Scientist Bridge Political Divide: Despite the Hostilities between Their Two Countries, M.V. Ramana and Zia Mian Formed a Friendship They Hope Can Keep India and Pakistan out of a Nuclear War. (World: Nuclear Weapons)

Article excerpt

Some friendships defy the most testing times. In this case two scientists from India and Pakistan have snubbed convention and the logic of war by jointly highlighting the consequences of a nuclear exchange for their region.

U.S.-educated M.V. Ramana from India and British-trained Zia Mian from Pakistan both have an academic grounding in theoretical physics. What is so special about these men based at Princeton University in New Jersey is a brotherhood that transcends the political divide and invokes memories of an international fraternity of nuclear scientists that existed before World War II.

As the military standoff continues between India and Pakistan, these two friends stand out as an all-too-rare example Of hands-across-the-border professionals. Yet if they were back in their own countries the friendship between the two scientists from bitterly opposed neighboring nations inevitably would lead to accusations of treason. Indeed their relationship, and proven history of mutual support, would be comparable to an American and a Soviet scientist working closely with each other during the height of the Cold War.

Both men were born a generation after India and Pakistan secured independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Each sees himself as a science activist prepared to challenge prevailing orthodoxies.

Friends of 40-year-old Mian, an undergraduate at London University before he qualified for his doctorate at Newcastle, describe him as a dead ringer for the Mahatma Gandhi character portrayed by Ben Kingsley in Richard Attenborough's famous film about the father of the Indian independence movement. Ramana, a Boston University Ph.D. who is due to take up a research position in India later this year, is two years younger and the exact opposite of his bespectacled Pakistani friend. His tousled hair and fondness for denim belie his academic status and mark him as just another graduate student on an American university campus. He also has hidden talents as a published critic of Indian classical music.

Both men are respected for their academic competence by their scientist contemporaries, but their passionate opposition to nuclear weapons marks them as troublemakers to the ruling establishments in India and Pakistan. Neither man has been given access to the state-controlled media to argue their case before the courts of public opinion.

Ramana set the ball rolling with a paper he wrote when he was previously at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was entitled "Bombing Bombay: Effects of Nuclear Weapons" and was a case study of a hypothetical explosion. His paper, published by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, was written before the last round of saber-rattling between Islamabad and New Delhi, but its relevance has been underscored by the continuing threats and counterthreats from both sides of the border to play the nuclear card.

"The purpose of this exercise is not to speculate on the probability of Bombay being attacked," Ramana wrote in his introduction. "Instead the aim is to further understanding of the consequences that result from a nuclear explosion." Taking as his starting point the size of bombs that were used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Ramana comes to the chilling conclusion that the number of deaths in Bombay resulting from attack by a single nuclear bomb could range somewhere between 160,000 and 860,000.

"I wanted to be as conservative as possible," Ramana said in an exclusive interview. "The larger figure is entirely possible because the population density in some parts of the city is so high. Think of the morning rush at Churchgate or Victoria terminal [at the heart of Bombay] and you'll see that if something goes off there it will instantly kill huge numbers of people. Therefore I have good reason to believe that the final count could be at the higher end of the estimates. …