Vajpayee's lost chance to make history
C. RAMMANOHAR REDDY
Whether the recent offer from Pakistan to `denuclearise' was a ploy or not, it was an opportunity for our Prime Minister to go down in history as the one who worked to make the region free of nuclear weapons.
Trapped in a five-year dream of nuclear weapons ...
PAKISTAN has offered to dismantle its nuclear weaponry, if India too does the same. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has dismissed the Pakistani suggestion, arguing the India's arsenal is not "Pakistan-specific". It is not surprising that this opportunity to remove nuclear weapons from South Asia has been lost so easily. What is surprising is that the idea attracted hardly a murmur of discussion in political fora and the media. This is the extent to which we have been trapped in our five-year-old dream of nuclear weapons, a nightmare woven by our defence strategists, nuclear scientists and nationalist political formations who think that pride in being Indian comes from acquiring these ghastly weapons.
Off and on, over the past couple of decades, Pakistan has been making its offer of "a nuclear weapon free" South Asia. One can argue that this has always been a ploy to embarrass India in the eyes of the world, since it has always been known that we will say "no" to such a proposal. It could have been a similar tactic this time as well. This is especially so since, in purely narrow India-Pakistan military terms, Pakistan has more to lose from the two countries destroying their stockpile of nuclear weapons. One of the ironies of India's decision in 1998 to become an open nuclear weapon state was that it led to a neutralisation of the superiority India had in conventional arms over Pakistan. Our strategists will not admit the military folly they created. But the fact is that India's decision persuaded Pakistan to grasp this chance of becoming India's "equal" by also going nuclear. So, Pakistan, least of all, should in theory want to give up its "equalising force". (Didn't the Indian political thinkers and defence strategists foresee this outcome when they decided India should go nuclear? No, they did not; because they swallowed the propaganda by a section of our scientific establishment that Pakistan was incapable of developing nuclear weapons.)
When the Prime Minister said our nuclear weapons are not "Pakistan-centric", he meant that they are aimed at China as well. India's China syndrome, to use the term coined by the political scientist Kanti Bajpai, has been the real motive of our defence strategists who made us go nuclear. (The true driving force behind India's nuclear weapon drive was, of course, the pulls and pressures of domestic politics which conveniently found its "national security" imperative in the arguments of the strategists.) Since the mid-1960s a changing band of Indian thinkers on international relations has seen these arms as an instrument "to counter" China and to stand alongside that country on the global stage. This philosophy was clearly enunciated in the pathetic letter India wrote to the U.S. in May 1998 in defence of its decision to go nuclear, a letter which the U.S. Government promptly leaked to the media.
What we need to ask of our policy-makers is, "Is the China factor a cause at all for acquiring nuclear weapons?" We do have an unresolved border dispute with China, but that by itself is not cause to go nuclear. As Dr. Bajpai, a rare reasoned voice on nuclear weapons in India, puts it, China has obtained what it wants on the border. It is not going to use its nuclear weapons to threaten India to obtain more. (We can hardly also suggest that with our recently acquired nuclear weapons, we can restore the pre-1962 status quo on the border.) Dr. Bajpai argues too that India figures rather low in China's list of countries with which it has problems below Japan, Russia, U.S. (to which one can add Vietnam and Taiwan). So with enough on its plate, China is not going to brandish its nuclear weapons at India. Then there is the foolish claim of nuclear weapons giving us the "currency of power" alongside China on the global stage. It surely does not need to be pointed out that China's power in the world is derived from its economic prowess, not from its possession of nuclear weapons. And correspondingly just because we have nuclear weapons the world is not going to see us as China's equal.
We have our problems with China, and the boundary dispute is taking longer than it should to permanently sort out. But there is a commitment in both countries to resolve this dispute. If that results in a solution, what Chinese threat is there to justify our possessing nuclear weapons? Conversely, there will always be groups in India, which, for their own reasons, will be less than enthusiastic about a permanent solution to the border problem.
There is of course an influential school of thought, which argues that India and China will be the Asian rivals of the future and India should therefore acquire the same weapons China now has. A more dangerous variant of this argument is that India and the U.S. should work to contain China's influence in Asia. We would be foolish to become a tool in the hands of the U.S. in such an enterprise, in which we, not the U.S., will have to suffer the costs. Finally, there is the argument about China aiding Pakistan in its nuclear weapon programme. That undoubtedly has happened. But if India and Pakistan draw up a strict and verifiable "no nuclear weapons" agreement, can such assistance take place?
This is not a complete dissection of the flimsy arguments that underlie India's China syndrome on nuclear weapons. There are many other, more or less sophisticated than the ones listed here. Unfortunately, we have surrendered to our policy-makers the power to frame the agenda and formulate the arguments on these weapons of mass destruction. If we, the ignorant about issues about international strategy and nuclear weapons, took these powers back, we would see how shallow (and dangerous) these arguments are.
A ploy or not from Pakistan, the recent offer of a "de-nuclearised" south Asia was a tremendous opportunity for Mr. Vajpayee to be remembered by history as the person who worked to make the region free of nuclear weapons. It is widely believed that Mr. Vajpayee wants to achieve a place in the history books as the person who brought peace to India-Pakistan relations. Yet, he has chosen not to grasp a chance for a bigger page in the book of history as the only world statesman since 1945 who made his country go nuclear, realised the folly of acquiring such weapons and then had the stockpile destroyed.
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