Reports of shelling, incursions, and deaths in Kashmir indicate that conflict ibetween India and Pakistan is once again heating up. No one can think that another episode is a small matter, or, frankly, that it is necessary between two nations that wish the world would see them as modern, developing rapidly, and worthy of confidence and investment.
The scrap between them has been going on since 1947, when, at the end of the British Raj in India, the subcontinent was being divided between India and Pakistan. The current skirmishes between the two include what India claims are raids into Indian-administered parts of Kashmir originated by Pakistan-backed guerrillas, followed by what India calls retaliatory surgical strikes into Pakistan-administered parts of Kashmir.
One reason for these countries to avoid military hostilities is that both have large armies and nuclear weapons. Another is that both live in an explosive neighborhood that includes Afghanistan. A third is that the governmental situation in both countries is such as to suggest that they should talk, without their fingers on the nuclear or any other trigger.
The Indian government is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose political party can be described as Hindu nationalist. The Pakistani government is, of course, Muslim, headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is going through one of its not-infrequent teeterings between relatively stable civilian rule and the threat of yet another military coup detat. Although both Indian and Pakistani governments have managed not to blow up the world for years, in spite of having nuclear weapons, conflict between them is on the list of global nightmare scenarios.
If Indian and Pakistani leaders could resist playing the Kashmir card in their own politicizing, there is plenty for each to do on the domestic front. Mr. Modi needs to work on Indian infrastructure, particularly modernizing the countrys railways, which just endured another lethal accident. The air pollution in Delhi, the sprawling city that includes the capital, is among the worlds worst, especially in winter. In Pakistan, Mr. Sharif should attack corruption and tribalism, and seek to disentangle Pakistans armed forces from the continuing war in neighboring Afghanistan. The double game that Pakistan has played for years, giving quiet support and sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban while denouncing terrorism and helping to fight al-Qaeda, has been factored into U.S. policy, but it cannot help relations with India.
What are needed are serious, high-level talks to which both leaders are visibly dedicated. They are both up to it. It is obvious that the Kashmir issue is not subject to easy resolution. But, for both countries, it is a major, dangerous distraction from the serious business of nation-building, and it has gone on far too long. They need to apply themselves to this problem.
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