Averting a Hundred Hiroshimas
By J. Sri Raman
Friday 06 August 2004
Chennai, India - A hair-raising thought for the Hiroshima Day.
On this day, 59 years ago, the world's first nuclear bomb flattened Hiroshima, killing about 130,000 of its people in an instant. Can a more horrendous tragedy hit any other part of the globe? Yes, and it can take a toll at least twenty times higher - in South Asia.
And, at the most, nearly a hundred times.
We will revert to those figures in a moment. First, however, a question that everyone in this part of the world must be asking today, but few are. And a stunningly negative answer.
Has the prospect of a holocaust prompted the rulers of the region to take any preventive measures? No, none. India and Pakistan, into their seventh year as nuclear-weapon states, in fact, seem determined to hurtle downhill together on this path of self-destruction.
The prospect appeared imminent in frightening flashes just over two years ago. About a million Indian and Pakistani soldiers faced each other in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation all along the India-Pakistan border for months in the sub-continental summer of 2002. Behind the soldiers on either side were nuclear weapons in ready deployment, missiles on hair-trigger alert.
India and Pakistan, which had fought wars before, were playing a far more dangerous game this time. They were both nuclear-weapon states now. They were threatening to start the first nuclear war of history.
It was then that experts elsewhere worked out those figures. Their meticulous calculations yielded two sets of findings. If five major cities each in India and Pakistan were to be hit first, they expected about 1.7 million people in India and about 1.2 million in Pakistan to die or evaporate instantly. If fifteen cities in each were to fall victims to nuclear militarism, the instantaneous toll would total no less than twelve million.
The consequences of the war, of course, would not be confined to instant deaths. The experts presented a picture - replete with slower and subsequent deaths, deaths by prolonged radiation, and deaths from the expected spread of disease and starvation, besides other details of destruction and generations-long suffering - that should have sent the soldiers back to barracks.
The nuke-rattling rulers of India and Pakistan, however, could not have cared less. They went on hurling dire threats at each other - Pakistan of a 'first strike' without fear of consequences and India of a crippling use of the final weapon.
Shivers may have gone down spines elsewhere, every time they traded such threats. In India and Pakistan, however, opinion-makers and opinion-managers did their best to damn peace activists as panic-mongers. With a smirk and a snigger, these politicians and propagandists repeated shibboleths, almost as old as Hiroshima, about the nuclear weapons as something meant only for deterrence and not delivery. Simultaneously, in each country, they hailed every Bomb threat as a proclamation of patriotic resolve. They pretended, of course, not to see any contradiction in their own stances.
Both the nuclear-weapon states, officially, coexisted as allies in the USA-headed 'coalition against global terror' formed after 9/11. The fact, however, had only made them more implacable foes, with each trying to turn the alliance to its own decisive advantage against the other. The USA and the UK, while feigning profound concern over the war threat, did precious little to avert it - and their military-industrial complexes, indeed, saw it as a great opportunity to sell their wares to both sides.
On the nuclear front, the official US hypocrisy was no less pronounced. Washington had clamed a series of sanctions against India and Pakistan in 1998 in the wake of their nuclear-weapon tests. It did not wait long after 9/11 and the formation of the 'coalition' to waive the sanctions. In India's case, it hastened to certify that a "credible minimum nuclear deterrent" was all that the country was trying to acquire. New Delhi was quick to respond with official recognition that the motive of the Missile Defense Program was to effect "deep cuts" in the US nuclear arsenal.
The politics and ideology behind India's nuclear-weapon tests are known and notorious. It took a far-Right regime, headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to carry out the tests that India's traditional policies had not allowed this far. A fascism, which treated Indian Muslims and Islamic Pakistan as India's chief foes, facilitated the hitherto unthinkable declaration of India as a nuclear-weapon state.
This, however, does not mean that the danger has passed with the BJP's defeat in India's general election three months ago. The replacement of a BJP-led regime in New Delhi by a coalition with the Congress Party at its head has not spelt a step towards India's return to its pre-1998 past.
The Common Minimum Program (CMP), which the Congress-headed United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the Left adopted, makes this clear. On the nuclear policy, the CMP says: "The UPA Government is committed to maintaining a credible nuclear weapons program while at the same time it will evolve demonstrable and verifiable confidence-building measures with its nuclear neighbors."
This is a sharp departure from the line the Congress took as the main opposition in the post-tests period. Reports quoted Congress president Sonia Gandhi as telling visiting US President Bill Clinton in 2000 that the Congress was for "a minimum credible nuclear deterrent" - and all hell broke loose within the party then. Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, now Petroleum Minister, was reportedly upset in particular, and the party clarified that this was not indeed its policy.
The present government under Manmohan Singh can, of course cite the talks it has held with Pakistan on nuclear confidence-building measures (CBMs). But the talks have produced only agreement to install a telephonic hot line, with both sides diplomatically avoiding any discussion about de-deployment of nuclear weapons.
Neither the Congress nor the government mentions the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan of 1988 for nuclear disarmament. The plan, which former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (a Congress icon) presented at a UN Special Session on Disarmament, would have committed India to its own nuclear disarmament by 2010.
The message of this Hiroshima Day for the peace activists of India and Pakistan is no different from what it has been on every one of these occasions for the past six years. It is a message of continuing struggle against nuclear militarism, which poses the most real and the gravest threat to the two nations.