A chorus of protests

Print edition : June 06, 1998

THE "five plus one" nuclear tests carried out by Pakistan on May 28 and 30 were greeted with a chorus of protests. Although the major world powers had anticipated some such response from Pakistan to India's nuclear tests, they were quick to express their anger and distress after it actually carried out the tests.

Germany, Canada, Japan and Australia joined the United States in taking action against Pakistan. Countries such as France, Russia and Britain, however, refrained from mandating any sanctions.

The U.S., the leader of the non-proliferation pack, imposed sanctions pursuant to the Glenn Amendment just as it did with respect to India. In a statement issued on May 29, President Bill Clinton said: "By failing to exercise restraint and responding to the Indian tests, Pakistan has lost a truly priceless opportunity to strengthen its own security, to improve its political standing in the eyes of the world. And although Pakistan was not the first to test, two wrongs don't make a right."

Although the U.S. expressed its displeasure over Pakistan's tests, it appears to believe that certain "mitigating factors" had influenced Islamabad's decision to conduct the tests. White House spokesman Mike McCurry said on May 28 that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been "honest" in describing the difficulties he had faced before taking the decision to conduct the tests. "India, on the other hand, had not dealt honestly with the United States about its nuclear plans," a United States Information Service (USIS) release quoted McCurry as saying. Moreover, unnamed U.S. officials have also been quoted as saying that they were looking for ways to lessen the impact of sanctions on Islamabad. "On orders from the White House, top administration policy-makers in several Cabinet departments are looking for potential loopholes in the sanctions law, as well as offering measures to mitigate the sanctions' burden on Pakistan," a report in The Los Angeles Times said. Such reports indicate that the U.S. is making a clear distinction between India and Pakistan as regards the nuclear tests.

The West appears to be working out a common programme to deal with a "nuclearised" South Asia. The Foreign Ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Russia said in a joint statement on May 29: "We urge Pakistan and India to refrain from further tests and the deployment of nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles in order to prevent the escalation of tensions and a nuclear arms race. It is increasingly urgent that both India and Pakistan adhere unconditionally to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and enter into negotiations on a global treaty to stop the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. We further urge India and Pakistan to engage in a dialogue which addresses the root causes of the tension between them and try to build confidence, rather than seek confrontation."

That formulation can be considered to be the sum total of the message that the Western countries want to convey to India and Pakistan. However, Australia went a step further and cancelled all appointments of the Pakistani Senate Chairman, Wasim Sajjad, during his recent visit to Australia. Sajjad was sworn in Pakistan's acting President following Farooq Leghari's resignation in December last year, and continued to hold the office until the appointment of Rafiq Tarar as President. Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed termed Australia's action as an "undiplomatic act".

Japan, which froze new grants-in-aid and new yen loans to Pakistan, happens to be Islamabad's largest donor. It has extended $237 million in loans to Pakistan. A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "We find Pakistan's testing all the more regrettable because we had made that much more effort."

Interestingly, China, which came out with a mild statement, was the only country that was probably aware of Pakistan's plans in advance. It was officially stated that the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan was briefed prior to the May 28 tests.

Iran broke ranks with the Muslim nations by expressing its "deep concern" over the arms race in the South Asian region. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman asked India and Pakistan to "quickly end these nuclear tests and arms race." For their part, the Muslim nations refrained from criticising Pakistan. In fact, their government-controlled media organisations welcomed what some termed the "Islamic bomb". Asharq al-Awsat, a London-based Arabic daily owned by Saudi Arabia's ruling clique, said that the "Islamic bomb" was a "dream come true". Al-Watan, a Qatar daily, said: "Pakistan has undertaken the inevitable evil and was forced to act under the pressure of the need to maintain a balance of terror with India."

The Western powers believe that the actions of India and Pakistan have dealt a severe blow to their non-proliferation efforts. Besides, they are also concerned about other countries, including Iran, emulating the precedent set by the two countries.

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