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What the world press is saying

In the world press, the debate is raging over the volatile Pakistan-India conflict and its implications for the war on terrorism. By's Kari Huus.
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Months into the Afghan-focused war on terror, the buzz of news and commentary has waned. There are fewer questions about the outcome of that battle, and the campaign appears to have largely run its course. But next door, in the volatile Pakistan-India conflict, the debate over terrorism is raging anew.

Since 1990, as many as 70,000 people have died in the fight over the fate of the Kashmir region that straddles the India-Pakistan border. Pakistan says the Kashmiris are struggling for independence from Indian control and repression, and that it offers only moral support. India has long accused Pakistan of backing these groups’ with money and arms.

On Dec. 13, an attack on India’s parliament, which New Delhi blamed on pro-Kashmiri militants based in Pakistan, threatened to spark new combat between the two sides — a prospect far more frightening now that both are armed with nuclear weapons. The United States, fighting its war on terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan, was immediately entangled in the dispute.

The current edition of the weekly Outlook India makes a beeline to U.S. intervention. “With the Taliban defeated, a new government in power in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden just possibly dead, the time has come for the U.S. to launch phase II of its war on international terrorism. That war need not be waged in Sudan, Somalia, or, as some pro-Israel hawks have been urging, Iraq ... Phase II has to begin in Kashmir.”

Writing in Pakistan’s Frontier Post, published in Peshawar, executive director of the Kashmiri American Council Ghulam Nabi Fai warns: “The global campaign against terrorism should not degenerate into a campaign for the defense of tyrannies and illegal military occupations. There are many forces in the world which are salivating at the prospect of American power being used to prop up the brutal regimes they have foisted on peoples against the popular will. India ... is certainly one among these.”

In the past, the United States has kept its distance from the Kashmir problem. But the Bush administration has worried that if the conflict flares up it will hurt the war effort in Afghanistan, in part by diverting Pakistani troops the United States is relying on to secure the Afghan border.

The U.S. administration has walked a fine line. In phone calls to authorities in Pakistan and India, Washington policy-makers have called for calm. While condemning the attack on India, the administration urged military restraint. While adding two Pakistani groups to its list of terrorists, it also praised President Musharraf for his efforts to crack down.

Meanwhile, Indian and Pakistani governments cut transport routes, withdrew ambassadors and lashed out at each other, while their troops massed on the border.

“The emerging reality is that once the stock of nonmilitary measures is exhausted, there may be no nonmilitary recourse left for the players in this dangerous game,” according to a Japan Times commentary. Short term, it urges the West to use sanctions and other pressure to punish either side if they make the first military strike. In the medium term, it advocates de-escalation and stabilization of nuclear programs. And eventually, it says, the poverty that drives militants must be addressed.

Musharraf has complied at least in part with India’s demands to crack down on militants, arresting some militant leaders and freezing their assets. A commentary in the Hong Kong-based Asia Times details how the United States has pressured the Pakistani president to crack down, just as it leaned on Musharraf to drop ties with the Taliban in Afghanistan. “The ball appears now to be in the court of Musharraf, and it remains to be seen if he will once again play it according to U.S. interests.”

The Times of India reports that under intense U.S. pressure, Musharraf is significantly scaling down its Kashmir policy, by “shutting the tap on outlawed Pakistan-based terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed,” but will “continue to provide moral and diplomatic support to “indigenous” Kashmiri groups.

Commentator Tariq Ali, writing for The Independent of London argues that if Kashmiris had freedom from all outside forces it would go a long way to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan. “Kashmiris have suffered long enough. The brutality of the Indian occupation made many of them turn to Pakistan, but the behavior of the jihadi infiltrators has shocked most Kashmiris. The very thought of Talibanisation has led many educated professionals, male and female, to flee. They would like to be rid of both sides.”

But Syed Talat Hussain, writing in the Pakistani daily publicationDawn, argues that freedom fighters and terrorists will be crushed together in the current environment. “India is running a long, hard campaign against the Kashmiris to de-legitimize their struggle. Unfortunately, it has been able to use incidents like the recent attack on its parliament to considerable propaganda effect. Islamabad knows that no one from the West would ask Delhi to justify its crackdown on Kashmiris because after all it is fighting ‘terrorism’.”

The Nation of Pakistan sees Musharraf as sacrificing Kashmir to assuage Washington: “The fateful decision by President Musharraf to bend over backwards to accommodate the USA on the night of September 11/12 is taking its toll. The present crisis in Indo-Pak relations, and the sacrifice of the Kashmir cause, has flowed out of the decision to sacrifice sovereignty for convenience leavened with greed.”

One of the hotly debated questions is whether Musharraf actually has enough political power to control the militant groups and groups within the Pakistani military who support them. But an article in The Indian Express argues that empathy with Musharraf is dangerous. “India’s patience has been ill-paid over the years ... The world urged restraint in 1999 when there was fighting in Kargil. What was the result? That the terrorists have now been emboldened to attack not just the Assembly in Srinagar, but Parliament in Delhi!”

Clearly, as a columnist for Britain’s Guardian points out, India and Pakistan have wildly divergent views of the situation. “Narrative one: India always lies. Narrative two: Pakistan always lies ...

“But here is a truth we can all agree on: a solution to the Kashmir dispute must be found so that the phrase ‘threat of nuclear war’ can be consigned to the history books and the next generation of Pakistanis and Indians does not become so accustomed to such a phrase that, in the midst of the massive build-up of troops along the border, it continues to live its life as though nothing out of the ordinary is going on.”