ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan is hoping to turn the crisis over the South Asian nuclear tests into Western, and particularly U.S. pressure to wrest the disputed territory of Kashmir from Indian control, government officials and foreign diplomats say.
"We feel, after all, Kashmir is the core issue," Information Minister Mushahid Hussain said on Tuesday night, acknowledging the government intentions. "Otherwise it would be like staging 'Hamlet' without the Prince of Denmark. It is Kashmir that has been the cause of war."
It is an open secret here that the Afghan Mujahideen, veterans of the struggle that drove out the Soviets, have been operating in Kashmir under the auspices of Pakistan's shadowy Inter-Service Intelligence. The agency, which operates outside the military chain of command, gained enormous power in the 1980s as the conduit for channeling hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid and weapons to the Afghan rebels.
To Indians and Pakistanis, Kashmir is an issue as symbolic, passionate and intractable as Jerusalem is to Israelis and Palestinians. And it is Kashmir -- and not the dueling nuclear tests -- that has become the leitmotif of Pakistani statements.
The Pakistani government has begun a campaign, sending envoys abroad and arranging officials' appearances on U.S.television, to turn the furor over the tests to its advantage in the struggle for the contested mountains and valleys.
Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan of Pakistan framed the position when he said on Sunday on a talk show on CNN that "America can play a leading role" by bringing "Pakistan and India to the table to solve the Kashmir dispute, from which everything is now stemming."
On Tuesday, for a third day, neither country issued bellicose statements about the other, suggesting that both are trying to ease their way back from the brink.
But their different approaches to restoring calm pointed up how intractable the issues are and how difficult any solution will be.
The Indian overtures do not mention Kashmir. Instead, an Indian communique on Sunday focused on an offer of a "no-first-strike pact" between the two countries.
But for the Pakistanis the ability to launch a nuclear weapon is viewed as a vital deterrent, because the military -- half the size of India's and with increasingly worn and obsolete equipment -- would be quite unlikely to last more than a week, some experts said, in a conventional war.
Indian troops control two-thirds of the largely Muslim Kashmir and say they are there to suppress Islamic insurrectionaries whom Pakistan covertly backs. In 1994 the Indian Parliament by a unanimous vote asserted that New Delhi's goal was to extend its rule to all of what it called "Pakistan-occupied Kashmir."
With independence in 1947, the 664 princely states that made up British India were given the choice of which country they wanted to join, Hindu-dominated India or Muslim Pakistan. Nearly all the people of Kashmir were Muslim, but its Maharaja was Hindu. When Pathan tribesmen challenged his rule, he appealed for help to India, which sent in forces that still occupy a large part of the province.
Since 1988, Kashmiris, Pathans and others who are fighting under Islamic banners have stepped up the war in Kashmir, leaving 300,000 dead. With the victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the Indian election last year, the tensions have sharpened on both sides. The new government put Kashmir under the Interior Ministry, meaning not only that it had the status of a regular province, but that it was also under the administration of Interior Minister L.K. Advani, a Hindu hard-liner.
After the Indian nuclear tests on May 11 and 13, Advani increased jitters by announcing a "pro-active policy" on the insurgents, widely interpreted as meaning hot pursuit of rebels into Pakistani territory. Another Hindu hard-liner, Tourism Minister Madan Lal Khurma, said India was ready for a fourth war.
Stephen Cohen, an expert on Pakistan at the University of Illinois, suggested that there was a "deeper conflict between the two states, a conflict that is in part an ideological or theological one."
"So even if Kashmir was resolved," Cohen said, "there would still be conflict. But Kashmir is the greatest symbol. It still revolves around Kashmir."
Indeed, in the same breath that Pakistani officials say that their nuclear tests were necessary to match and deter India's, they link the arms race to Kashmir
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