Nuclear Profile Of South Asia Post-1974 – OpEd


The South Asia region was nuclearized in May 1974, when India exploded its nuclear devices. But again dangers were multiplied in May-June 1998 with nuclear explosions by India and Pakistan.

After the tests, New Delhi and Islamabad had claimed to be member of world’s nuclear club. In 1974, after its Pokharan explosion, if India had declared itself a nuclear weapon power, it would now have been in the same positions as China, an accepted member of the nuclear club, instead of an applicant being black-balled.

At the time India wanted nuclear status as well as the right to exercise its “land of Gandhi and Buddha,” syndrome, To that end, it went to convoluted lengths, denying that it had conducted a nuclear test and calling it a mere “peaceful nuclear blast”.

In the post-Pokharan II Phase, the United States imposed economic sanctions on both–New Delhi and Islamabad despite its reservations for Pakistan, President Bill Clinton, in Rose a Garden statement, called upon the South Asian rivals to “cool it and take a deep breath”. He said, “Developing weapons of mass destruction is self-defeating wasteful and dangerous. It will make their people poorer and less cure”. Its Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright had headed an urgent meeting of the Permanent Five Foreign Ministers, at Geneva, and set three goals. To defuse the escalating arms race by stopping nuclear testing, deployment and mating of missiles with nuclear warheads; to deal with the underlying conflict and discuss the status of Kashmir to shore up the international non- proliferation system.

Role of US and China

The same theme was reiterated by the US President Bill Clinton when he outlined country’s agenda for South Asia and said that his goal was to forge a common strategy with five other nuclear powers to move India and Pakistan back from their nuclear arms race and to begin to build a more peaceful, stable region.

Clinton appreciated China for chairing the Geneva Conference and took it as an evidence how important role Beijing could play in meeting the challenges of the 21st century and the constructive Chinese leadership that would be essential to the long-term resolutions of issues involving South Asia. He pleaded in favour of US engagements with China which would serve America’s interests, stability in Asia, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, combating international crime and drug-trafficking, protecting the environment.

Despite Clinton’s prodding, Beijing should reflect carefully on the wisdom of trying to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Although, it is fashionable to view Kashmir as an Indo-Pak issue, China also is deeply involved in it. Way back in the 1960s, Pakistan ceded to China 2,600 square kilometers of Jammu and Kashmir territory in the name of border adjustment. Around 38,000 square kilometers of the State’s territory in Aksai Chin is under China’s occupation for about four decades. Just as India has to sort out the Kashmir issue with Pakistan, it has also similar agenda with China.

Apart from being a staunch ally of Pakistan, even other circumstances rule Beijing out as a mediator. Several other issues relevant to a stable and long-term relationship would have to be addressed. There has never been greater need for transparency in their relations than now. China and India must engage themselves in exploring each other’s geo-strategic perceptions. One result of China undertaking America’s assignment in South Asia would be a considerable lessening of Beijing role in Asia Pacific affairs in the coming years.

In fact, in the post-test phase, the US was not as worried about India’s capacities for restraint and responsibility regarding its nuclear weapons as about the effect of India’s weaponisation in the Asian region, certain parts of which are of vital strategic and economic interest to the US. The apprehension was about the horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Asian region where a number of countries have the aspiration and could have the capacity for acquiring nuclear weapons.

The US wants India to understand that American concerns about nuclear weaponisation are not Indo-centric. Ithas larger international strategic and security dimensions. The US refusal to legally acknowledge India as a nuclear weapons state is not an impractical exercise of flying in the face of the fact of India’s established nuclear weapons capacity. It was an attempt at preventing the legitimisation of the nuclear weapons status of countries which have gone against international orientations and against horizontal proliferation carefully structured by the five nuclear weapons powers.

Hence, the demand is frequently made that cap India and roll back its nuclear weaponisation programme, that India signs the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty unconditionally, and that India agree to join the negotiations on the fissile material cut-off treaty without any reservation. And also that India’s commitments to abide by the other international regimes related to missile control, stockpiles of nuclear material, and transfer of nuclear and missile technologies.

In September 1998, Bill Clinton, in course of his visit to Moscow, asked his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin to stop military cooperation with India saying that nuclear rivalry in South Asia could lead to a war in which the two super powers might get embroiled.

However, in a US think-tank study report conducted by an independent Task Force and co-sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, held China responsible for the situations in South Asia.

The report noted, “China bears some responsibility for the situation in South Asia, given its own nuclear and missile programme that concern India and the assistance it had provided over the years to Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programme.” It felt that China has an incentive to act responsibly since it would not really like to see India building up its nuclear arsenal. Realising the need of China in this regard it acknowledged that it would be difficult, if not impossible to stabilise the situation in South Asia without Beijing’s constructive participation.

Pokharan-2 and India-China relations

India’s relations with China have certainly suffered a setback after Pokharan II. During the last ten years relations between the two countries had improved although at a slow speed. These need to be put back on the track by both countries. Beijing also needs to realise that the rise of fundamentalists forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan– which had received arms and nuclear technology from China– could ensure problems for China also, particularly in provinces like Sinkiang, which has a sizeable Muslim population.

There is also a need for resumption of dialogue between New Delhi and Beijing to sort out differences on many issues including nuclear one. Ties between Beijing and New Delhi turned sour after India cited a “Chinese Threat” for its nuclear test. Beijing adopted a tough stand on the South Asian nuclear tests which was expressed by China’s top disarmament official, Sha Zukang, who also heads the arms control and disarmament department of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, that New Delhi was going about consulting other members of the P-5 and engaging in strategic dialogue while completely ignoring China. He said, ‘The South Asian tests have severally interrupted the ‘good momentum’ of global non-proliferation efforts since the end of Cold War. Zukang also called for “concerted action” by major powers to halt the slide and favoured a robust international non- proliferation regime which is in the interest of all countries.

In addition, Beijing is also dead against the making India an overt nuclear- power state. A key Chinese policy goal had always been to prevent the emergence of India–whose nuclear programme is older than China’s-with a full-fledged nuclear deterrent. It was the same goal that prompted the Chinese in 1974 to denounce India’s first Pokharan test but unlike that “peaceful nuclear explosion” the Shakti tests of 1998 involved sophisticated nuclear warheads deliverable atop the China–pertinent Agni- series missiles.

From the recent past what China wants is a peer competitor in India. Chinese weapons of mass destruction aid to Islamabad was designed to lock India in a low-level deterrent relationship with Pakistan, with the flow of assistance calibrated to match every Indian advance and keep this country boxed in the sub-continent. Nearly, a quarter century of Indian nuclear pusillanimity had made the Leninist rulers in Beijing conclude that their containment was working with the Indians tied down sub-continentally and rendered too meek to break- out of the strategic straitjacket.

Effects on US-China relations

During the next few years a strain on Sino-US relations was expected on nuclear related issues. Despite the recent charges of spying by Beijing Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State, laid emphasis that it was important for the US to engage with a country of 1.3 billion people that has a huge land mass, and that has an influence within its region. “We are better off talking with them, dealing with them. We have made some progress in terms of their cooperation on nuclear proliferation on rogue countries. While leading Congressional Republicans accused the administration of not taking the theft of nuclear technology by China seriously enough and also of keeping Congress in the dark with regard to the full extent of the damage done to American security.

China too viewed the US with suspicion as Zhou Gang, Beijing’s Ambassador in India, said, “The US continues to believe that China is the last evil empire because it is still a communist country”.

According to William Cohen, Defence Secretary, the core of the US defence strategy and military posture in Asia is “America’s Commitment to protecting and promoting our interests by remaining forward deployed in the region. While the ring is aimed mainly at China’s military might, the US also has an elaborate strategy to weaken the Communist regime from within the country.

As the Communist regime has consciously opted for economic liberalisation in order to develop the country expeditiously, there is hope in the US administration that a higher standard of living would pave the way for widening the base for democratic aspirations leading eventually t o the replacement of Communism by democracy.

An indication of the view was given on 11th June 1998, when Clinton, on the eve of his visit to China, said, “Over time, I believe, China’s leaders must accept freedom’s progress because China can only reach its full potential if its people are free. In the information age, the wealth of any nation including China’s, lies in its people, in their capacity to create, to communicate, to innovate. The Chinese people must have the freedom to speak, to publish, to associate, to worship without fear of resprisals,” and added “only then will China reach its full potential for growth and greatness. Beijing too was anxious over the US military designs in Asia.

The strengthening of the US-Japan security cooperation, US plans to deploy theatre missile defence system in Asia and attempts to incorporate Taiwan into it, and supply of sophisticated weapons to Taipei had strengthened anti-US feelings among some of Beijing’s foreign policy planners. The Chinese outburst against the alliance showed that Beijing was increasingly becoming suspicious of Washington’s game plan, especially in Asia.

*Dr. Rajkumar Singh, Professor and Head, University Dept. of Political Science, BNMU,West Campus, P.G.Centre, Saharsa, Bihar, India.

Dr. Rajkumar Singh

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is a University Professor for the last 20 years and presently Head of the P.G. Department of Political Science, B.N. Mandal University, West Campus, P.G. Centre,Saharsa (Bihar), India. In addition to 17 books published so far there are over 250 articles to his credit out of which above 100 are from 30 foreign countries. His recent published books include Transformation of modern Pak Society-Foundation, Militarisation, Islamisation and Terrorism (Germany, 2017),and New Surroundings of Pak Nuclear Bomb (Mauritius, 2018). He is an authority on Indian Politics and its relations with foreign countries.

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