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South Asia Earthquake's Political Ramifications

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Saturday's earthquake struck hardest a short distance away from Andrew North in Kashmir. It wrecked a region that India and Pakistan have battled over for decades. To learn more, we've called Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution here in Washington.

Good morning.

Mr. STEPHEN COHEN (The Brookings Institution): Good morning.

INSKEEP: So how will a disaster like this affect relations between India and Pakistan?

Mr. COHEN: Well, it could have significant impact because, as you said, the quake hit exactly in an area that's very contested. It's administered by India on one side and Pakistan on the other. And early news reports indicate that certainly both Indian and Pakistani politicians are concerned about putting on a good show and getting up there and demonstrating that they're active. But it also may have affected some of the Pakistani-based terrorist groups that have--militant terrorist groups that have operated in Indian-administered Kashmir. And it has also, in fact, taken down the Peace Bridge that the peace bus went over between two parts of Kashmir. So it could have considerable political impact, especially if the Kashmiris themselves feel they've been neglected by the Indians and the Pakistanis.

INSKEEP: So the link between the two parts of Kashmir is physically broken, at least for the moment?

Mr. COHEN: Well, the bus link. You can get around--apparently the bridge, according to press reports--the bridge is down but you can certainly get around it and ford across the river.

INSKEEP: Now the United States is reaching out with some aid here. We'll hear more about that in a second. Is this in some ways an opportunity for the United States to improve relations in this part of the world, the same way the Asian tsunami turned out to be an opportunity for the US?

Mr. COHEN: I think so. The trouble is our forces and our resources are stretched because of Iraq and Afghanistan. We may have to divert some helicopters and some other equipment to Pakistan. They've already announced that eight helicopters are heading towards Pakistan. The US Embassy has announced $100,000 in aid immediately, but I'm sure it will be a much larger contribution from the United States.

INSKEEP: Mr. Cohen, thanks very much.

Mr. COHEN: Thank you. Bye.

INSKEEP: Stephen Cohen is a senior fellow in foreign policy at The Brookings Institution. He's at his home in Washington, DC. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.