WITH THE exchanges of heavy artillery fire in Kashmir during the past week, India and Pakistan have come a little closer to war. This dangerous dispute is getting less attention than it deserves in a world preoccupied by the invasion of Kuwait. But in Kashmir as well a war would threaten immense loss of life, not least because both India and Pakistan have, or are very close to having, nuclear weapons. As the resort to artillery suggests, this intractable quarrel is moving in the wrong direction.
By an unhappy coincidence, both India and Pakistan are under weak governments and are drifting. Pakistan's elected prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, was recently forced out of office with the obvious connivance of the military, and the country is under a caretaker pending the elections promised for October. India's prime minister, V. P. Singh, presides over a minority government greatly hampered by internal dissension. In Kashmir he is confronted with an entrenched and violent Moslem separatist movement vigorously supported by Moslems in Pakistan. Campaigning for office last autumn, Mr. Singh promised a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir insurgency. Having had little success, he is increasingly resorting to force. Casualties are running high. One result, predictably, has been to inflame relations between the two countries. The artillery fire across the border is the beginning of the next election campaign in both of them.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world gives this incipient catastrophe little notice. It's not only the distraction of the Persian Gulf. India has firmly closed Kashmir to the press. That means no pictures and no film. Written reporting, however accurate, has the muted quality of second-hand accounts. As the world now works, that suffices to drop Kashmir far down on the list of international concerns.
Iran and Iraq similarly succeeded in closing from foreign view most of the eight years of war between them. Outsiders knew roughly where the battles were being fought and understood that the casualties were horrifying. But the war never made much of an impression on anyone outside the region other than a few specialists, although toward the end it was being fought with weapons like gas and missiles. That's one of the reasons why outsiders made little effort to choke off the fighting. Now Iraq has turned its weapons in another direction, and the scale of the menace has become more apparent. Not all wars can be prevented. But in view of the nature of modern weapons the world is unwise to ignore quasi-wars like the one in Kashmir.