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NUCLEAR PERILS IN SOUTH ASIA


Tariq Ali

The

nuclear games being played by India and Pakistan are both dangerous and obscene.

They are dangerous because there are Taliban-type elements within the Pakistan

Army (and I’m sure their equivalents in India), who could, in extremis, press

the dreaded button. They are obscene because both countries are racked by

poverty of the most abject sort, illiteracy, mass unemployment and the lack of

basic amenities for countless millions. The lack of these basic necessities of

life are not considered to be a denial of ‘human rights’ as far as Western

policymakers are concerned, a view increasingly contested by the young on the

streets of Seattle and Washington. The figures speak for themselves. Following

the nuclear tests of 1998 the Indian government announced an allocation of 9.9

billion dollars for defence spending in 1999, an increase of 14 percent on the

previous year.

Pakistan

mimicked the increase by 8..5 percent, increasing its spending to 3.3 billion

dollars. South Asia today is one of the world’s most heavily militarised

regions. The Indian ands Pakistani armies form part of the world’s ten largest

war machines. There is a 6:1 ratio of soldiers to doctors. The social costs of

arms-spending are horrendous. If nothing else, the extension of the nuclear race

to South Asia should compel policy-makers in Washington to pause and reflect on

their own policies since the official end of the Cold War. The fact is that the

US military budget remains inflated and accounts for over a third of the world’s

expenditure on armaments. The old enemy no longer exists, but the cold war

scenarios remain in place. US military planners continue to target Russia and

China. The latest wave of NATO expansion, followed by a Balkan war only hardens

Russian opposition to nuclear disarmament. When NATO patrols the Black Sea what

price the ‘Partnership for Peace’? Herein lies the crux of the problem. Unless

the West begins the process of unilateral nuclear disarmament it has no moral or

material basis to demand that others do the same. It is a twisted logic that

accepts that while London and Paris can have the bomb, New Delhi and Islamabad,

not to mention Seoul and Pyongyang, can not.

Praful

Bidwai and Achin Vanaik are two of India’s most courageous radical journalists.

Like others who tell the truth they are sometimes heaped with ridicule, but they

remain steadfast. They interrogate power and often venture into dangerous

territory. They are immune to the usual pressures and inducements with which

governments East and West seek to intimidate or bribe journalists.Their new

book, "New Nukes: India, Pakistan and Global Nuclear Disarmament"

should be mandatory reading for policy-makers in New Delhi, Islamabad and

Washington.Amongst the most valuable sections of "New Nukes" is the

account of India’s previous stance on the question of atomic weapons. Jawaharlal

Nehru was a firm believer in nuclear abstinence. ‘Coming from a warm country’,

he informed the United Nations in 1960, ‘I have shivered occasionally from these

cold blasts’. Now the blasts have overpowered the political elites in India and

Pakistan. Bidwai and Vanaik are for unilateral nuclear disarmament by both India

and Pakistan. For them this is a moral and a political imperative. The case they

make is unanswerable, but politicians and Generals usually concede only to mass

pressure. Rational arguments leave them unmoved. The authors complain that the

Indian left (India’s two Communist Parties) is part of the problem: "Thus

the socialist bomb has been seen as the progressive weapon against the

imperialist bomb. The adjective has been made more important than the noun in

perverse understanding of the history and politics of nuclearism.

The

left’s claim that deterrence has sometimes worked is a self-serving delusion

." In any event the conflict in the region is seen by fanatics on both

sides as the ‘Muslim’ bomb versus the ‘Hindu’ bomb. The former believe they will

end up in paradise anyway and as for the latter there is always the hope of

reincarnation, but this time in the shape of ants. Bidwai and Vanaik that

unilateral nuclear disarmament in South Asia should not be seen in a national

context, but as a stepping stone towards global disarmament. This is an

extremely useful book and not just for India. The projected scenarios in case of

nuclear conflict would not remained confined to South Asia. Nuclear rain is no

respecter of frontiers. It will cripple humans and plants alike. Western leaders

in the grip of a triumphalist fever appear to have given up on disarmament,

blighting the harvest of hopes that arose briefly during the time of Gorbachev.

It could turn out to be a fatal error.

 

 

 

 

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