U.S. must push India and Pakistan toward peace

Slow progress on Kashmir is better than no progress at all.

There was no comprehensive peace agreement announced at Monday’s press conference, ending two days of talks between India and Pakistan. In fact, the foreign ministers of the neighboring nations made it clear that such a deal over the disputed region of Kashmir is not likely to come anytime soon.

But productive or not, those talks mark a welcomed change from the game of brinkmanship both sides have played in recent years.

If the two countries are not yet willing to compromise on the explosive issue of Kashmir, they are delving into a host of more mundane questions. Railway links, cultural exchanges and maritime cooperation are establishing a level of trust that is the foundation of any settlement. A series of back-channel contacts, in place for several months now, will allow negotiators to escape the often inflammatory arena of public opinion.

The entire world should take an interest in seeing the latest moves toward peace come to fruition.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since emerging from the British Empire in 1947. They announced their entry into the world’s nuclear club in 1998 with ominous tests calculated to heighten fear and tension. Pakistani support for cross-border terrorist attacks and Indian human rights abuses brought the two sides to the brink of all-out war in 1999, 2001 and 2003.

The United States is in a unique position to push India and Pakistan closer to an agreement. Both countries clearly value their relationships with the United States, and could be responsive to targeted diplomatic-maneuverings.

U.S. officials have not been shy about intervening with last-minute diplomatic initiatives when the two nations stand toe-to-toe. Those peacemaking efforts should now include a concerted effort to further the current talks.

Despite the latest progress, India and Pakistan remain locked in their familiar “chicken and egg” cycle: India insists that cross-border attacks stop before the real challenge of Kashmir is tackled, and Pakistan argues that only immediate talks will end Kashmiri militants. That impasse will not break without concerted U.S. involvement.

While this is a delicate situation, the United States must employ proactive, if “soft,” diplomacy because regression would be perilous for all parties involved.