Leading Article: The subcontinent needs EU mediation

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The Independent Culture
THE SHOOTING down of a Pakistani naval aircraft by an Indian MiG- 21 on Tuesday provides further proof, if proof were needed, that relations between the world's most recently declared nuclear powers are at their lowest ebb in decades. As recently as February, the Indian Prime Minister travelled to the Pakistani city of Lahore in a historic bus journey which suggested the subcontinental rivals had finally realised that co-operation might serve them better than a continuation of 50 years of bitter hostility. Within weeks, however, the two countries were on the brink of war over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. That particular crisis was defused, thanks in part to American pressure on Pakistan. But respite was brief. The latest incident, over contested swampland adjoining the Arabian Sea, shows that tensions are running as high as ever. But what the world can do to reduce them, beyond routine pleas for good sense and calm, is quite another matter - as Robin Cook will testify.

Two years ago, when travelling with the Queen, the Foreign Secretary suggested that, if both sides were willing, Britain was prepared to mediate in search of a solution to the Kashmir problem. But this innocuous and well-meant, albeit naive, remark unleashed enough fury in India to wreck the royal tour. Into the poisonous brew of Kashmir outsiders dip their toe at their peril.

But it may yet be worth a try. In both countries nationalists are in the ascendant, and India's belligerence this week may not be unconnected with this autumn's election. Afterwards, however, Delhi might just be ready to listen to an outsider. And who might that be? Obviously not Britain, the former colonial power. Nor Russia, traditionally a friend of India. The US, historically sympathetic to Pakistan but now mending its ties with Delhi, is one candidate. But another is the European Union, an important economic partner of both countries, but one which carries little historical baggage in the subcontinent. The chances of success are slim - but, equally, there is little to lose. And if the EU is serious about raising its foreign affairs profile, the face-off between India and Pakistan is as good a place to start as any.