Arms race fuels tensions in India and Pakistan

Fabiana Torreao

In a period when the world’s powers are advocating nuclear disarmament, India and Pakistan have been embroiled in their own nuclear race, using funds critics say could instead go to sorely needed social welfare programs.
Indian journalists and scholars Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik, who also founded the Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament, spoke about the impact of India and Pakistan’s nuclear armaments to a group of 15 people at the Law School on May 12.
“We must have a recognition of this open-endedness,” said Bidwai, of the current nuclear situation between India and Pakistan, in which “unintended consequences and unanticipated outcomes” might emerge.
Bidwai and Vanaik have written books and articles about nuclear weapons, security and peace. Their one-month visit to the United States launches their new book, “New Nukes: India, Pakistan and Global Nuclear Disarmament.”
By developing nuclear armaments, India is trying to maximize its security by making everyone else insecure, Vanaik argued. He compared this attitude to the hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet last December. He said the terrorist action was not only in the name of security, as India’s, but was also for a noble cause.
“While most of the world is beginning to disarm, you have India and Pakistan beginning to arm,” said Erich Rutten, social justice coordinator from the University of St. Thomas, who introduced the speakers. “It is somewhat outside of the Cold War dynamics, in this case a more regional issue. (We) need to look at what is going on culturally and economically.”
India and Pakistan have been fighting for control of Kashmir, which lies between them, since 1947 when Britain withdrew its colonial rule from the region. Two-thirds of the predominantly Muslim Kashmir is controlled by Hindu India, while Pakistan, a Muslim nation, controls the remaining third.
Their 53-year-long battle over Kashmir has resulted in two wars and claimed tens of thousands of lives. What makes it different this time is that both countries have nuclear weapons.
“The possibilities (of a nuclear war) are rather high, because of the bigotry between the two countries,” said event organizer S.P. Udayakumar, a research associate at the University’s Race and Poverty Institute.
Udayakumar said that there are strong emotions and feelings of betrayal among the ruling elites of both countries. However, he said that such strong feelings are not as widespread among the people.
“When you have this bigotry, strong emotions, hatred and religious differences, you have a recipe for disaster,” Udayakumar said.
Nearly two months ago, President Clinton visited India and Pakistan in an attempt, with little success, to persuade the two countries into nuclear disarmament.
Udayakumar called the nearly $50 million presidential visit a “media circus that accomplished nothing.”
Vanaik discussed the high costs of nuclear arms development and stockpiling for both countries. He said that every missile that Pakistan builds takes millions of dollars from programs that promote literacy. Pakistan has a literacy level of 38 percent.
“In India, even to build a low number and primitive nuclear weapons, it would cost today’s annual defense budget,” Vanaik said.
Both India and Pakistan’s poverty levels are extremely high. Poverty afflicts 40 percent of India’s citizens and 34 percent of Pakistanis.

Fabiana Torreao covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]