Kashmir Puts Pakistan Leader in Tight Squeeze

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Pakistan's Kashmir adventure may cost its government a lot more than a loss of face –- it may hasten a Western rethink of Pakistan's value as an ally. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finds himself caught between the international community’s demand that he end the Pakistan-backed guerrilla incursion into Indian territory, and the determination of his countrymen –- and military –- to fight on against their traditional enemy. Nawaz drew fire from religious, political and military leaders Monday after returning empty-handed from an emergency July 4 meeting with President Clinton. In Washington, Nawaz had promised to withdraw Pakistani-backed infiltrators from Indian territory after Washington had earlier threatened to cut off financial aid to the impoverished country. "Pakistan was clearly at fault here, but there may also be a significant shift under way in U.S. strategic thinking," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "Pakistan was a key U.S. ally in the Cold War, but there’s a growing fear that it’s out of control. And in the long run, India’s size and technological abilities make it a far more important regional power, with which Washington needs to strengthen its relationship."

Urged by his key allies –- Washington and Beijing –- to end the Kashmir incursion, Nawaz is a lonely man facing a tough choice. He can’t do without financial aid from the West or military assistance from China, but Nawaz may find it difficult to carry out the promised withdrawal under mounting pressure from Islamic fundamentalist parties and a military establishment that dominates Pakistan’s political life. For the military, maintaining a state of confrontation with India validates its central role in Pakistani society, while for the fundamentalists "liberating" predominantly Muslim Kashmir from Hindu Indian rule is a jihad. Amid rampant poverty and a rising tide of fundamentalism, the Kashmir crisis threatens to rattle Pakistan’s fragile stability –- think Afghanistan with nuclear weapons.