Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

South Asian Arms Race Heats Up as Pakistan Admits Access to Nuclear Bomb, India Warms to Calls for Regional Arms Talks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

South Asian Arms Race Heats Up as Pakistan Admits Access to Nuclear Bomb, India Warms to Calls for Regional Arms Talks

Article excerpt

PUBLICLY, Indian officials reject a United States-backed proposal to sit down with Pakistani, Chinese, and Russian officials at a five-power conference on nuclear proliferation in South Asia. India has "grave reservations" about such a meeting, says Foreign Ministry spokesman Aftab Seth.

But officials and diplomats here say privately that India is not so opposed to a broader discussion of nuclear weapons in the region, and that the idea will be part of the agenda when Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit arrives in Washington next week. "They have been saying, 'We want to examine this thing and talk about it one New Delhi diplomat says.

India "basically wants to clear the air on what our concerns are and what {US} concerns are," a Foreign Ministry official says.

Nuclear concerns here have been heightened recently. Pakistani Foreign Secretary Shahryar Khan admitted early last month that his country can assemble a nuclear device. Mr. Khan's statement publicly confirmed a long-held suspicion in Washington; Congress cut off military and economic aid to Pakistan in October 1990 over doubts about the country's nuclear intentions.

India's ability to build a bomb has not been in question since 1974, when it conducted a nuclear test. Analysts say the political situations in both countries prohibit unilateral rollbacks of their nuclear programs.

In the middle of February a group of pro-independence Kashmiri militants in Pakistan vowed to cross the line that separates Pakistani-held Kashmir from the portion controlled by India, raising the level of tension between the two countries. Indian officials called in a host of foreign ambassadors in New Delhi to ask them to encourage Pakistan to stop the marchers, which it did. In light of Pakistan's nuclear admission, commentators here even voiced concern that the situation in Kashmir could have led to a nuclear confrontation. Pakistan's aid cutoff

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif officially proposed a five-power conference toward a South Asian nuclear-free zone in June 1991, but the idea was advanced earlier by US officials. Indian analysts suggest that Pakistan's motive is to support the US on the nuclear issue in the hope of getting Congress to lift the aid ban, known as the Pressler amendment. …

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