I had planned a sort-of funny, end-of-the-year column – you know, like handing out my Osama bin Falwell Award or asking America’s school children to donate $1 each to help replace the government revenue lost to billionaires and big corporations under the Republicans’ proposed tax cuts.

But the truth is, there’s nothing funny at all about this year. In fact, it might end up with a bang and not a whimper. And a very big bang it might be.

I refer, of course, to the war clouds quickly gathering over the India-Pakistan border. Both countries have big armies, fast air forces, intermediate-range missiles and nukes – not as many as we have in the west, but enough. Pakistan is estimated to have 20 or so deliverable. A mere bagatelle compared with India’s arsenal (thought to be much, much larger) but big enough to, say, destroy every major city on the sub-continent and poison most of the people who live there.

Of course, if the real Osama bin Laden and his murderous cronies did escape to Pakistan, it won’t have done them much good – once India retaliates against the Pakistanis, as Al Pacino said in movie after movie, “Foggeddaboutit!”

Both countries also have complicated histories and borders to match. What’s an insular American-type to make of all of this? Here’s Ellen’s Suggested Guide to the India-Pakistan Conflict:

1. Back the democracy

If history has taught us anything, it’s that democracies don’t make war unless they’re cornered. Usually, it’s the “other guys” – fascists, extremists, dictators, tyrants, madmen … whatever. Democracies are usually too busy trying to make money or make love to have much time for making war. In this case, India is the democracy. In India, they elect their politicians and power is transferred with ballots, not bullets.

In Pakistan, the Army votes, last year’s leadership is sometimes hanged in public, sometimes imprisoned and sometimes exiled. Pakistan’s leader commutes to work in a uniform and his first name is “General.” I know that General Musharraf has been helping us against al-Qaida, and that India sometimes doesn’t like us. But at the end of the day, India is a stable democracy and Pakistan … well, 10 minutes from now, Pakistan could have a new leader whose first name would also be “General,” but who this time may have had leadership training at the Taliban School of Government, if you catch my meaning.

2. Remember the Bush Doctrine

If Pakistan is a real government that has real borders, real laws, real cops and expects real respect, it should earn it – by controlling the maniacs who use the country as a sanctuary from which to machine gun the Indian Parliament building (among many other acts of terrorism).

Look, the Israelis have made the same point with Arafat. If he wants to be treated like a real governing authority, he should control the wackos who get their last jollies by dynamiting themselves and a bunch of innocent civilians. What goes for Arafat, goes for Musharraf – just like it went for the Taliban (R.I.P.).

Any country which harbors terrorists should pay the piper. India’s Parliament building is as sacred to Indians as our Pentagon and World Trade Center are to us. Period, end of story.

3. Public tilt toward India

I wish nobody had nuclear weapons, including us. At the end of the day, all they’re going accomplish is to get the world in fixes, like this one. But nukes (for now) are a fact of life. So what’s the world’s one remaining world superpower to do?

For starters, I’d ask myself a question: With nukes in the hands of India and Pakistan, which country do I trust more? A country that elects their leaders? Or a country run by generals? In the first country, the generals are accountable to civilians. In the second country, there are no civilians, just generals, and they’re accountable to no one.

To be very blunt, I would inform the Pakistanis that while we’re eternally grateful for their help against al-Qaida, the moment their nukes go active against India, we go active against them. Actually, it’s already been widely reported that a few American Special Forces units in the area have been issued a Plan B: Be ready to destroy Pakistani nukes if necessary. The United States should go public with some of this – it’ll raise the stakes for the Pakistanis, and might make the Indians feel more comfortable that there won’t be any first strike coming from Karachi.

Ugh! If things were doing any better, they’d only be terrible!

Have a Happy New Year!

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