When looking at a situation loaded with the high risks of the latest India-Pakistan face-off on Kashmir - a million soldiers on the border, both countries clutching nuclear weapons - Americans must retain enough innate humility not to say too quickly that it's over, nor to break our arms patting ourselves on the back for successful diplomacy.
All the same, it does look now as if India and Pakistan are standing down, and that active U.S. engagement played an important role in defusing what was a very dangerous crisis.
Positive signs include Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's stated commitment to stop Kashmiri dissident infiltration across the border, India's removal of its prohibition on Pakistani civilian aircraft overflights of India, an Indian drawdown of its warships in the northern Arabian Sea, and the restoration of envoys to the respective capitals.
The United States moved sharply off the mark in response to the mounting crisis between India and Pakistan. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld traveled to the region back to back, showing attention to the problems of the two countries, buying time for cooler heads to prevail, and making clear a strong American interest in a peaceful resolution of the crisis. In the meantime, the monsoon season approaches at the end of the month, giving both India and Pakistan a good reason not to launch a military campaign.
The nature of increased U.S. involvement, apart from the time and attention of our leaders, is both immediate and long-term. American assets are involved in the Indians' continuing assurance that the Pakistanis are respecting their non-infiltration promise. One question in the package is whether there is a role for American, British, or other international forces in monitoring the Line of Control between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. So far, the Pakistanis favor such an international presence; the Indians maintain it is neither necessary nor desirable.
In terms of overall U.S. overseas deployment, the increased risks inherent in putting our forces in such a political hot zone, and because it is usually preferable that problems be settled directly between the countries concerned, the United States should not rush to deploy forces between the two parts of Kashmir.
After Sept. 11, the United States had no choice but to become more involved in developments in South Asia. This means an expanded military training and supply relationship with both India and Pakistan. It also means that America may have to help find a long-term solution to the 55-year-old Kashmir problem - rather than simply wait until a simmering conflict heats up and nearly blows again.