THE desert shook twice. Massive explosions of the deadliest technology known to man rumbled underneath the sands. But has India gone nuclear with a shrill exuberance that neither befits a new Big Boy nor balances the terrible power of destruction that we now hold in our palm? Once started, the war of words between three uneasy neighboursIndia on one side, and Pakistan and China on the otherrose sharply in pitch, and the words of war got steadily more intemperate. Increasingly, reckless sabrerattling appeared to be taking the place of mature diplomacy so crucial after an N-test. Crude jingoism has taken over the streets, fuelled by the Indian ruling partys militarist postures. Pakistan pressed the panic button, but is hedging its bets with one finger hovering over the N-button. Even taciturn China put extra sting into its remarks. Suddenly, the geostrategic balance hangs by a thread.
Read these lips, as they are drawn back over the teeth. "We have to prove were not eunuchs," gloated Bal Thackeray. "The Indian leadership has gone berserk, this is just short of a declaration of war," exploded Pakistani foreign minister Gohar Ayub Khan. "Outrageous!" snapped China, "sign the CTBT immediately." The Indian Prime Minister promised no first use in an interview, but his home minister held a press conference. Pakistan should "roll back" its proxy war in Kashmir, warned L.K. Advani, or else face "pro-active" steps from India. "A naked assertion of hostile ambitions," cried Pakistan. "We have taken serious note, we cannot sit back!" threatened Nawaz Sharif. Name the time and place, sneered parliamentary affairs minister M.L. Khurana, and we will be there. The tunnel suddenly begins to look longer, pitch-dark, with no one apparently bothered about the possible human costs of these rantings of war. With no one around having heard of that prescient acronym for nuclear war, MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction.