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Interview with Teresita Schaffer - 2002-06-06

The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has escalated in recent weeks to the point of possible war. It’s a conflict that many fear could involve those countries’ nuclear weapons. VOA-TV’s Chris Simkins spoke with Teresita Schaffer, a noted South Asia analyst and former American diplomat. She is now with Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. He asked Ambassador Schaeffer how the two nuclear rivals got to this point.

Well, of course there is a long history to it, but this immediate crisis I think grows out of a couple of things. In September of course, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the U.S. re-engaged with Pakistan in a big way, while continuing a major effort to improve relations with India. After the major military operations in Afghanistan wound down, there was an attack on the Indian Parliament in December, an attack that the Indians blamed, and I think correctly blamed, on militants operating in Kashmir. And this was kind of a break point for India.

I think they probably recognize that Pakistan had not called that shot, but the group that did, the group that carried it out, had had pretty much the free run of the place in Pakistan. And consequently India said essentially: That does it. Unless the Pakistanis are prepared to totally crack down on the militants operating in Pakistan and to stop their support for the insurgency in Kashmir -- and I'm talking about particularly the military support -- then we're going to have to take action -- unspecified.

And the present crisis really grows out of that.

Ambassador Schaffer, can increased international diplomatic pressure ease tensions between India and Pakistan?

I think it can. And I think you're starting to see a few signs that maybe things are beginning to cool down a bit. There is some reduction in the stridency of the statements coming out of senior Indian officials and there are suggestions being made in the press, quoting unnamed Defense Ministry sources, about what exactly India is going to be looking for as it assesses whether Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is in fact carrying out the promise that he made in very clear and explicit terms last week that there was no infiltration taking place.

What are the chances India and Pakistan might go to war this time?

If infiltration does in fact stop and if the next step is the beginning of some kind of peace process, I think we will be able to avert the risk of war. But, in general, what you have to worry about at this point is particularly the actions of some group of militants that may not be controlled by Pakistan. There are people already in Kashmir, there are people already in other parts of India, who have no particular interest in keeping the peace and who may be only too happy to embarrass both the Indians and the Pakistanis. And this is the kind of group that could spark another serious incident, and lead India to conclude that it has no choice but to take some kind of military action. And that could start an escalation process.

If an escalation process starts, then the country you have to worry about is Pakistan. Because Pakistan has its nuclear weapons for one purpose, and that is to counterbalance India's larger size. So that if the Pakistanis conclude that their country is in mortal danger, that is when they would start asking the question: Is this the moment for our nuclear weapons?

Of course, we hope that moment won't come. I don't think that you're likely to see the leadership in either India or Pakistan taking excessively hasty action. But the important thing to remember about the nuclear danger in South Asia is uncertainty. We don't know exactly where the red lines are. In fact, India and Pakistan probably don't know that until they're in that situation. And that's why the world has reacted so strongly, because it's important to reduce to as close as possible to zero the risk that we will see any part of this scenario that I've just spelled out.

Is the issue of Kashmir going to continue to be around for many more decades to come?

Well, we're certainly going to be dealing with it for a few years to come. Because the best outcome of the present situation would be that after the immediate crisis eases, some kind of peace process is set up -- probably an extended dialogue between India and Pakistan, and then, in parallel, between the governments of Pakistan and India and the parts of Kashmir that each of them controls.

But that's going to take a while. If you look at peace processes around the world, Israel and the Palestinians, Northern Ireland, South Africa, wherever you look, the peace process is long, it is slow, and it is often interrupted. And I think that that is what you would be looking at in this best-case scenario.