As the world's attention is transfixed on bombing Saddam, the
risk is growing that South Asia's undeclared nuclear powers,
Pakistan and India, will conduct a new round of nuclear tests and
missile deployments following the current elections in India.
South Asia's politicians are likely to move closer to an open
endorsement of regional "weaponization" if right-wing Hindu
nationalists garner enough voter support to form the next Indian
The potential ramifications for South Asia's economies and
people are significant. In per capita income, both Pakistan (at
$450 per year) and India (at $380) are among the poorest nations in
the world. Literacy rates are dismally low - less than 50 percent.
Malnutrition and disease are widespread. Yet both countries
continue to spend more than 25 percent of their annual budgets -
some $10 billion to $12 billion combined - on building their war
machines. Reducing military expenditures by just 10 percent, for
example, would fund the construction and operation of tens of
thousands of rural schools.
Complicating this situation is the elusiveness of peace in
Kashmir. The disputed Himalayan enclave has been the flash point
for military and nuclear tensions since Pakistan and India formally
separated from Britain and each other in 1947. Islamabad and New
Delhi already have fought two wars over Kashmir, in 1947 and again
But the potential for a new South Asian crisis resides not in
the possibility of Kashmir flaring up again or in the rhetorical
barbs that might fly between Hindu nationalists and radical
Islamists. It lies in each country's nuclear command structure.
Indian nuclear policy resides in the hands of its political
leaders. Pakistan's Army chief controls that country's policy.
A right-leaning Indian government, buoyed by nationalistic
fervor, might authorize thermonuclear tests in India's Pokharan
desert or deploy Prithvi missiles aimed at Pakistan. These moves
could be seen as a way of demonstrating India's regional virility
and its global identity as an independent, powerful state no longer
subject to the whims of the world's superpowers.
Such action on India's part would almost inevitably be met
with an immediate and equal response from Islamabad. Pakistan could
deploy Chinese-made M-11 missiles or conduct a nuclear test of its
own. It's no coincidence that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
visited China last week for wide-ranging talks. …