With the phrase "brink of war" pressed into service by the media every time India and Pakistan rattle their nuclear weapons, the international community may be inclined to view the latest tensions between the two arch enemies as nothing more than overzealous reporting. That would be a grave mistake.
With at least 1 million Indian and Pakistani troops amassed on their shared border and with early estimates of the death toll from nuclear attacks also at 1 million people, it is clear that both countries need to step back from the brink. But that won't occur without the intervention of the world community, led by the United States and Russia.
As we noted in an editorial in January after the easing of tensions following a month-long standoff, all-out war could be a misspoken word away. And on Monday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made a speech that served to ignite the passions of Indian authorities.
Musharraf not only ignored calls to end the test-launch of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons, but he made it clear Pakistan would not abandon its support for Kashmir's "freedom struggle." And, he issued what the Associated Press described as a "belligerent warning" to India.
"We do not want war. But if war is thrust upon us, we would respond with full might and give a befitting reply," the Pakistani president said.
That rhetoric brought an immediate response from India. Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said that there was now little chance that Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would meet with Musharraf next week during an Asian leaders conference in Kazakhstan.
Pakistan's refusal to stop Muslim militants -- many of them are members of the Al-Qaida terrorist organization or the ousted Taliban government in Afghanistan -- from crossing the Line of Control that divides Kashmir has put its allies, especially the United States, in a bind. On Monday, President Bush urged Musharraf to crack down on terrorists operating out of Pakistan. Thus far, the Pakistani president has all but ignored the American president.
It's time for the United States to play hardball. Pakistan must recognize that its intransigence comes at a very high price in terms of American support, both financially and militarily.
The issue of Kashmir, which has triggered two wars since India and Pakistan won independence from Britain in 1947, will not be resolved without United Nations' intervention because both countries claim the Himalayan province in its entirety.
This is not just a border skirmish. These are nations whose mutual hatred is rooted in religion.