Why have India and now Pakistan taken the low road to nuclear

By Kalpana Sharma


India has a "Hindu bomb". Pakistan has an "Islamic bomb". India
conducted five nuclear tests. Pakistan matched that number. So are
we now equal? Should we be dancing in the streets? Or should we hang
our heads in shame that our governments still think "strength" lies at
the end of a nuclear-tipped missile?

Why have India and now Pakistan taken the low road to nuclear
proliferation? The Indian government claims that it was "threatened"
by its two neighbors -- Pakistan and China. Indian Prime Minister
Atal Behari Vajpayee says the tests were conducted to "silence our
enemies and to show our strength".

Vajpayee did temporarily silence his critics in India. But they have
found a voice again and are being heard. The so-called euphoria
depicted in the media is fast dissipating as Indians understand the
full import of the government's decision to go nuclear.

And as for demonstrating strength, India's actions have ensured that
Pakistan also become a declared nuclear state. Thus, in a matter of
17 days, the strategic arms scenario in South Asia has been altered

Both countries blame each other for pushing them to test. Together
they blame the United States and western powers for setting the agenda
in global politics where power and nuclear deterrence are seen as
being commensurate. But does it really matter now who should hang for
this? Is it necessary to determine whether India was "provoked" and
whether Pakistan had to give a "befitting reply to any misadventure by
the enemy", in the words of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?

The more relevant question is: who will pay the bill? Regardless of
the impact of economic sanctions on either country, such a dramatic
escalation in defense-related expenditure will cut deep. India
already spends more than $10 billion a year on defense, twice as much
as on education, health and social services put together. Additional
costs of weaponisation would add at a minimum atleast another billion
to this amount.

Meanwhile, literacy rates in India hover around 51 per cent and per
capita income is around $300 per year, inexcusable in a country with
an impressive industrial base and an enormous pool of trained
people. The bombs will not feed starving babies. On the contrary,
they will literally snatch the bread out of their mouths.

The tragedy of this escalation of the nuclear war game in our region
is greater than just the obvious fact of increased tensions, possible
conflagration and greater spending on defense at the cost of
development-related expenditure. It is truly tragic that at a time
when "peace" is a talking point in so many arenas of conflict, India
and Pakistan have once again resorted to speaking the language of war.

More so, as from the early 1990s, relations with Pakistan had begun to
improve. There were talks at many different levels, official and
unofficial. Groups with common interests, such as women's groups,
environmentalists, human rights activists as well as sportspersons,
artists and writers from both countries met frequently.

In fact, even after the Indian nuclear tests of May 11 and 13,
Pakistani and Indian poets met and urged that the countries exchange
books not bombs. And a popular Pakistani pop group, Junoon, shouted
"Peace, not War" as they sang their special song of friendship to
overflowing audiences of young Indians.

These exchanges emphasized to civilians on both sides of the border
something they have always known; that there is more that unites us
than divides us. And that the only people who gain from keeping us
estranged are countries interested in selling arms to both of us, and
politicians in our countries who capitalize on the politics of hate.

After 50 years as two separate independent countries, and after three
wars that left both economies devastated, the ordinary people of India
and Pakistan do not want war. The trouble is no one listens to them.

Kalpana Sharma, currently a visiting fellow at the Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists in Chicago, is an Assistant Editor with The Hindu,
India's second largest English language daily. She writes on
environmental and developmental issues and has co-authored a book on
the media and women's issues: "Whose News?" published by Sage

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