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On June 19th the new Indian government
has its first talks with Pakistan
about their nuclear weapons



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

June 16, 2004

LONDON - Since the early 1970s- the time of India's first nuclear explosion- India and Pakistan have been walking along the unmarked, mountainous, path that leads to nuclear holocaust. The struggle for the possession of Kashmir, a searingly beautiful piece of Himalayan real estate, has taken both countries, on such a circuitous, diplomatic road that one is tempted to recall what Palmerston said of the Schleswig-Holstein dispute that brought Prussia and Denmark twice to war, "only three people have understood it, and of these one was dead, one was in an insane asylum, and he himself had forgotten it."

A new government is in power in New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hates roundabout talk and cheese-paring diplomacy. He is by nature the most conciliatory of men and his friends cannot imagine that he could ever press the nuclear button. Neither, I think, could Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, judging from the way she rolled her eyes when I confronted her on the subject. To all extent and purposes, as long as the defeated Bharatiya Janata Party is losing strength rapidly, as it is at the moment, the credibility of India's nuclear deterrent is all but suspended.

It is the same on the Pakistani side, although for quite different reasons. Pakistan is ruled by a military man, Pervez Musharraf, who has little compunction about using violence, whether it was to run the army's long time alliance with the Taliban of Afghanistan or to begin a nuclear confrontation with India in 1999 when he authorised the guerrilla incursion into Kargil on the Indian side of the Line of Control, the demarcation line that separates Pakistan controlled Kashmir from the Indian controlled part. But since September 11th he has been tied in a three-legged race with America. Neither can move without the other. The U.S. may have to tolerate a lot- letting Pakistan off the hook for its lax controls on the free-lance proliferation activities of its former chief nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan- but there is little doubt that if Pakistan ever moved to make use of its nuclear weapons U.S. special forces on the ground in Pakistan would seize them before one had time to say Kashmir.


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This makes for an unusual political situation. The two countries have moved from an almost insouciant playing with nuclear matches in 1999 and again in December 2001 to one where neither side has a credible nuclear deterrent.

Surely this must be the time for peacemaking? The timetable suggests it is. At the end of this week Indian and Pakistani diplomats will meet in Delhi as part of the ongoing dialogue initiated by former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when he announced on April 18th last year that the problems with Pakistan could not be resolved through the barrel of a gun but only through dialogue.

Singh has gone even further on the road to conciliation. He told me in a recent interview that "short of secession, short of re-drawing boundaries" India could consider all options.

On the Pakistani side there is also clear evidence that the mood has changed dramatically since the last military confrontation with India in December 2001, following the deadly terrorist attack on the Indian parliament when the two sides quickly mobilised over a million men. Now Musharraf, having survived two assassination attempts, appears to realize that he must break with the insurgents he once so readily supported in Kashmir. Clearly they have been prepared to turn on him.

A whole series of events suggest that the two sides are determined to try and lay the groundwork for a breakthrough. The Delhi-Lahore bus service is running again. Media, business and parliamentary groups move to and fro. Last October, Delhi proposed twelve confidence building measures including air links, rail services, more bus services and sporting links especially cricket. In return in November Musharraf offered a ceasefire on the Line of Control which was immediately accepted by Delhi, and it is being scrupulously observed. In December, Musharraf publicly offered to forgo a long-standing demand- that India honour Jawaharlal Nehru's promise for a UN plebiscite in Kashmir.

Then when Musharraf and Vajpayee met in January they committed themselves to unconditional talks and Delhi appeared to imply that it accepted the Pakistani position that Kashmir was disputed territory. For its part Islamabad promised to prevent cross-border infiltration and terrorism. The meeting this week is meant to particularly address the issue of confidence building measures in the nuclear arena.

With Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi at the apex of power in India we can be sure of one thing: if the Indian side has anything to do with it these talks and negotiations, already moving at a sharp pace under Vajpayjee, can only gather speed.


Note for editor 1) Copyright JONATHAN POWER 2) dateline Delhi 3) I can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: +44 7785 351172.



Copyright © 2004 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:




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40th Anniversary of Amnesty International

"Like Water on Stone - The Story of Amnesty International"




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