Not surprisingly, Pakistan answered India's nuclear tests with five of its own Thursday. And, not surprisingly, the United States decried the action and prepared to retaliate with sanctions.
Just as President Clinton was right when he imposed tough sanctions - mandatory under U.S. law - on India following that country's five underground nuclear blasts earlier this month, he's also right to do the same with Pakistan.The United States cut off all nonhumanitarian aid to India after the nuclear tests and is also trying to stop all lending to India by international financial agencies. Pakistan will face identical sanctions.
While it's understandable that Pakistan wanted to flex its muscles to show India that it too could play the nuclear stare down game, it's also true, as Clinton stated, that "Two wrongs don't make a right."
Clinton tried without success, including a late night phone call just before the tests, to persuade Pakistan not to follow India's lead in escalating the nuclear arms race.
Pakistan, like India, must now suffer the consequences of its actions. As correctly noted by Clinton, by failing to exercise restraint, Pakistan lost an opportunity to improve its political standing in the eyes of the world.
Both Pakistan and India - now that they've matched each other in the nuclear testing arena - need to shift their focus away from the arms race toward diplomacy and statesmanship.
A good first step for both would be to, as Clinton suggests, "renounce further tests, sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and take decisive steps to reduce tensions in South Asia and reverse the dangerous arms race."
Escalation ultimately will result in tragedy. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947 and came close to a fourth in 1990 over the disputed northern state of Kashmir. The possibility of a nuclear confrontation raises the stakes significantly, not only for the region but for the world.
Measures must be taken by both India and Pakistan to reduce tensions. Their energies need to be directed toward diplomacy, not the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The message that nuclear testing is not acceptable needs to be sent strongly whenever a nation like India or Pakistan decides to ignore the 1994 anti-proliferation law.
Sanctions are going to hurt nations like India and Pakistan that are struggling with their economies. They need to realize that it's counterproductive to be involved in a nuclear arms race. That clearly is not in the best interests of their people.