Vol 3, PW 10 (09 Jun 99) People & Policy

No doubt many companies - not just in the oil industry - have already begun to ask if South Asia, as a region, is still a place worth doing business in.

The worst-case scenario is not encouraging: two declared nuclear powers, engaged in a low-level conflict, spinning out of control, escalation on a wider front, and eventually, the use of nuclear weapons. Its a scary picture, and one which has begun to exercise the White House.

If there is a nuclear exchange, it will not be India that fires the first missile. In India, the army answers to a democratically elected government, it always has.

Its nuclear weapons programme is controlled by civilians and control of the button is in the hands of an elected prime minister. In Pakistan, the chain of command is less transparent.

Are Pakistans institutions strong enough to prevent the army widening the conflict Is the army capable of a rogue nuclear act These are question that need answering - fast. Not long ago the US State Department toyed with the idea of adding Pakistan to a list of rogue states (Libya, North Korea, Iraq, Sudan) because of its links to the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York.

Pakistan avoided inclusion on the list, but only just. The US knows that the Pakistani-backed Afghan mercenaries fighting the Indian army in Kashmir today are trained by Osama Bin Laden, himself a previous target of US cruise missiles.

If there is a threat to the region it comes not from India, which despite its innumerable faults, remains a functioning, mature and responsible democracy, but from Pakistan, with its neurotic generals and corrupt politicians. Its time the international community gets off the fence and sees Pakistan for what it really is: a regional trouble-maker.