We've made the bombs, now let's make peace

Beena Sarwar



'What can we do now?' asked a depressed friend, calling from
Karachi. 'What's done is done. Both countries have the bomb. End of
matter.'
No. Not end of matter. But potentially end of all matter,
at least in this geographical region as we know it today. Yes,
both countries have ëthe bombí now. Fait accompli. But that does
not mean it is the end of the matter, or that we the people are
helpless and can do nothing. It is, in fact, the beginning of a
new age, where all those who believe in peace and who don't want
to see destruction of the kind that was wreaked upon Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, must galvanise to create an awareness of what "the bomb"
means, and pressurise the governments of India and Pakistan into
talking with each other, defusing the existing tension, and
eventually, dismantling their nuclear arsenals. There is too much
danger involved in doing otherwise. Unstable and jittery
governments on either side, combined with constantly tense border
situation, a fuzzy command and control chain, and an almost total
lack of awareness among the people as well as the politicians of
the terrible responsibility of possessing nuclear weapons - all
this adds up to a situation that cries for action. This may sound
far-fetched and simplistic, but the following scenario flashed
through my mind while driving to work today: Barey Sahib at his
desk, surrounded by chaos. Lackey comes in with the lunch. "Where's
the achaar?" thunders the Boss. Lackey searches for it, trembles
and whispers, "Sorry sir, no achaar." "What? No achaar? Blast"
shouts the Boss, thumping his desk. From the adjoining room, from
behind a door emblazoned with the nuclear symbol, comes a cheery
'Yes Sir!' and a finger reaches to push that dreaded button.
Within five minutes, more pain and suffering and destruction over
vast areas, with retaliatory pain and suffering and destruction
inflicted by the other side, than one can possibly imagine. One
fervently hopes that those who cling to the deterrence theory are
right. But there are many who warn that this theory is actually a
myth. Respected writers like Zahida Hina in her column "Zindagi"
(Jang, Karachi), as well as by political scientists like Dr Imtiaz
Bokhari and Dr Enayatullah and so many others, have forcefully
argued that the situation (economic, political and geographical) of
the subcontinent and of its two main rival powers are very
different from that which prevented the two superpower rivals from
using their formidable nuclear arsenals against each other even
during the height of tension. This, combined with the lack of
public awareness about the nuclear issue, means that we are not now
talking of whether Pakistan should or should not have followed
India into the abyss. What we are saying now is that the danger of
a nuclear war in South Asia has become a possibility. We're no
longer talking "if", we're asking 'when?' Pakistan Television and
radio predictably ignore any voices that take positions other than
those of the powers-that-be. The unofficial official position is
that anyone who does not celebrate Pakistanís gatecrashing the
"nuclear club", is a traitor and a kafir. That Pakistan (or for
that matter India) have nothing else in common with the other
members of this club, is another matter, conveniently ignored.
Senior columnist Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami was vociferously attacked
for his rational arguments (pre-test) that Pakistan should not
detonate its nuclear devices at that point in time - a position
seen by his fellow idealogues, then insisting on "now or never", as
a betrayal to the cause. Interestingly, writers like Zahida Hina
and Imtiaz Alam, who have consistently taken an anti-weaponisation
line even in a paper like Jang, have received very positive
feedback, through letters and telephone calls, supporting them for
their courage in sticking to their position even after Pakistan
detonated its nuclear weapons. But writers like Mr Shami withdrew
from the field of debate on the grounds that what is done is done,
like my despondent friend from Karachi, although for different
reasons. Mr Shami believes that criticising Pakistanís nuclear
policy now would tantamount to anti-patriotism.
But there is nothing unpatriotic about insisting that India and Pakistan
should normalise relations, eschew the option of war, and stop further
developments along the nuclear line. Mr Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif's
statements that they are willing to dialogue must be encouraged and
supported.
The responsibility of having nuclear weapons - or indeed, nuclear
power plants - is a terrible one. Chances of accidents, leakages, or
errors cannot be ruled out. 'There's no way to store nuclear waste
safely forever,' contends environmental journalist Bittu Sahgal,
Editor of Sanctuary magazine, Bombay. 'The problem is compounded by
our poverty.'
'Nuclear scientists take the prize for irresponsibility.... Having
squeezed a little electricity from nuclear reactors for current use,
we condemn thousands of generations to the unenviable task of
protecting themselves from cancer and birth defects caused by the
lethal nuclear excreta of our reactors,' he wrote in a recent
article. And the final terrible culmination is something that no
one, no matter how patriotic, would want. Or should want. But there
are enough mad people in our midst who shrug off the danger with the
same fatalistic attitude that has created so much havoc in
Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and elsewhere in the world today. The
war-mongering, sloganeering emotionalism that relies for support on
the creed "marenge mar jainge" (kill and be killed). The number of
such people is limited, true. They have never gained power through
elections, true. But they have visibility and they have street
power, which brings with it its own momentum, bullying into silence the
majority who think otherwise, who want to live. Their pressurising gives
an excuse to those in power to make expedient, ëpopularí decisions on
behalf of ëthe peopleí - the real reasons being entirely political
and based on petty interests of short-term survival.
The fire-breathing minority chooses to ignore the injunctions of the
religion it professes to follow. The principle of "All's fair in love
and war" doesn't exist in this religion - here, what we have is a
principled, fair concept of a holy war, which doesn't target unarmed
civilians and other living things like trees and crops, and which can
only be initiated after a fair warning.
But that is another argument.

The point is that now, what is to be done? All over the country, pockets of rational-minded people are coming together, at seminars, private gatherings and on email trying to create a climate for peace. And yes, even on the street in at
least one public rally so far, organised last Friday in Lahore by
the Joint Action Committee for People's Rights in front of the
Punjab Assembly. Under a scorching sun, in the blistering heat,
between 300 to 400 people attended, more than twice the expected
number, having learnt of the rally just by word of mouth. They were
not bussed in from somewhere, they came on their own. They carried
placards denouncing nuclearisation, Indo-Pak tension, the emergency
and the Punjabís isolation from the other provinces.
Also contrary to some expectations, the demonstrators encountered no
hostility of any kind, not even by motorists forced into a snailsí pace
by the demonstrators spilling onto the road - instead, many reached
for the pamphlets being distributed. They may have cursed the
demonstrators under their breath, but there was no violence or
threat of violence. News of the rally was predictably ignored by
the government media, which highlights news of rallies by its
ideological bed-mates, and also largely by the Western news
agencies which love to flash photographs of bearded clerics or
veiled women clenching fists and baying for blood an image that
caters to the stereotypes they have contributed to create. Still,
the peace rally can be considered as a significant beginning, and
symbolic of the resolve not to be browbeaten by a fabricated
climate of terror. There is an urgent need to widen the reach of
such messages. Embassies and institutions of countries which have
the resources needed for such campaigns, need to be more
forthcoming with making their material available - particularly the
USA, Japan and Germany. There is also a need for linkages and more
coordination between the different pockets of lobbies working on
this issue (see below).

The anti-nuclear groups in Pakistan have gathered momentum and
support since the arrival last week of two Japanese groups, members
of the Peace Boat with their photo exhibition at the Lahore Press
Club and the Gensuikyo (Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen
Bombs), who have addressed gatherings in Karachi, Islamabad and
Lahore. The world is very different today than it was in 1945 when
the USA bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and put all its own citizens
of Japanese descent into concentration camps. There is a strong
public awareness today in the USA, even though many Americans still
remain blinkered to the realities of the "real" world. Still, it is
unlikely that what is virtually the worldís only superpower would
be able to get away with either of these actions today.
The danger is that in India and Pakistan, we are far behind what the USA
was in 1945. In her column "Zindagi" in Jang two weeks ago, Zahida Hina
cited a 1948 Gallup Poll survey according to which two-thirds of
Americans thought that atomic science was more beneficial for human kind
than destructive. A similar survey in Pakistan today would probably
yield similar results.
But this opinion cannot be considered informed opinion. The time to
inform it has come, with a vengeance.

Networking for a cause

Various groups have joined hands to create an awareness about the
horrors of a nuclear war, and persuade the governments of India and
Pakistan to talk to each other and eschew the option of war. They
include:
Karachi: Action Committee Against Arms Race (ACAAR). Contact
organisation: PILER, email: <karamat@piler.khi.sdnpk.undp.org>, tel.
4557009, 4552170.
Islamabad: the Advocacy and Development Network. Contact organisation:
SDPI, email <main@sdpi.sdnpk.undp.org>, tel. 270674-6.
Lahore: Joint Action Committee for Peoples Rights. Contact organisation:
HRCP, email <hrcplhe@brain.net.pk, tel 5838341.
In addition, there is a loose coalition of concerened individuals and
groups called South Asians Against Nukes. They have a website at which
they post relevant material, and also send information and material to
interested people. <http://www.mnet.fr/aiindex/NoNukes.html>
There are several groups in India working on this issue, including a
non-violent campaign against nuclear tests and nuclear weaponisation,
called the Humanist Movement (11 Yogniti, 18 S V Road, Santacruz West,
Mumbai 400054, Tel: 6106197, Fax: c/o 6052818, Email: ffh@bitsmart.com)
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