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What prevented a nuclear Armageddon during the Cold War was the notion of Mutually Assured Destruction -- the theory that nuclear powers are equally vulnerable and that launching a nuclear strike against the enemy was akin to committing suicide.

There was even no guarantee that launching a nuclear strike first would destroy the opponent's retaliatory strike capacity.

In some ways, the same sort of logic appears to be at work in preventing India and Pakistan from going to war in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks in late November that left at least 170 people dead.

But tell that to the media in both countries. Even as the attacks were unfolding, the Indian media was quick to pin the blame on Islamabad. And as the story of the Mumbai attacks dominated Indian and international news cycles, Pakistani media began responding forcefully against what it saw was a smear campaign against their country.

In particular, they said Indian journalists weren't questioning hard enough "the official truth" -- the one that they said framed Pakistan in the Mumbai attacks and was put out by Indian officials.

In this atmosphere of mutual distrust, both medias have exaggerated the statements and warped the intentions of the other country.

This apparently led Stratfor to declare on December 24 that Indian troop movements along the Pakistani border were tantamount to signs of a coming war between the two neighbors.

And the "Christian Science Monitor" reports that internal political pressures might push New Delhi and Islamabad toward brinkmanship.

However, "The New York Times" reported on December 29 that despite the rising tension, hardly anyone among the Indian political elite is advocating a military confrontation with its western neighbor.

And it's worth remembering that the United States and the West calmed down similar tensions in 2002 when 1.5 million Indian and Pakistani soldiers faced each other off for a month.

This time around, Moscow, Beijing, and Riyadh are equally active and there is in fact a greater chance that international diplomacy will save the day, as a potential South Asian nuclear doomsday would serve no one's interests.

The India-Pakistan conundrum might appear complicated to outsiders but one small research institution in Islamabad appears to have the right answer to the common problems faced by nearly 1.5 billion people living in South Asia.

Over the past decade, the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Center has documented seminal research on development in South Asia in 10 annual reports. This region is home to one-quarter of humanity but has nearly 40 percent of the world's poor.

There is a common thread running through the center's reports: that ultimately, investment in education, health care, and creating job opportunities for young people will be the best guarantee of security between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Something their wars, nuclear arsenals, and border standoffs have not yet achieved.

-- Abubakar Siddique

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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