lectures about his country's support of the insurgents. There may be some capital for rival parties which blame the Government for neglecting the borders, but there is no substitute for leading the winning side when nationalist sentiments are roused.

When the fighting is finally over, Indians can focus on internal problems. Mr Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party lost a confidence vote in April, but the rival Congress Party is badly damaged by squabbling over Sonia Gandhi's eligibility to become prime minister, and she was unable to form a new government.

India's 600 million voters have shown little interest in a third trip to the polls in as many years, but if there is to be any triumphalism following the army's success, the Hindu nationalist party will no doubt make the most of it.

India escaped the worst of the Asian crisis and is well placed for recovery, except for sanctions imposed after nuclear tests last May. Autumn's record harvest brought inflation to a 14-year low, and foreign investment was coming back when the Government fell. What the country needs now is stability. No matter who wins the most seats, a coalition is inevitable. For a change, the politicians must set aside petty rivalries and co-operate before peace can bring prosperity.