KARACHI, June 5: A leading Indian journalist and campaigner against nuclear proliferation on Thursday called upon the peace movements in India and Pakistan to force their governments to put the issue of non-proliferation and nuclear risk reduction high on their official agenda, and to open borders for travel and trade through a liberal visa regime.
Praful Bidwai was speaking on the peace process 10 years after tit-for-tat nuclear tests by India from the platform of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) in a local hotel.
He was critical of the lack of will on the part of the governments of India and Pakistan in opening their consulates in Mumbai and Karachi and called upon peace movements to have a comprehensive agenda for putting pressure on both governments for opening their borders for trade, travel and cultural exchanges.
He also called for formalizing the peace process and said that in India there was a growing demand for taking special initiatives for promoting bilateral people-to-people contact. He said the recent IPL fixture was an outstanding example of the lead citizens have provided in breaking barriers.
He stressed an exchange of schoolchildren and theatre groups and setting up a people’s commission on South Asian history which, he said, had been distorted. He was of the view that the SAARC framework should also be used especially by the media for pushing the governments.
The main thrust of Praful’s discourse was on the negative fallout of the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan on the region and stressing the need for a more proactive role of the peace movements by coming up with alternatives.
Mr Bidwai, who is an outspoken critic of fast–rising military expenditure on nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, referred to the situation in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, which he claimed had created formidable challenges for the peace movements in the two nuclear capable adversaries.
He noted that while nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan was growing, the issue had been dropped from their peace talks agenda. He said the induction and deployment of nuclear weapons by the armed forces of the two countries had created finite possibility of their use and inflicting unacceptable harm on mankind. These weapons, he added, cut across generations due to their lethal damage potential and cited the example of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
He said it was a great shame that both the governments in India and Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons, despite their destructive nature. He said two years before detonating the last nuclear device, India was actively campaigning for illegalizing the nukes. But after the last tit-for-tat tests New Delhi claimed that nukes would make South Asia more secure and stable and prevent conventional conflict between the two countries, as advocated by the deterrent lobby. He also criticised the notion that the deterrent capability would expand the room for a more independent foreign and security policy and economic and social dividends.
Nullifying these claims, Mr Bidwai claimed that on the contrary South Asia had become more volatile and within a year of the nuclear test both India and Pakistan fought a mid-sized war in Kargil, which was the first conventional conflict after the nuclear tests.
Referring to the India-US nuclear deal, he said that in order to push through the seal, during the past five years New Delhi had tried to convince people that it would behave responsibly despite being a nuclear power. He said that although the deal could be renegotiated, India twice voted against Iran on the nuclear issue, jeopardizing prospects of the IPI and its relationship with Tehran, which had assumed added significance as it provided a bridgehead to Central Asia.
He said that for Pakistan, what was meant to be an asset had become a liability. Room for an independent foreign policy had shrunk and the missile race between the two countries had drastically reduced the reaction time for averting any missile attack and any intervention for peace. He said that missile race had obliterated the strategic depth between the two countries exposing millions of people to annihilation.
He, therefore, called for putting the issue of nuclear risk reduction high on the agenda of the peace movements of the region. He said it was time that both countries reaffirmed their commitment to complete dismantling of nukes.