India: Atomic Rivalry Grows

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NEW DELHI: The subcontinental tit-for-tat shows no signs of slowing down. U.S. intelligence warns Friday that Pakistan is stepping up activity at a second nuclear test site -- whilst in the my-bomb's-bigger-than-yours stakes, Indian defense minister George Fernandes dismissed Pakistan's test devices as "ping-pong balls," insisting that India's largest blast beat Pakistan's by 45 kilotons to 10. In other words, both sides are battling to escape what Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott -- quoting William Blake -- called a "fearful symmetry."

Still, both were equally jubilant Friday. Celebrations on the streets of Islamabad were matched in New Delhi by what TIME bureau chief Tim McGirk calls "a profound mood of relief that India is no longer alone in being ostracized." Whether such emotions are justified, given the plunging rupee in India and the boarded-up banks in Pakistan, is another question. McGirk also reports a "serious risk" of conflict in the disputed border region of Kashmir -- claims and counterclaims of militant infiltration that "would not go nuclear immediately" but may eventually risk the world's first atomic war. The subcontinent had better celebrate while it can.