THE GOVERNMENTS of India and Pakistan brought their countries to the brink of war at the beginning of this week. Such a war, between states armed with nuclear weapons, would directly involve over one billion people and could affect many more.
India and Pakistan are home to 500 million people living on less than $1 a day, 40 percent of the world's poorest. People who share a common history and culture, and many sharing the same languages, will be set against each other because of two warmongering ruling classes.
In Pakistan it is the regime of General Musharraf, which seized power in a military coup in 1999. In India it is the BJP Hindu fundamentalist government of Atal Behari Vajpayee. If war breaks out it will be a result of George Bush and Tony Blair's attack on Afghanistan.
It will be a war between states that have been supposedly united in the US's 'war against terrorism'. The flashpoint for any conflict will be Kashmir, which in one area borders Afghanistan.
The US bombing has strengthened sections of the Indian elite who argue that it is a good time to strike because Pakistan has lost a friendly government in Kabul. The way Bush responded to 11 September has cleared the way for a similarly bloody reaction to the attack on the Indian parliament on 13 December.
The Indian government has blamed Pakistan-based Islamic militants for the killing. Sections of the Indian ruling class argue that, if the US can launch a fearsome war in response to terrorism, why should India hold back?
If the US does not have to produce any real evidence of Osama Bin Laden's role, why should India have to prove that Pakistan supported the 13 December bombing? If India needs a quick excuse for action it could easily 'discover' that Bin Laden had escaped to Pakistan.
Parts of the BJP government which controls India see war talk as the best way to build support for forthcoming crucial elections. On the other side of the border, the Pakistan government no longer faces US sanctions that were imposed after the nuclear tests.
Recently US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld went out of his way to demand 'Indian military restraint', and to praise Musharraf for not moving troops that were helping the US on the Pakistan- Afghanistan border. Both governments are weak and dependent on extreme chauvinist forces.
They peddle myths about people of different religions in order to hide the fact that they are pressing ahead with policies that help clear the way for the local rich and the multinationals. The US may be tempted to try and impose a new round of peace talks on the region. But that could also cause further instability. Russia and China would be unwilling to see US domination of a region where they have strong economic and strategic interests.