When mountains die

Eqbal Ahmad
I saw on televison a picture more awesome than the familiar
mushroom cloud of nuclear explosion. The mountain had turned white. I
wondered how much pain had been felt by nature, God's most wondrous
creation. The great mountain in Chagai will turn in time to solid
ash! And we, who are so proud of our mountains?

India's mindless right wing leaders who started it all and
then proceeded to goad Pakistan into baring its nuclear capabilities
may never acknowledge that they have committed a crime against India
and its neighbors, and that not one good strategic or tactical,
political or economic can accrue from their blunder. An Indian
scientist, Dr. Vinod Mubayi, rightly says that the RSS has now killed
Gandhi twice: his body in 1948, and his legacy 50 years later. India
shall suffer for some time to come from the effects of these
killings. It had enjoyed what the French call a prejuge favorable in
world opinion, a mystique of being uniquely ancient and pluralistic, a
land of Hindus and Muslims, Christians, Budhists and Zoroastrians, the
spiritual home of Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, Father Daniel
Berrigan, and Martin Luther King. In a single blow, the BJP government
has destroyed India's greatest asset. And more:

After decades of bitter squabble, India's relations with
China, the world's most populous country and a fast growing economic
giant, had been improving for the last six years. The Sino-India amity
had reached a level significant enough for Chinese leaders to counsel
Pakistan, their old ally, to resolve its disputes with India. In a
conversation with me a few weeks ago, former Prime Minister
I.K. Gujral cited Sino-Indian cordiality as a model for Indo-Pakistan
relations. A high level Chinese military delegation was in India when
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee proudly announced his first three
nuclear tests. These had preceded and followed anti-China
rhetoric. India's greatest single foreign policy achievement of the
last two decades was thus buried away like nuclear waste.

For nearly four decades, India's rate of growth had remained
low at around four percent per annum. Economists the world over dubbed
this mysterious consistency as the `Hindu rate of growth'. Then a
decade ago, the curve began to move upward reaching a whopping 7.5 %
last year. Hope had never prevailed so widely in India since
independence, and international capital had begun to view it as a
grand investment prospect. Economists expected that in the next decade
India will maintain a 7% rate of growth, just about wiping out the
abject poverty that so assails its people. This expectation too has
been interred in the Pokhran wasteland. International economists now
estimate that in the current financial year (ending March 31) India's
growth will decline from the projected 7.5 % to 5%; these estimates
are based not on the effects of sanctions but on the adverse turn in
the investment climate.

Excepting a few interregnum, such as the short lived
government of I.K. Gujral, India's governments have not been very
sensitive toward their neighbors. At regional and international
conferences, a participant is often astonished at the antipathy
delegates from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh express about
India's policies. But I believe nothing had shocked and angered its
neighbors more than India's unilateral and surprise decision to carry
out its 3+2 nuclear tests, thus starting a spiral of nuclear arms race
and open the way to potential holocaust in South Asia. They have a
right to anxiety and anger as nature has so willed that they are no
more safe than Indians and Pakistanis are from the nuclear fall out.
It is commonplace in Pakistan to hear that India seeks regional hegemony.
A reminder is necessary perhaps that hegemony requires a recognition of
superiority by consent more than coercion. Delhi's latest actions deny
rather than affirm the promise of hegemony. Pakistan does not have
hegemonic ambition, yet I hope that Mr. Sharif's government had been
gracious enough to at least inform our neighbors before the tests in

Each historical time has had its own temper. But one factor
has been common throughout history to the attainment of progress and
greatness. Historians of culture describe this one factor variously
as syncretism, openness, pluralism, and a spirit of tolerance. Where
ideas do not clash, diverse influences, knowledge, viewpoints, and
cultures do not converge, civilization does not thrive and greatness
eludes. The rightist environment of religious chauvinism and
intolerance which the BJP and its allies promote in India =96 it
pervades Pakistan for other reasons =96 is deeply harmful to India's
future. Nuclearisation of nationalism has further degraded this
environment. The tests have worsened the xenophobia of Hindutva
supporters. Reaction no less than a habit of emulation among
fundamentalist adversaries, will undoubtedly reinforce right wing
sentiments and excesses in Pakistan. In recent weeks BJP supporters
stormed a meeting of anti-nuclear scientists, attacked artist
M.F. Hussain's home and destroyed his paintings, in retaliation of US
sanctions assaulted trucks carrying Pepsi and CocaCola, disrupted a
concert by Pakistani musician Ustad Ghulam Ali. "The atmosphere of
intolerance has been gaining ground recently", says an editorial in
the Hindustan Times. "Such actions will break up the very fabric of
this country" warns Ambika Sen, a leader of the Indian National
Congress. In Pakistan, government owned television darkly and
repeatedly suggested that opponents of a nuclear test were foreign

India's leaders have long viewed nuclear weapons as a currency
of power. They will soon realize that this is a counterfeit. I had
pointed out earlier (Dawn, May 17. 1998) that Hiroshima and Nagasaki
had shown the nuclear to be non-usable weapon morally. Korea, Cuba,
and Vietnam proved it to be unuseable politically and militarily. By
the mid-1960s, nuclear weapons had ceased to be a significant
component of power. The rise of such non-nuclear giants as Germany and
Japan and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a nuclear super-power,
rendered the possession of nuclear weapons quite incidental to the
equation of power in world politics. No advocate of nuclear tests has
refuted me either in Pakistan or abroad. Then what in heaven's name
were India's rulers seeking by detonating five nuclear devices? And
why do we insist that Pakistan had no option but to follow India into
the dumb pit?
I, and many others, had argued that Pakistan's best option was
to let ambiguity serve the purposes it had served for a decade. There
is no way to prove now whether we were right or wrong. The deed is
done. A mountain is dead. But history demands that it be noted now
that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's initially good instincts were
overwhelmed by forces in and out of Pakistan. Our knowledge of the
factors that led to Pakistan's decision to carry out the tests is not
complete, but enough is known to identify the main factors: The most
important was the provocations of BJP leaders. There were too many to
recount here. These included a warning by L.K. Advani, India's
Interior Minister, that Pakistan should note a change in South Asia's
"strategic environment", Prime Minister Vajpayee's statement that his
government might forcibly take Kashmiri territory under Pakistan's
control, the handing over of Kashmir affairs portfolio to the hardline
Home Minister who had so enthusiastically overseen the destruction of
Babri Mosque, and actually heating up of a limited but live conflict
along the Line of Control. Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff returned
from the front line with an assessment that we may in fact be
witnessing the slow beginning of a conventional. To my knowledge,
Delhi did little to reassure Islamabad.

These developments greatly reinforced among Pakistani
officials a sense of foreboding. This was accentuated by what a decade
of embargo under the Pressler Amendment had done to the weapons
sustainability of Pakistan's armed forces. During the decade of
Mohammed Ziaul Haq, our defense forces reverted to heavy reliance on
US arms. In the last decade these have suffered not merely from
obsolescence but also from a paucity of reliable spare parts.
Pakistan could find itself unable to sustain a war with India without
soon running into serious supply problems. In a military environment
such as this, army leaders are likely to put a high premium on an
assured deterrent capability. This much is known to interested
military analysts the world over. It is astounding that under these
circumstances, and after testing their nuclear device, India's leaders
would engage in provocations verbal and military. Officials and
legislators in Washington might also note that their anti-nuclear
sanctions actually compelled an speedier development and testing of
nuclear arms.

In an environment so fraught, the government needed political support.
Instead, Pakistan's opposition leaders all except Ghinwa Bhutto, Air
Marshall Asghar Khan, and Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari were in the
streets taunting Mr. Sharif to `explode' a nuclear bomb. The pack was led
first by Jamaat-i-Islami leaders who were soon overtaken by Benazir Bhutto.
She seems to have sensed in this national crisis an opportunity to
restore her flagging fortunes. I know of few gestures in the ugly
repertoire of Pakistani politics as revolting as her demagogic toss of
bracelets at Mr. Nawaz Sharif. The G-7 responded mildly and in a
divided fashion to India's tests, signaling a soft response to the
menace at hand and enhancing the Pakistani sense of isolation and
risk. Finally, like the Indian tests, Pakistan's response was a
tribute to the hegemony of the nuclear culture and notions of
deterrence so assiduously promoted by the west during the cold war.

The leaders of India and Pakistan have now appropriated to
themselves, as other had done before, the power that was God's alone
to kill mountains, make the earth quake, bring the sea to boil,
and destroy humanity. I hope that when the muscle flexing and
cheering is over they will go on a retreat, and reflect on how they
should bear this awesome responsibility.

June 1, 1998