In May 1998, India stunned the world when it successfully conducted nuclear tests in Pokhran, a desert site in the western state of Rajasthan. The tests were reciprocated by its traditional rival, Pakistan , dramatically raising the stakes in the stand-off over Kashmir , one of the world’s longest-running feuds.
Subsequently, in mid-1999, India fought a brief but bitter conflict with Pakistani-backed forces that had infiltrated Indian-controlled territory in the Kargil area close to the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. The confrontation between the two countries, just over a year after the nuclear tests, confirmed that the nuclear status didn’t remove the danger of conflict between India and Pakistan; rather, it has increased the stakes if war is to ever occur. Both countries were in an advanced state of nuclear readiness during the entire period of the Kargil conflict. Never before can I remember the tensions within both countries being so high.
Yet, in a statement in 2001, President Abdul Kalaam of India , continuing to promote and defend the further development of nuclear weapons, asked, “When was the last war with Pakistan? That both sides are nuclear capable has helped not engage in a big war.” 1 However, Kalaam blatantly ignored the fact that tensions escalated during the Kargil conflict due to the nuclearization of the sub-continent. With blinkers on, both President Musharraf of Pakistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India are pressing on to develop more advanced nuclear arsenals. Despite limited resources, in a region where there is chronic social and economic problems with hunger and disease rampant in every corner of each country, India and Pakistan continue to reiterate their commitments to develop and deploy nuclear weapons as part of their national security programs.
But what is needed, right now more than ever, is a realistic consideration of the problems that lie in the internal sphere of each country. Socio-economic, socio-religious, sectarian, and caste conflict in several parts of the two countries are epidemic. The chaos in Karachi including several street riots, ethno-nationalist insurgencies in Assam and Nagaland in Northeast India continue to claim over a hundred lives every year and the recent Hindu-Muslim riots that killed over a thousand innocent people in the western state of Gujarat in India all point to the increasing threats within each country’s domestic sphere. Nuclear weapons are not the answer to these social problems. Furthermore, more than four million in both India and Pakistan live in abject poverty – that is more than half of the combined population of both countries. Mass unemployment and illiteracy are on the rise. The internal debt figures in India alone have more than tripled. There is a lack of basic needs such as clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. Infrastructure and the quality of education continue to rapidly diminish. There are rising number of suicides by farmers in the southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Unbridled drug and arms trafficking in Pakistan are becoming more common and widespread. Spending inadequate financial resources on nuclear weapons is not the way out of these pressing socio-economic problems.
Additionally, incidents of terrorism within both countries have also increased to include suicide attacks on not only the Indian military and para-military but also on their families. Recent bomb blasts in commercial areas in Karachi are proof that Pakistan isn’t immune from terrorism, well within its own borders, either. Nuclear weapons cannot offer a solution to these flagrant acts of terror. Moreover, there is an increasing criminalization and corruption of politics in India and Pakistan. The degradation of politics is starting to question the credibility of both countries. Nuclear weapons provide no real answer to this range of domestic issues, yet this lesson remains unlearned.
What is needed from both countries right now is a commitment to the welfare of their populations and a firm plan for decreasing poverty, eradicating disease and death from hunger and starvation. Spending limited resources – financial or otherwise on developing a more complete range of nuclear weapons is not going to help the people of India, Pakistan or, for that matter, the people of Kashmir. Providing basic needs such as drinking water, safe infrastructure and hygienic sanitation facilities is what is urgently required. Increasing the quality of education, decreasing the level of illiteracy and paving the way for increasing youth employment are the needs of the hour. Both India and Pakistan have traditionally focused on threats on their borders. It is now time for each country to look inward and form a strong resolve to solve these deep rooted issues within each society.
Archana Bharath an is a senior at the University of Michigan and was a Lena Chang Intern at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Summer 2004.