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Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf finds himself under increasing international pressure, especially from the United States, to stop the proxy war in Kashmir, a state that both Pakistan and India claim. Pervez is being told, not asked, to stop cross-border infiltration and terrorism in India.

Thousands of people, mostly innocent citizens, have perished in this warfare, which has lasted for more than 12 years.

Although Pervez earned Washington’s gratitude when he helped President George W. Bush throw out the notorious Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the U.S. is now unhappy with his failure to reign in Islamic militants, who are trying to push New Delhi out of Kashmir.

What is making the world equally unhappy is the military standoff between India and Pakistan, whose nuclear capabilities could cause a conflagration.

Musharraf has not made things easier: His threat to use atomic weapons against India even in the event of a conventional war came as a terrifying alarm to a global society that has not forgotten the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is therefore not surprising that Bush himself has issued stern warnings to Musharraf, and is also sending U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to India and Pakistan to try and defuse the tension in the region.

In addition to the horrific threat of nuclear war, the U.S. has other causes for concern. First, Pakistani soldiers are being redeployed from the western border with Afghanistan, where they were helping the U.S. hunt for remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaeda, to the Indian frontier. Second, if an Indo-Pakistani war breaks out, there could be American casualties, and public opinion in the U.S. will not tolerate “body bags” coming home.

The situation is so precarious that both war and peace come with unpleasant strings attached. An armed conflict would wreck the environment, and possibly destroy Pakistan and India. But the kind of peace that now rules the region will not stick; rather, it will continue to add to the festering grievances that both Islamabad and New Delhi nurse.

Musharraf has done little to soothe India’s wounded psyche. He promised for the second time since January that Pakistan would not export terrorism to India, but in a manner so belligerent that he seemed to be daring New Delhi rather than placating it. To prove its point, Pakistan test-fired three missiles. India called the speech disappointing and the action dangerous.

Bush then urged Musharraf to carry out his pledge, and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee maintained that he would pull his troops from the borders if Islamabad matched its words with deeds. New Delhi then went a step further: it said that it would also open talks on Kashmir.

But there are serious doubts about Musharraf’s ability — or inclination, according to some — to keep his promise. The general told The Washington Post that “hundreds of thousands of people are itching to fight India on its side of Kashmir . . . India’s mistrust of Pakistan is fully reciprocated . . . India wants to crush the Kashmir resistance and to destabilize Pakistan.”

But are these the only reasons? Certainly not. Musharraf, like his predecessors, does not want to really dismantle the rebel groups, a process he feels will result in his country’s disarmament. Thus he may be willing to put these groups in cold storage, but not to destroy them.

Adding to his discomfort is India’s decision to go ahead with local elections in Kashmir. A win by pro-India political parties would mean an endorsement of New Delhi’s rule over the disputed territory. Musharraf would then look like the dictator who lost Kashmir.

Musharraf admittedly has strong support in urban pockets, particularly because of the way he pulled Pakistan out of virtual economic ruin by aligning it with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism. But there is a large, silent group of extremists who regard him as an American stooge. They will brand him an Indian lackey if he chokes off the militancy in Kashmir. Worse, even many members of his army share this view. There are also indications that Musharraf himself is not 100 percent willing to forget Kashmir.

Neither is India, and it now remains to be seen if the global powers can lead these two nuclear nations away from disaster.

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