While the world's attention is riveted on Kashmir as the flashpoint of a possible India-Pakistan war, 120,000 Indian Muslims remain in Gujarat refugee camps -- afraid to return to their villages, where they fear a resurgence of the Hindu mob attacks that left 1,200 dead in March.
This festering challenge to India's stability as a secular democracy explains what the Kashmir crisis is all about. The governing factor in the current confrontation between New Delhi and Islamabad is the danger of an uncontrollable chain reaction of Hindu reprisals against Muslims throughout India if the Muslims of Kashmir opt for independence or for accession to Pakistan.
New Delhi is prepared to risk war not for the sake of retaining Kashmir as such but to ensure against the destabilizing impact of a change in the status quo on India as a whole. The political heirs of Gandhi and Nehru in India believe that Kashmir, as the only Indian state with a Muslim majority, must remain in the Indian Union as proof that Hindus and Muslims can live together in a secular state.
Conversely, the growing Hindu right wing would point to the secession of Kashmir as conclusive evidence that all of the 130 million Muslims in India are potential traitors and should either bow to Hindu domination or go to Pakistan.
Definitive action by the United States is urgently needed to make Pakistan realize, once and for all, nothing is to be gained by stoking the fires of insurgency in Kashmir.
It is not enough to insist on a cessation of Pakistani sponsorship of infiltration by Islamic militants across the 450-mile "Line of Control," the U.N. cease-fire line imposed when the first Kashmir war ended in 1949 and ratified in the 1972 Indo-Pakistan Simla Agreement. Even if Gen. Pervez Musharraf stops infiltration for the moment, he will be under unremitting domestic pressure to start it up again as soon as the current crisis subsides.
What is required is an unambiguous declaration by the United States that a permanent Kashmir settlement will have to rest on recognition of the 53-year-old cease-fire line as the permanent international boundary. Such a declaration by the United States and other major powers is the only way to get Pakistani leaders to dismantle their entire infrastructure for cross-border infiltration and to stop financial and military aid to the insurgents.
Pakistani policy rests on the hope that the major powers can be induced to internationalize the dispute and, ultimately, support accession of the Indian-controlled Kashmir Valley to Pakistan, which holds the other 37 percent of the state.
Musharraf's promise to pull back can produce only temporary results, because there are built-in limits to his power. On the Kashmir issue, he is beholden to Islamic militant sympathizers among powerful fellow generals in the armed forces and intelligence agencies.
If Musharraf is, in fact, ready to negotiate a realistic Kashmir solution, American support for a settlement based on the cease-fire line would help him convince his fellow generals that there is no point in perpetuating the Kashmir insurgency. At the same time, it would strengthen moderates in India prepared to accept the Line of Control as the basis for a settlement and to give up Indian claims to Pakistani-held areas of Kashmir.
In return for Pakistani acceptance of the Line of Control as a permanent boundary, the United States should pledge the long-term continuation of the massive economic aid Pakistan has been receiving since Sept. 11. Islamabad desperately needs this aid to head off a fiscal collapse.
An added inducement would be U.S. recognition of Pakistan's control over Gilgit, Baltistan and Hunza, three areas of northern Kashmir incorporated into Pakistan over India's protests, and of a China-Pakistan border settlement in Kashmir also disputed by India.
To show that it is serious about stabilizing the Line of Control, the United States should provide India with state-of-the-art ground-based and airborne surveillance equipment to enable New Delhi to detect infiltration and stop it. At a minimum, the United States could give India the latest ground-based monitoring equipment developed for use along the Mexican border and for enforcement of the 1973 Sinai Desert cease-fire agreement.
To have a decisive impact, U.S. surveillance help would also have to include sophisticated airborne radar scanners and night-vision video cameras, such as the Lynx and Skyball systems developed for the Predator unmanned monitoring aircraft that have proved so effective in Afghanistan. This would require a waiver of U.S. export restrictions.
If U.S. surveillance assistance to India did not deter Pakistani-sponsored infiltration, the United States could then escalate its help by leasing the Predator aircraft to New Delhi and sharing the results of U.S. spy satellite monitoring along the Line of Control.
By providing surveillance equipment and declaring its support for a partition that would give India the lion's share of Kashmir, the United States would be in a stronger position to put effective pressure on India for a more flexible posture toward negotiations with the Kashmiri insurgent groups and with Pakistan that would, one hopes, lead to wide-ranging autonomy for the Kashmiris under both Indian and Pakistani jurisdiction.
For different reasons, neither India nor Pakistan wants Kashmir to be independent, and the United States, like India, has special reason to view such a prospect with alarm. Independence would make Kashmir a permanent sanctuary for Islamic extremist terrorist operations.
American interests would be best served by promoting an autonomous Kashmir within the Indian security framework, reflecting a broader recognition that India, a rising power, will be much more important to the United States in future decades than troubled Pakistan, one-eighth its size.
Published in Washingtonpost dated 11, June, 2002. The writer, a former South Asia bureau chief for The Post, has reported on the region since 1951. He is currently director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.