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28th June 1998


Preparing for the 21st Century

By Mervyn de Silva

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All quiet on the Indo- Pak front ? So it seems, probably because of the SAARC summit next month in Colombo . No bilateral issues, please, is a firm SAARC Club convention or rule. Besides both antagonists are resourceful enough to pursue their national interests without violating an important club rule. And so, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, on Wednesday "to discuss security in South Asia following nuclear tests by arch rivals, India and Pakistan " Reuter reported yes, regional security is item No 1 on the SAARC agenda, official or not.

How the wheel has turned. Bangladesh was once East Pakistan - East separated from West by foreign territory an anomaly that the Indian army (and some covert agencies) removed by recognising the extraordinary mobilising power of Bengali nationalism. (India had its own Bengal, West Bengal now perhaps that last redoubt of Indian Marxist- Leninism.

In the last years of the 20th century, religion, certainly Islam seems to be a more dynamic force..... from former Yugoslavia to Indonesia.

Right now however it was the Hindu (Indian) bomb which has created the current crisis........ with an Islamic bomb as the prompt reply from Pakistan. In the age of ethnic revivalism, even weapons of mass destruction. But China, India's neighbour, makes a difference. A recognised member of the exclusive Nuclear Club, China has gone to war over disputed border against its large neighbour. And China has a very special relationship with Pakistan. Hindu Bomb, Islamic Bomb - who can mediate? There is only one country that is fully qualified, if the United Nations remain helpless - the United States, President Clinton's country, now the sole superpower.

But American policy, says Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser, has "never pursued a genuinely universal and non- discriminatory policy of halting proliferation. In fact, US policy all along has been that of selective and preferential proliferation.

Brezinski does not use the word "hypocrisy" but the Times of India does convey that message quite plainly: American Policy is The Height Of Hyposcrisy. "US efforts to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons have failed for two reasons. The first is that the United States has never pursued a genuinely universal and nondiscriminatory policy of halting proliferation. In fact US policy all along has been that of selective and preferential proliferation".

The most obvious case was Britain, which was openly assisted. And it is now known that after assisting "the cousins," the US helped France but "much more surreptitiously" in France's pursuit of a nuclear "capability". Sri Lankan students of the problem, and certainly readers of the daily press, and this column which pays special attention to the Middle-East, would mark this passage:

"It is now known that "the U.S very deliberately more than winked at the Israeli efforts, while studiously ignoring the atmospheric nuclear tests conducted "by someone" in the late 1970's near South Africa in the Indian Ocean."

Brezinski's point is that in such circumstances - and none of these tests could be kept - any country would feel that it had the moral right to help its friends. Certainly, the USSR (now Russia) could feel it perfectly proper to help a friend, most certainly an ally. And so to the region.

Having given a 30-day "notice" to the Defence Minister's scientific adviser A.P.J Abdul Kalam," nuclear weaponisation was complete." Dr Kalam felt he had the right to go beyond the strictly scientific realm to foreign policy, and one may even say, politics.

"Indigenously developed AGNI and PRITHVI surface-to-surface missiles could now be armed with nuclear warheads..... missiles are designed to carry any type of warhead....." Knowing that this was his first open encounter with the media, the journalists, the press was uncharacteristically friendly and warm. What has all this contributed to a peaceful, stable South Asia.

The headlines do carry a message. Foreign Investors Flee India Over Political Economic Uncertainty......India's Congress plays waiting game over calls to topple government...... Hindu Group determined to build the Temple at Mosque site....... Sharif tells Vajpayee peace between Pakistan, India vital.. Pakistan, Bangladesh premiers Mull Security.

Prime Minister I.K Gujral who won the respect of India's smaller neighbours by announcing 'The Gujral Doctrine' - India would help the smaller without any question of "reciprocity" - believes that the question of whether India should have joined the 'Club' or not is no longer the issue.

"We cannot present a divided face. India's foreign policy has been based on national consensus. It would be a mistake to do other wise. But what of a new arms race?.

"Since my time Indian foreign policy has ceased to be Pakistan- centred. Our land and ocean borders cover a huge geographical area. When I met President Clinton last November I asked him to understand the environment in South Asia. I told him that we had a thousand mile long border with Tibet".

Hulftsdorp Hill

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