ISLAMABAD — Despite a push by the international community, there’s little prospect that India and Pakistan will sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Both countries continue to defy a range of overt and covert pressures on the issue. The fact that the CTBT may eventually not come into force unless it is approved by important nuclear powers, especially the United States, further throws into question this treaty’s ability to prevent proliferation.
Just before the second anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tests, military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf remarked that Pakistan should not be prevented from carrying out further nuclear tests if India conducts additional tests. This suggests that little progress has been made on the issue of nonproliferation in the region since 1998, when India’s nuclear tests prompted Pakistan to respond in kind.
In the past few weeks, reports from Washington attributed to unnamed U.S. officials suggested that Pakistan may be preparing for more nuclear tests. These reports have been received with skepticism by many nuclear experts, however. These experts believe that given its weak economy, Pakistan is unlikely to be the first to trigger another series of nuclear tests in South Asia, given the prospect of additional crippling economic sanctions. At most, they say, Islamabad may be preparing to launch tests only if Delhi does so first.
The frightening prospect of another round of nuclear testing in South Asia, suggests that the international community can not afford to be complacent in this volatile region. In recent months, a gradual buildup of tensions along the Line of Control in Kashmir, the disputed temporary border between India and Pakistan, has hardly helped to create a basis for a more conciliatory atmosphere.
While India and Pakistan have much to lose if they escalate tensions, that is not reason enough to expect that the two countries will refrain from carrying out additional nuclear tests.
To achieve progress in South Asia, the global community should take three important factors into consideration.
First, the prospect of another series of nuclear tests makes it clear that a policy of indirect international engagement will not restrain nuclear proliferation in South Asia. Western engagement must intensify if India and Pakistan are to be persuaded not to carry out more nuclear tests.
Tensions over Kashmir are the primary source of friction on the subcontinent. Indian efforts to characterize this situation as an internal matter are increasingly untenable. Successive Indian governments have described the decade-old Muslim uprising in Kashmir as the work of a small group of hardline militants backed by Pakistan. But it is clear that genuine discontent backed by popular frustration has fueled the violence that has claimed thousands of lives.
Second, Pakistan cannot be absolved from responsibility for South Asia’s growing insecurity. For the past two years, Islamabad has often been the deserved target of criticism of its failure to do more to curb Islamic activists based on its soil who have played an active role in conflicts in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Kashmir, among others. While some Pakistanis may admire these groups, their activities stand in the path of better ties between Islamabad and Delhi, and are also negatively affecting domestic policy.
Religious schools known as “madrassah,” which have sprung up in great numbers across Pakistan, have played a key role in training young Pakistanis in the art of warfare. Any efforts to restrain religious activists must start by curbing the activities of the religious zealots in madrassah schools who are sewing the seeds of violence for years to come.
Even more importantly, the government must work to improve the country’s dire economic situation, which is breeding discontent among young Pakistanis and fueling religious radicalism.
Finally, the international community’s perspective on South Asia must undergo a fundamental change. Latin America’s geographic location and Southeast Asia’s economic importance have long led Washington to focus its attention on these regions and view South Asia as an area of secondary importance. But war between India and Pakistan, which carries the risk of nuclear confrontation, could destabilize Asia, particularly if China were to be drawn into the conflict.
The Indian Ocean provides the only route for the bulk of the world’s oil supplies flowing to Asia from the Middle East. A conflict in South Asia affecting shipping in the Indian Ocean could trigger a global economic crisis.
With such potential dangers lurking on the horizon, it is difficult to imagine that the international community will continue to let South Asian security issues remain on the periphery of global concerns.
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