Asian Nukes: Unthinking the Unthinkable

India joins Pakistan in nuclear weapons pact as the two sides step back from the brink.

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Having launched a nuclear arms race -- and fired artillery shells at each other in Kashmir for much of the summer -- India and Pakistan are finally letting enlightened self-interest carry the day, and have decided to make nice. India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Thursday followed the lead of his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, and promised to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The moves followed a breakthrough meeting in New York Wednesday at which the two leaders agreed to reduce tensions in Kashmir and increase trade between their countries.

"Both sides are climbing down on nuclear weapons under pressure from Western economic sanctions," says TIME New Delhi bureau chief Tim McGirk. "Sanctions have hurt India psychologically, but in Pakistan their effect has been devastating. Once Pakistan was forced to sign, India wasn't going to remain out in the cold." But it may take more than an end to sanctions and India's offer to buy $2 billion worth of electricity to bring Pakistan back from the brink. "Pakistan is almost bankrupt and Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise," says McGirk. "It's in danger of coming apart, turning into a failed nation with a nuclear bomb." All the more reason for Vajpayee to extend his hand to Nawaz.