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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. May Arbitrate in Kashmir

WASHINGTON -- Kashmir has been a South Asian quagmire that the United States has avoided for decades. But the Afghanistan conflict makes it increasingly likely Washington will be drawn into fresh peacemaking with nuclear rivals India and Pakistan over the region, experts and U.S. officials say.

"Unless some outside force, whether the United States or another country, plays some role -- not as a mediator certainly, not as an arbitrator ... but as a facilitator -- in a quiet way, you won't get any effective movement towards the management of the Kashmir issue, let alone its resolution," said Howard Schaffer of Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

In the past two years, and especially since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Washington's relations with India and Pakistan have improved dramatically, creating what experts believe new opportunities, even as regional tensions mount.

Since Sept. 11, Pakistan has become a front-line ally for the United States.

India, which shares a border with Pakistan but not with Afghanistan, was even quicker to offer support, including intelligence sharing for the U.S. anti-terror campaign.

Before taking office last January, George W. Bush made clear his desire to forge improved ties with India.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Washington followed through on plans to lift sanctions on India and Pakistan related to nuclear tests conducted in May 1998.

Also, it rushed to provide economically weak Pakistan with billions of dollars in new aid in an effort to prop up both the country and its president, General Pervez Musharraf.

Kashmir has long been one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints, a focus of two Indo-Pakistan wars that could provoke another conflict and escalate into a nuclear exchange.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Washington tried to be a regional peacemaker, offering inducements to try to resolve the problem, but has made no comparable efforts since, according to Stephen Cohen's new book, "India Rising."

Kashmir has taken on new significance in the current climate, since India accuses Pakistan of backing Islamic militants, allied with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, who have been fighting Indian troops in Kashmir.

Traditionally, India has rejected outside mediation in Kashmir, while Pakistan has encouraged a U.S. and international role. Now, officials and experts believe India may be willing to accommodate a U.S. role as long as it is not called anything formal like "mediation" and as long as it occurs discreetly.

Publicly, U.S. officials have urged India and Pakistan to halt the fighting in Kashmir and to resume a dialogue that has been frozen since last July.

When Bush next month meets Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Washington and Musharraf in New York, he is expected to reinforce this message, as well as underscore that revived ties with Pakistan do not mean the United States is abandoning an incipient strategic relationship with India.

U.S. officials have said they have no blueprint for Kashmir and have no intention of micromanaging the province, believing it is up to the people of Kashmir to find a solution.

But a senior U.S. official acknowledged "this is a serious dispute that could lead to all sorts of escalation" and the United States is "prepared to be helpful" if the two sides want that.