Pakistan's Kashmir Caper May Prove Costly

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And why shouldnít Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif claim victory in Kashmir? After all, Slobodan Milosevic called his ignominious exit from Kosovo a victory, too. And, sorry Mr. Sharif, but it looks like you'll have as hard a time as the Serb leader in convincing your electorate that they have anything to celebrate in the withdrawal of their forces from the Indian side of Kashmir agreed to by Pakistan on Sunday. Pakistanís prime objective in occupying strategic peaks in Indian territory, says Nawaz, was to "internationalize" its claim on the disputed territory. It was also a way for Nawaz to shore up support for his fragile government among the hard-line military and even the Islamic fundamentalist opposition. While fear of a showdown between two nuclear-armed states certainly internationalized the conflict, it may have done so on terms favorable to India: Even such long-term Pakistan allies as the U.S. and China urged Pakistan to withdraw, and the almost universal perception of Pakistan as the aggressor has actually strengthened Indiaís diplomatic standing. And while the incursion may have initially swung military hawks and religious fundamentalists behind the government, agreeing to end it without any tangible gain seems very likely to have the opposite effect.

Over in New Delhi, of course, thereís plenty of reason to celebrate. Indiaís diplomatic victory was palpable, and even though it lost hundreds of men in the process, its military campaign to eject the intruders also looked set to succeed if diplomacy failed. So where once it looked like a sticky wicket for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Pakistanís Kashmir adventure may yet turn out to have been just the tonic for his embattled government as he faces Sonia Gandhi in Septemberís election.