My article in the weekly Aman ki Asha page in The News today.
Speaking at MIT recently, invited by an Indian colleague, a leading Pakistani academic and physicist makes the case for peace
By Beena Sarwar
In the midst of ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan amplified by hyper media on both sides, an Indian scientist warmly introduces a Pakistani colleague at one of the world’s most prestigious universities – and that too for a talk on “Pakistan’s Bomb – Past, Present, and Future”.
The Indian scientist is Subrata Ghoshroy who leads the Promoting Nuclear Stability in South Asia Project at the Science, Technology and Global Security working group, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The Pakistani scientist is Pervez Hoodbhoy, Professor of Physics, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, an alumnus of MIT where he obtained his BS, MS, and Ph.D degrees.
Prof. Hoodbhoy is a well-known supporter for peace between India and Pakistan and a campaigner for global nuclear disarmament. He has consistently and courageously spoken out against nuclear weapons programmes in Pakistan and in India. The recently published book he edited, “Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out” (Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan, 2013) is a collection of essays by Indian and Pakistani scientists. The essays underline how amassing bombs in the region can only lead to disaster, not military triumph.
The essays are compiled from papers researched by visiting scientists at the Project on Peace and Security in South Asia, run by Dr. Zia Mian at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. Prof. Hoodbhoy was one of the project’s visiting scientists in 2011.
At his talk at MIT, he outlined the history of the nuclear race in South Asia that began with India forming its Atomic Energy Agency in 1948. The Indian physicist Homi Bhabha enthused Prime Minister Nehru into the idea of nuclear energy; eventually the government deliberately left the purpose ambiguous.
Pakistan Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto wanted the bomb “for revenge” after India fought against West Pakistan in the 1971 war with East Pakistan – where the current movement at Shahbag Square relates to crime committed then, as Prof. Hoodbhoy pointed out.
Bhutto convened a meeting of the country’s scientists at Multan in 1972. Two years later, India conducted its first ‘peaceful’ nuclear test. The term ‘Islamic bomb’ was mentioned for the first time by Bhutto in his book “If I am assassinated” (1977), written while he was on death row.
Clearly, building nuclear weapons has not enhanced security or the wellbeing of the people of India and Pakistan. On the contrary it has led to bravado and aggression, as Prof. Hoodbhoy pointed out, causing several ‘nuclear crises’ since 1986 when Pakistan developed nuclear weapons capability.
Matters heated up in Kashmir where over 90,000 people have since been killed – with India responsible for most of the deaths, as Prof. Hoodbhoy pointed out. The Kashmir situation led to a nuclear crisis in 1987 that was narrowly averted.
In 1990, the Kashmir situation led to another crisis as Indian troops movement began building up towards Pakistan, and Pakistan reportedly moved its nuclear weapons from the lab at Kahuta to the Chaklala air base to be loaded on to F-16s waiting on the tarmac.
The Kargil ‘war-like situation’ that erupted on the heels of the nuclear tests of 1998 by India, followed by Pakistan, led to another crisis. Another crisis was precipitated by the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament by the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad. Then in November 2008, the terror attacks on Mumbai led to yet another crisis.
After the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, Washington had lifted the sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan following the 1998 nuclear tests, Prof. Hoodbhoy reminded the audience. In fact, by 2006, according to a Reuters news report, Washington considered Pakistan and India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons as legitimate.
Over the next few years, the USA increasingly saw India as an ally and its legitimisation and rewards to India severely damaged nuclear non-proliferation.
Each period of extreme tension between India and Pakistan has carried the threat of a nuclear war breaking out. The threat was averted at the last minute each time. However, peace advocates like Prof. Hoodbhoy point out that the situation would not have reached that point had it not been for the increased aggression in mindsets after nuclearisation.
In one television talk show following the Mumbai attacks, a Pakistani general went so far as to say that the Indians themselves were responsible, motivated by wanting to make Pakistan look bad. Or that the USA or Israel were behind the attacks. The general said that Pakistan should mount a nuclear attack on India before Indian tanks could start moving towards Pakistan, recalled Prof. Hoodbhoy. “That was the sort of threat being bandied about”.
About whether India and Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence would continue to work, Prof. Hoodbhoy said that Pakistan must act against the militants. “It is essential,” he said, “for Pakistan and India to make peace.”
Also essential, added Subrata Ghoshroy, winding up the discussion, is the “democratic political process”. For the first time, an elected government in Pakistan was completing its tenure and getting ready to hand over power to the next after holding general elections. “This is a positive step and must be celebrated and supported. It shows the underlying strength of Pakistani society and polity, which we must build on rather than hyping the notion of a ‘failed state’,” he stressed.