June 1999 News

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Camp David for Kashmir, writes Benazir

8 June 1999
The New York Times

As tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir once again boil over, world security is threatened by the very real possibility that war will break out between two politically unstable nuclear powers. This week, air strikes by Indian helicopter gunships and MIG jet fighters further increased the chance that Kashmir could spark yet another, and far more dangerous, confrontation.

For years, foreign policy analysts had been predicting that the Serbs would move against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, and for years the world did little to prevent it. Like Kosovo, the possibility of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan is predictable, dangerous, but clearly preventable. It is time for the world, and especially the United States, to turn its diplomacy to crisis prevention.

As the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, I observe events in Kashmir with keen interest. Indeed, one of my principal regrets is that my policies actually fed the tensions. Then, I believed that holding Indian Pakistani relations hostage to the single issue of Kashmir would highlight the cause of the Kashmiri people. That policy certainly did not advance the cause of peace in South Asia.

Recently, I met with Shimon Peres, the former Foreign Minister of Israel, at the University of California at Berkeley and realized that the process of reconciliation now going on in the Middle East particularly between Egypt and Israel, and Jordan and Israel may provide a replicable model for conflict resolution between India and Pakistan.

The Camp David peace accords postponed the hardest, most delicate negotiations on the most sensitive issues until the very end of the process and did not try to tackle seemingly intractable issues at the beginning. For 50 years we in Pakistan thought Kashmir had to be resolved before any normalization could occur between the two great powers on the subcontinent. That approach may have been self defeating.

In the developing peace between Israel and Jordan, genuine confidence was built with deliberate, incremental advances, and they quickly triggered extraordinary and rapid progress.

Following these models suggests that the two sections of Kashmir should have open and porous borders. Both sections would be demilitarized and patrolled by either an international peacekeeping force or a joint Indian Pakistani peacekeeping force.

Both legislative councils would continue to meet separately and on occasion jointly. The people on both sides of divided Kashmir could meet and interact freely and informally. None of these steps would prejudice or prejudge the position of both countries on the disputed areas.

Simultaneously, the borders between Pakistan and its South Asian neighbors, including India, would be opened for unrestricted trade, cultural cooperation and exchange. Tariffs and quotas between the nations would be eliminated. Educational and technological exchanges on the secondary and university levels would be initiated on a broad scale. Discussions would commence on the creation of a South Asian Free Market Zone, which would expand unrestricted and untaxed trade to include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives a free market zone modeled after the European Community andthe North American Free Trade Agreement.

Only after all of these confidence building mechanisms were in place,and only after a significant set period of time (Camp David called for a five year transition), would the parties commence discussions on a formal and final resolution to the Kashmir problem, based on the wishes of its people and the security concerns of both India and Pakistan. It would be our hope that, as with Jordan and Israel, after a period of open borders and open trade there would follow a period of open hearts and open minds.

Kosovo warns us that the world should try to put out a potentially dangerous fire before it explodes. We cannot afford to allow a South Asian armageddon to take place. India and Pakistan, like Jordan and Israel, must discover that they have more in common than in divergence and that mutual trust and cooperation will avoid war and build a peace that makes both parties more secure and prosperous.

The clock is ticking. The time to act is now.

Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, is leader of thePakistan People's Party.

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