ISLAMABAD — “If Indian troops moved a single step across the international border, or Line of Control, they should not expect a conventional war from Pakistan.” These remarks by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf were a chilling reminder of the threat to peace posed by volatile Indo-Pakistani ties.

Pakistani officials were quick to say that Musharraf was not implying that nuclear weapons might be used. But opponents of proliferation infer such a possibility from any reference to nonconventional war.

As the effects of such a conflict would be felt far beyond the subcontinent, the international community has a vital interest in nudging the two sides toward more stable relations. To this end, it can take steps in several areas.

First, the unresolved conflict over the Himalayan state of Kashmir continues to keep Indo-Pakistani ties on a boil, preventing even the slightest improvement in bilateral relations.

Substantial outside pressure could move the two sides to seek a solution to the dispute. The international community may have reason to be pessimistic given the bloody history of the 55-year-old dispute, but the resolution of such territorial problems is not unprecedented.

Second, the region’s balance of power is cause for concern. Pakistan’s conventional military strength declined in the 1990s following the imposition of U.S. sanctions triggered by Islamabad’s nuclear-related activities. Ultimately, Pakistan’s conventional strength will determine whether Islamabad increases its reliance on its nuclear arsenal. Although many critics may frown upon the idea of selling arms to Islamabad, such an approach must be pursued with the intention of weaning the country away from excessive reliance on nuclear weapons.

Finally, India and Pakistan have little to share other than a legacy of tense relations punctuated by conflict. To bring stability to the region, the two countries must build ties, particularly in the realm of economics. Recent efforts by Iranian officials to renew a plan to build a gas pipeline that would run from Iran to India via Pakistan is a powerful reminder of the vast potential of Indo-Pakistani economic relations.

Although both countries would greatly benefit from cooperative relations, the region will remain insecure as long as hardliners on both sides retain a powerful voice in decision-making. Musharraf’s remarks highlight how high a priority Indo-Pakistani relations must remain for the international community.

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