Diplomacy's role

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 12:00am

The United States and Britain have rightly put pressure on Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf to stop further missile tests, and to stop the movement of militants from Pakistan into the Indian part of Kashmir.

Of the two, stopping the movement of Islamic militants is the more important. The missile tests at a time when tensions between India and Pakistan are running high are needlessly provocative, but are not particularly dangerous.

Far more serious is the continuing infiltration of militants into Kashmir who are helping to fuel a conflict that threatens to drag the sub-continental neighbours into a war. The raid on an army base in Kashmir which killed 31 people, as well as an earlier attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi have stretched Indian patience to the limit. Although Pakistan has denied any involvement in the attack, the US, Britain and other members of the international community have been urging General Musharraf to reign in the militants based in Pakistan.

The Pakistani leader had pledged in January to crack down on militancy. In his speech to the nation yesterday, he repeated these pledges. But General Musharraf also denied any Pakistani involvement in the terrorist attacks in India. He also delivered an emotional message of support for the separatists in Kashmir, and said that any violence there was a result of India's actions. This was not a speech that has done anything to reduce tensions.

General Musharraf has been under pressure from extreme elements in Pakistan for supporting the US-led war against the Taleban. He will find it difficult to crack down on Kashmiri militants without risking a domestic backlash.

But if war between these two nuclear-armed neighbours is to be avoided, this is what the Pakistani leader must do. India for its part, must adopt a policy of restraint, and give international diplomatic efforts a chance to succeed.

British and American diplomacy will have a major role to play in helping to calm tensions. International diplomacy must help create the conditions for the following steps to be taken: a sealing of the border between India and Pakistan so that infiltration is stopped, a standing down of troops on either side of the border, followed by a reduction of the level of violence in Kashmir as well as a political dialogue on how to restore peace to the sub-continent. The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, as well as a senior US State Department official, Richard Armitage, who will be in the region for the rest of the week, will have their work cut out. The price of failure might be nuclear war.