India and Pakistan: Let's Talk for a Change

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The accords are hardly specific. But the latest agreements between India and Pakistan should not be dismissed lightly, either. Over the weekend at a historic summit meeting in Pakistan, the leaders of the two countries agreed to keep talking about many of the issues that separate them -- including control of Kashmir -- and to take confidence-building measures aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear war between the two countries. "What an unexpected change of course!" says TIME Washington deputy bureau chief Jef McAllister.

Only last May, the subcontinent's bitterest adversaries seemed poised on the brink of catastrophe as both detonated atomic devices and became the latest and most aggressive members of the nuclear club. "Even a month ago, no one could have foreseen such spectacular progress," says McAllister. For months, however, the United States has been quietly pressing the two countries to open up to each other a bit, and that diplomacy, combined with the sobering possibility of nuclear disaster, may have impressed the two traditional enemies to reassess how they deal with each other. "The biggest fear on the subcontinent," says McAllister, "has always been the hair-trigger nature of the enmity between India and Pakistan: The smallest slight always held the potential to escalate into all-out war." Now, he says, the two countries seem to have "loosened the rope of their relationship a bit"---and thus given themselves, and the rest of the world, more time to think before reacting to unexpected events.