In the world viewed through America's lens, "Af-Pak," the catch-phrase of the moment in Washington foreign policy circles, makes a good deal of sense. With 17,000 more American troops en route to Afghanistan, and with the Taliban operating largely beyond their reach in the Pakistani tribal lands, the need to deal with both problems in tandem has become conventional wisdom.
Yet focusing solely on what goes in Afghanistan and the largely ungoverned lands south of its border misses a larger, even more difficult reality. After seven years of virtual stalemate in Afghanistan, and with Pakistan looking shaky at best, other, larger powers in the region are placing their bets --and not necessarily on America and its NATO allies. Russia, Iran, China, and India all have vital interests at stake, and all have moved in different ways to hedge their bets.
Nowhere is this more true than in the long-running territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. According to new revelations from Steve Coll, an American journalist and author, concerns about the direction of the India-Pakistan nuclear rivalry over Kashmir so unnerved both sides that these sworn enemies launched a secret peace process that very nearly took the issue off the table in 2007.
Coll, president of the New America Foundation, revealed in the New Yorker magazine last week that the two sides came so close to agreement that, in the words of one senior Indian official involved, "we'd come to semicolons."