Pakistan's decision to match India and test five nuclear weapons of its own yesterday makes the world a more dangerous place. Now it is up to world leaders, including the cooler heads in Islamabad and Delhi, to make it safer again.
Pakistani national pride, and a sense that its security could only be assured through military strength, outweighed pleas and threats from other nations. President Clinton reportedly made four impassioned telephone calls to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, including one only hours before the test, offering various carrots and sticks if Pakistan would refrain from a nuclear test.
As economic sanctions against both countries kick in - and more billions of their budgets are diverted to military buildup - hundreds of millions of people, already living in desperate poverty, are now in line to suffer more, without a nuclear weapon ever being used in war.
The dynamic between India and Pakistan is far different from the cold-war standoff between the United States and Soviet Union, where the apt acronym MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) reigned, making a nuclear first-strike nearly unthinkable.
India and Pakistan have an acrimonious history of wars and religious hatreds, and a long (and disputed) border. Their proximity means a hair-trigger decision to use nuclear weapons might have to be made in a handful of minutes. The temptation could be to strike first and try to destroy the other's nuclear stockpile, gaining an overwhelming advantage.
Lulled to sleep by the end of the cold war, the world is waking to see that nuclear arms haven't vanished. The US will jawbone both capitals to renounce further tests and sign the test-ban treaty. But more than ever, Indians and Pakistanis must talk with each other. Closer, more frequent contacts - between business people, academics, and religious leaders as well as politicians - are urgently needed.