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S U B C O N T I N E N T A L   D R I F T
Help Wanted
India and Pakistan can't sort out the Kashmir problem on their own

February 24, 2000
Web posted at 10 a.m. Hong Kong time, 9 p.m. EST

"There is no possibility of any mediation, inter-mediation or facilitation when it comes to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir."

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That's what an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said last week. I wasn't there at the time, but I imagine the spokesman had to suppress a yawn as he restated, for the umpteenth time, India's long-standing position on the Kashmir dispute. Like all "unalterable" positions, this one's been rendered moot by changes in the broader reality. Global economic forces, combined with the arrival of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent, have made Kashmir EVERYBODY's problem--and New Delhi can't keep the world out for much longer.

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And anyway, why should it want to? Ten years of gunfire and funerals in Kashmir haven't produced any kind of peace. Direct Indo-Pakistani negotiations in the past have collapsed over the 53-year-old dispute--as, inevitably, will any such dialogue in the future. There will never be any agreement on who is to blame for the frequent breakdowns in talks. But surely both governments can agree on this: they owe it to their citizens and soldiers to break this deadlock.

The writing on the wall could hardly be clearer: since Delhi and Islamabad can't sort out this mess on their own, they must turn to a third party to broker a lasting peace. The mediator must be neutral, trusted by both sides and able to guarantee any resulting accord by stationing a peacekeeping force in Kashmir for several years. Last week, I explained why the United States can't play that role. But Washington can--should--nudge Delhi and Islamabad toward a more suitable candidate.

Who might that be? Not the United Nations: that politicized, bureaucratized body has a sorry record as a peacemaker. Norway seems keen to mediate Sri Lanka's civil war (and let's doff our hats to Oslo for volunteering to take on that daunting task), but the Scandinavian nation doesn't have the economic, political and military clout to make India and Pakistan sit up and listen. Nelson Mandela might have the moral force, but he has his plate full with African disputes.

Perhaps a mediator might be found closer to the scene of the attrition, in Asia. China? No, India wouldn't trust Pakistan's old ally. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations? No, ASEAN has no credibility as a peace broker: if it couldn't mediate problems in its own backyard--think East Timor--what chance would it have in Kashmir? Some months ago, I suggested Saudi Arabia might be a candidate; on reflection, it seems unlikely that a Hindu-nationalist government in Delhi will put its faith is an Islamic state. Scratch Australia for the same reasons as Norway.

See where this is leading? To Tokyo.

Next week: why Japan might be the perfect peacemaker for South Asia. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts on the subject. Click where it says "Talk back to TIME" and let's get a discussion going.

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