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Nuclear craze: Opinion

The reported proposal by the armed forces to build hundreds of nuclear shelters along our border with Pakistan, the LoC included, appears wrong-headed.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2004 16:11 IST

The reported proposal by the armed forces to build hundreds of nuclear shelters along our border with Pakistan, the LoC included, appears wrong-headed. No doubt, the move will benefit the company or companies charged with the task — with each such underground bunker coming for about Rs 1 crore — but it is likely to do little to enhance our security.

Worse, such a step could lead us right back into the sapping debates of the Nineties — which consumed a great deal of the Narasimha Rao years and some of Vajpayee’s time in office — simulated by key international players to raise the fears of a nuclear armageddon in South Asia. The raising of the horror scenarios was to pressure us on Kashmir. This suited Islamabad since it has always been keen to internationalise Kashmir. Much has changed in respect of Kashmir following the West’s recognition of the terrorist menace and our credible assembly election in the state. But, for all its expedient stress on normalising ties with India, the subject continues to exercise the Pakistani establishment in the old way.

The joint declaration issued at the end of Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad last month, in an implied way, leaves room open for mediation on Kashmir. Such a prospect has never been to India’s taste. By drawing attention — through the nuclear bunkers proposal — to any possibility of fighting an atomic war with Pakistan, we are seeking to court international pressures on the Kashmir issue.

But there is another pressing danger. In the light of the lately exposed Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation, it is not unlikely that the US will seek to pressure Islamabad to roll back its incipient nuclear weapons programme and force it in the direction of signing the NPT. The price for bending that Pakistan is apt to demand is that India, too, be placed under similar restraints, though India’s nuclear conduct has been quite exemplary.

Arising out of the Pakistani nuclear violations, President Bush’s Wednesday speech on curing defects in the international non-proliferation architecture is clear about one thing — not opening the discriminatory NPT for negotiation. Which means we may expect renewed pressures on our nuclear stance anyway, though we have been upright. It is instructive that John Kerry, who may well replace Bush as president, should also have tossed the old lollipop — asking India to sign the NPT (as a non-nuclear State) if it wishes to be considered for the Security Council as a permanent member.

Anti-nuke bunkers along the border do not make much sense if the real threat from the Pakistani proliferation is perceived to be the terrorists’ ‘dirty bomb’. Extremists are more likely to target population centres than the forlorn LoC. If establishment Pakistan is indeed the real threat, then we may as well prepare for an attack on our cities.

The thought of Pakistan unleashing only theatre nuclear weapons (hence, nuclear safety rooms) is absurd, given the minuscule distances that separate the two countries. Besides, Pakistan’s capability to fabricate tactical weapons must for now remain in doubt. Basically, we should quit raising alerts that nuclear war is at hand and end peace prospects, even if we wish to sound muscular on election eve.