Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nuclear Proliferation: Darkest Cloud over South Asia? the U.S. Should Accept the Fact That Pakistan and India Both Have Nuclear Capabilities

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nuclear Proliferation: Darkest Cloud over South Asia? the U.S. Should Accept the Fact That Pakistan and India Both Have Nuclear Capabilities

Article excerpt

Nuclear Proliferation: Darkest Cloud Over South Asia? The U.S. Should Accept the Fact That Pakistan and India Both Have Nuclear Capability

By Khalid Hasan

It is increasingly assumed by America's media, the administration and its assorted security and South Asian experts that India, Pakistan and their governments are straining at the leash to go at each other with large, fire-breathing armies led by mad generals and backed up with nuclear weapons.

This doomsday scenario, now synonymous with accepted truth, makes it difficult to view the nuclear question in South Asia rationally. The factual basis of this perception is highly tenuous. Last spring, in a meandering, thriller-style piece in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh, who made a name for himself as one of America's ace investigative reporters 25 years ago, informed the world that in 1990, India and Pakistan would have blown each other sky high with nuclear bombs had it not been for the Americans.

The Hersh "exclusive" was reproduced around the world, and nowhere did it cause more astonishment than in the two countries which were supposed to have had such a close brush with extinction. This was the first the defense commands of the two neighboring states, their governments, their foreign ministries, their newspapers and, most of all, the 200-plus foreign diplomatic missions in New Delhi and Islamabad had heard of the scenario described by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mr. Hersh.

In the year that since has passed, it appeared that the Hersh "bombshell" was based on some advanced computer games that unnamed strategic experts at the Pentagon or in the U.S. intelligence community had played on their little screens, only to come up with this cuckooland scenario.

The piece offended both Indians and Pakistanis by portraying them as irresponsible, trigger-happy schoolboys who had been prevented from doing each other fatal harm only by the intervention of CIA Director Robert Gates, dispatched by President George Bush.

The story epitomized the Western belief that non-Western developing states like India and Pakistan are too immature, too unstable, too volatile to know what is good for them and that while they can perhaps be trusted with simple, conventional weapons and large armies which march to bands playing old colonial ditties, they cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons. That wouldn't be safe for them or for the world. It typifies a supercilious contempt for the intellectual maturity of nations outside the magical cluster of North America, Europe (with Australia and New Zealand thrown in) and Japan. Such thinking is unacceptable in New Delhi and Islamabad, as it is in Lagos, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, Lima and even the tiny island state of Papua New Guinea. The sooner this is understood, the better it will be for the world.

Now what really is the nuclear dimension in that part of the world, and where are things going from here? Twenty years ago, India exploded a nuclear device which it described as "peaceful," a turn of phrase which may be faulted for being inexact but not for originality. Why it did so and how this fitted in with its avowed doctrine of Gandhian nonviolence remains to be explained. However, "peaceful" or otherwise, this dramatic and unforeseen event (except in Pakistan, which had always cautioned the West, though without effect, that India was moving toward nuclear capability) was to change that part of Asia forever. …

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