A number of events have come full circle with somewhat unhappy implications for the nation, these last few days, and foremost is Jawaharlal Nehru’s ill-conceived decision to take the Kashmir issue to the United Nations in 1948, a fact that made it possible for the Security Council to contemplate intervention in this vexatious dispute 50 years later, in the wake of the nuclear blasts by India and Pakistan.
The Council’s decision to treat Kashmir as a bilateral issue between the two countries is no small victory for the present Indian leadership, which successfully staved off a Sino-Pakistani attempt to internationalize the dispute and link it with India’s nuclear tests. Yet there is no denying that it has been a close shave.
The gravity of the attempt to “revive” the 1948 UN mediation comes home when one realizes that it involves resurrection of the proposed plebiscite plan which Nehru had called off when he realised that the Americans were attempting to favour Pakistan through the process. It is to be hoped that all political parties will support the Government at least in this instance, concerning as it does the vital territorial and security interests of the country, and not debase and dilute national concern in the search for petty mileage.
As it is, at the level of our secular, revolutionary and progressive intellectuals, we have seen a most distressing identification of one community with co-religionists in another country, to the extent of virtually putting the Government of the day in the dock. At the prestigious Jnanpith Award ceremony in the Capital recently, the celebrated writer Ali Sardar Jafri took the elite gathering by surprise with his statement that there is an urgent need for amity between the Hindu and Muslim communities and linked this with the threat of nuclear war, even holocaust.
I have racked my brains, but have simply failed to find a plausible connection between the nuclear blasts conducted by India, followed by Pakistan, and Hindu-Muslim amity within the country. I do not wish to dwell upon the disturbing thought that for some Muslim intellectuals a weak India alone is regarded as conducive to communal amity, so I shall let it pass.
Coming to the ostensible threat of a nuclear war, most serious writers and thinkers now believe that the danger, if ever there was one, has receded; hence the bogey of a holocaust is simply misplaced. This disconcerting aspect of Jafri’s dramatic yet bewitching depiction of the horrors of a holocaust was that he virtually implied that India had created a “Hindu bomb”, a charge that is both unfair and untrue, given the unbroken commitment of successive governments to the nuclear programme. Besides, the nuclear issue pertains to external security and simply has no bearing on the country’s internal dynamics.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who must have been flabbergasted listening to the speech, deftly dodged the implicit allegations and asserted that India had never and would never initiate a war, much less a nuclear one. He wisely ignored the artificial link between the blasts and Hindu-Muslim relations and defended the tests in the context of the deteriorating security environment.
Indeed, this is the point that India now needs to stress upon the world community. An impressive beginning has been made by deflecting a possible Security Council initiative in Kashmir. This must be followed up by impressing upon leaders and opinion makers in the Western countries that the nuclear tests in the subcontinent mark a new turning point in world history. The balance of power has shifted irrevocably, with nations not regarded as fully industrialized and developed having come to possess an elite weapons technology that had been declared out of bounds for them.
An early recognition of this fact will help restore equilibrium and pave the way towards an equitable NPT and CTBT regime, which would genuinely address itself to the goal of ultimate nuclear disarmament. India has rightly questioned the Security Council’s authority to pontificate on matters of non-proliferation as they do not figure under the UN Charter. The dignified acceptance of India’s new nuclear status must be the basic premise for all meaningful talks on disarmament and non-proliferation.
At the same time, Indian diplomacy must emphasize to the world community that India will not accept the artificial parity that the West so often imposes between India find Pakistan. India is no territorial, ethnic or religious creation; it is heir to a mighty, ancient and living civilization. Pakistan is a recent offshoot of India, about one-seventh its size, with a poor tradition of democracy and pretensions to equality. Even in the manner in which it entered the
nuclear “club”, Pakistan displayed singular immaturity. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, announcing five simultaneous tests on May 28 (though there are worldwide doubts about the accuracy of this claim), spoke of having evened the score with India as if it were a cricket match! This was followed by a false claim that the tests were conducted because India and Israel were planning a pre-emptive strike at its nuclear installations.
India’s cutting edge comes with Pakistan’s exceedingly immature decision to go in for another blast on May 30, which it openly flaunted as “bettering India” and acquiring superior strategic nuclear capability. Pakistan’s defiance of world opinion – combined with the now open Chinese support to its nuclear armaments programme – along with its dubious methods of acquiring nuclear know-how and materials, now make it something of a rogue state in the international community. There is now growing concern in important sections of the Western intellectual community over China’s role in nuclear proliferation which can be expected to come under closer scrutiny.
The Indian Government has wisely distanced itself from the immature arms race that Pakistan is trying to provoke it into. India would do well to focus upon the intrinsic fragility of Pakistan as witnessed by the financial and national emergency imposed in the wake of the blasts. Pakistan has for various reasons been a spoiled child of Western imperialism, its well-heeled elite is not used to any kind of hardship in the arduous task of nation-building and it can be expected to crumble when sanctions begin to pinch.
This brings us to the role of the army in Pakistan’s decision to go nuclear, an issue that several serious commentators have alluded to. In India, the world’s largest democracy, the army is under firm civilian control. Pakistan has more often than not been under martial law and is currently under a military hacked emergency. Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan, son of the country’s first military dictator General Ayub Khan, has quietly withdrawn his much-publicized resignation and returned to India-bashing with gusto. It would be interesting to know why. It would also be pertinent to ask if the army had a hand in this.
India must also call upon the international community to be alert to the danger of Pakistan escalating its drug exports in the wake of sanctions hitting its fragile economy. This would make the country more fragile internally as the military and upper classes will become even more effete and corrupt. India should also ask its Western critics to stop carping about its bomb in the wake of Pakistani talk of capping the Ghauri missiles with nuclear warheads.
The Pioneer, 18 June 1998