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S U B C O N T I N E N T A L   D R I F T
Calling Tokyo
Why Japan should be Kashmir's peacemaker

March 2, 2000
Web posted at 11 a.m. Hong Kong time, 10 p.m. EST

Last week, I argued that since India and Pakistan are clearly unable to sort out the Kashmir problem, they need the services of a mediator. I left off with the suggestion that Japan would be perfect for the job. Since then, our bulletin board has been abuzz with comments from readers on both sides of the South Asian divide. Some maintain that no mediation is required; others wondered why I picked Japan. Here's my reasoning:

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• On South Asian matters, Japan is as neutral as any country can get. Neither India nor Pakistan can accuse it of favoring the other side. That, as I pointed out last week, can't be said for the other world powers.

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• Japan IS a world power. Delhi and Islamabad might ignore peace proposals from a Norway, say, but they could hardly snub Tokyo. Japan can offer both countries economic incentives--such as aid and investment--to start talking. True, India and Pakistan were able to shrug off the cessation of Japanese aid after their tit-for-tat nuclear testing last year, but that's because there wasn't a great deal of money to lose. Tokyo could up the ante, forcing both countries to pay attention.

• South Asia is now a nuclear zone, and Japan is the only major country with the moral right to lecture India and Pakistan about the folly of their arms race. Who knows better than the Japanese how dangerous that game can be?

• More than most other countries, Japan is proof of the economic rewards of peace. In 1947, when India and Pakistan became independent, Japan was still clearing the debris of a war-ravaged economy. Today, even allowing for its recent slump, the country is an economic giant. To a substantial extent, this transformation was possible because Japan, unlike India and Pakistan, didn't waste energy and resources on its military. Tokyo's presence at the negotiating table should serve as a constant reminder to Delhi and Islamabad of what they stand to gain from solving the Kashmir problem.

Some readers have pointed out that Japan's aggressively peaceful constitution means it cannot put troops in Kashmir to guarantee any negotiated settlement. But I don't see that as a problem: the United Nations can provide the soldiers. The U.N. is not great at peacemaking, but it does have a lot of experience in peacekeeping.

Other readers asked why the Japanese would want to get involved in a South Asian squabble. I believe they can be persuaded, perhaps with some nudging by Washington. For years, Tokyo has yearned for a political role in world affairs to compliment its economic clout. That constitution has prevented it from participating in multinational ventures like the Gulf War and Kosovo. In Kashmir, Japan has the opportunity to play big brother. How can Tokyo resist?

P.S.: It's been a wild week on our bulletin board. Keep your comments coming, folks. Delhi and Islamabad might not be willing to talk to each other, but you certainly can. Let's see if we can do without the name-calling--and if we can limit ourselves to exploring new ideas rather than going over old ground. Click where it says "Talk back to TIME."

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