Jewish World Review Jan. 4, 2002 / 20 Teves, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Nuclear winter: Toward the brink again

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- TWO nuclear powers are making threatening moves against each other. The missiles are being readied. It's like the bad old days, specifically October of 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Or maybe the whole Cold War. Only these nuclear powers aren't the United States and the Soviet Union but India and Pakistan.

The Cold War may be a thing of the past, but that doesn't mean nuclear confrontations are. With the disappearance of the Soviet Union, and the end of a century of totalitarian terror and world wars, diplomatic history finds itself once again somewhere back around 1914. All the unfinished business that had been overshadowed for so long by the split between East and West begins to seethe again. It's all back: the old, multi-polar world of shifting alliances, tricky ententes, terrorist conspiracies and national, religious and ethnic feuding.

The overarching rivalry of ideologies that dominated the last century has now been succeeded by a hodgepodge of tensions all around the globe. One of those hot spots is disputed Kashmir, and, as luck would have it, each of the claimants has the Bomb.

As in 1914, the act that set off this latest confrontation was committed by a gang not officially part of a country but acting out its worst hatreds and most reckless ambitions. In the summer of 1914, when an Austrian archduke was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist at Sarajevo, the wheels of history were set into motion, and the fate of a century sealed. This time it was Muslim fanatics who attacked India's parliament in a botched attempt to kill its leaders.

Just as Austria demanded satisfaction from Serbia in 1914, India now demands that Pakistan crack down on the killers who have used it as a base. Pakistan in turn proclaims that it is innocent and, officially, it may be. Unofficially, Pakistan's intelligence services have long been involved with fanatical gangs along the country's frontier with India, just as they once allied themselves with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

There is a quality about those who shape or rather deform public opinion in Pakistan, playing on the most fanatical impulses, that reminds me of nothing so much as the Southern fire-eaters of the antebellum era. (''One Southerner can whip seven Yankees before breakfast!'') They appealed to the most destructive passions of their countrymen, and in the end led the Old South to ruin.

After Sept.11, Pakistan's leaders were made to understand the dangers of allying their country with the likes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Now, just as it has acted against terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan will need to act against those operating from its territory against India. For these fanatics haven't attacked just India but the peace of the world, and the security that civilization should afford every nation.

The dispute over divided Kashmir has been long, involved and violent. Three wars have been fought over it in the past half-century; there must be no fourth, nuclear one. Whatever the contentious rights and wrongs of this dispute, they will not be made any clearer by being drenched in blood.

It will take more years for justice to be done in Kashmir, if it ever is, but the paramount objective now must be to secure the peace. Which means stamping out those who would threaten it by terrorizing others, whether in New Delhi or New York.

This country's State Department now has blacklisted a couple of the more notorious gangs linked to these attacks against India's parliament and, earlier, its provincial legislature in Srinagar. But it needs to be made clear, just as it has been in Afghanistan, that those who harbor terrorists will be treated as terrorists. The fate of Kashmir can wait till the world is assured.

It is not enough to ask both these nuclear powers to ease off. The root of the problem should be addressed: the ability of terrorists to use nations as their host. The civilized world can no longer afford to tolerate the kind of crazies who are out to trigger Armageddon. In 1914 Gavrilo Princip, an obscure assassin, got his world war. These terrorists must be denied their nuclear winter. There should be no doubt, when the choice is between terror and the terrorized, where the United States stands. Certainly not after Sept. 11.

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