By Ishtiaq Ahmad

 ISLAMABAD - A nation with over 30 per cent population living below the poverty line finally declared itself  a nuclear state on Monday: the three nuclear tests that India has conducted establish beyond any doubt New Delhi’s intention of entering the  nuclear club by producing a variety of unclear devices, including hydrogen bomb, atom bomb, and tactical unclear weapons.

 Such tests have nothing to do with the generation of nuclear power for peaceful purposes, a  plea the Indians have been giving since their 1974 explosion to dupe the international community, which, for its part, has been ever willing to be misled by India. A low-yield nuclear test is conducted to produce tactical  nuclear arms; a fission test is conducted to produce atom bomb; and a thermo-nuclear test is conducted to manufacture hydrogen bomb. That India's three separate nuclear explosions in Pokhran are primarily meant  to build these three kinds of unclear arms, therefore, amounts to India declaring itself a nuclear state. In 1974, India could cheat the international community by taking the plea that its unclear explosion was only for peaceful purposes; in 1998 , it cannot.

 Unlike the seventies, the current situation in the subcontinent is far more  dangerous than was the case quarter of a century ago when India had conducted its first nuclear  explosion; India is being ruled by Hindu nationalists of Rashtriya  Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with  the BJP, currently ruling India, being its political wing and Prime Minister Vajpaee as its lifetime member. Inspired by Nazism and Fascism, Hindu nationalists have risen in India as an unrivaled ideological force, which is no less threatening to international peace and security was the Soviet communism was. Both in its february election manifesto and the March Agenda for governance, the BJP had made it crystal clear that declaring India a unclear state would be a top Indian for deign policy priority during BJP’s rule.

 And the party has kept its promises. How should the international community, led by the United States, respond to Indian nuclear tests? And, what options does Pakistan have in order to counter the new Indian unclear threat? These are the two questions, which need  to be answered urgently. True to its past accommodative and flexible unclear stand, Pakistan can afford to wait only for a few days to see how the international community reacts to India. If in a few days, the international community behaves in the same manner as it did in 1974 by not punishing India, then Pakistan may not be left with any other choice but to declare itself as a unclear state.

 Until Tuesday, the US-led international community's resolve to punish India was not that satisfactory, the only positive development in this context being the US decision to impose sanctions against India. Protesting the tests, Australia and Newzealand recalled their ambassadors from New Delhi. South Africa lodged its protest separately. Tokyo announced to suspend one of the three Japanese loans to India. Russia has talked about India’s “betrayal”, while, at the same time, opposing the imposition of sanctions against India on the ground that these will be counter-productive. The United Nations has condemned the act. So have many other major states, including China.

 The reaction that matters is American. Before the US decided to impose sanctions against India, President Clinton had categorically stated that “very soon” the United States will impose “comprehensive sanctions against India. But, simultaneously, he had urged India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and also stressed repeatedly that India’s neighbours should not “follow suit”. Under the 1994 US Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act (NPPA), the Clinton administration is authorised to impose sanctions against any state which does not enjoy nuclear status under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

 The US sanctions may not have any significant impact on India. One important reason is that, unlike Pakistan, India has never been as dependent upon the United States for its defence and development needs as Pakistan has been. It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that India had started developing credible commercial and security links with the United States. Japan, the United States and other Western states can use international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which they monopolie, against India. But, here again, unlike Pakistan, India is not so dependent upon the IMF that any bid by this world body to punish India will ever bring it to its knees.

 Until now, much of the international reaction to India’s nuclear tests is confined to statements of deep concern about worsening security scenario in South Asia as a result of these tests. It has been confined to calls for constraint by India’s neighbour, meaning Pakistan. The international community had behaved exactly in the same manner in the aftermath of India’s May 1974 nuclear test. The US NPPA had originally become operative in 1978. What the United States had then done, in reaction to Indian explosion, was to prohibit its transfers of fissionable material and technology unless India accepted International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguards on all of its nuclear facilities. Consequently, the United States stopped the supply of low-enriched nuclear fuel to the two Tarapur power reactors sold by General Electric to India in the early 1960s. Interestingly, by 1983, the United States agreed to let France supply India with nuclear fuel which France did until it signed the NPT in the early 1990s.

 Now, by urging India to sign the CTBT, President Clinton’s message to New Delhi is that the United States can re-consider its decision to impose sanctions against India if it signs the CTBT. India will have nothing to lose, if, after conducting these nuclear tests which prove to the world its nuclear weaponisation, India concludes the CTBT, as Israel has already done. Where will Pakistan, a country which has not tested even a single nuclear device, stand in such an eventuality? The most tragic reality that has come to surface in the aftermath of India nuclear tests is that the IAEA has still chosen to describe India as a threshold nuclear state, which, in fact, has not been the case since Monday. On Tuesday, Murli Manohar Joshi, India’s Minister for Science and Technology, announced that India’s nuclear missiles will be nuclear tipped.

 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been bold enough to say on Tuesday that “Pakistan alone” will decide what to do now. And, this he stated while citing the lackluster international approach towards India’s decades old nuclear weapons pursuits. Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub stated in the Senate on Tuesday that any step of nuclear escalation by India will find a matching response from Pakistan. Some of the country's top defence analysts, to whom this correspondent had talked on Monday, had also argued in favour of a matching response to India. The main argument, both from official and scholarly circles, is that, in response to India’s nuclear tests, Pakistan should also carry out its own nuclear test. In other words, a tit-for-tat reaction.

 One’s contention, however, is that, given the decades-old nuclear belligerency of India and the sheer ignorance of it by the world community, this time Pakistan has to go one step ahead of India; instead of merely restricting its option to conduct a nuclear test, Islamabad must announce its nuclear weapons capability, no matter what happens. Nothing may happen, since India’s nuclear ambitions are clear now, ambitions which India’s Hindu nationalist leadership wishes to pursue at all costs, as the BJP leaders have repeatedly made it clear. Tit-for-tat responses are advisable in a situation where states with adversarial relationship are somewhat, if not equally, guided by constraints of international diplomacy. In South Asia’s case, India has shown through it recent past behaviour that it gives a damn to what the international community says or does. For the last 30 years, India has been refusing to sign the NPT. For the last over two years, it has been the only leading opponent of the CTBP. and for the last many months India has been adamantly opposing the conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. What punishment has the international community, the Western world, the Americans have given to India for its consistent defiance of the will of the world community?

 India’s next-door neighbour, China, from whom Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes all of a sudden started feeling a threat in the last two months is a signatory to the NPT and the CTBT. For its part, Pakistan’s attitude towards the NPT, the CTBT, and the FMCT has always been positive, rational and flexible. Islamabad said yes, although with some reservations, to the CTBT in the September 1996 UN General Assembly session, which was convened on the personal initiative of President Clinton to muster universal support for the CTBT. Pakistan is ready to sign the three treaties if India does. Then, over the years, Islamabad has made several proposals for regional or international settlement of the nuclear proliferation issue in South Asia. India disagrees with all of them.

 What else does the international community want from Pakistan , a state whose sovereignty and independence has for over past half century been directly endangered by a many times militarily superior India? Almost a decade ago, on the asking of the United States, had even reportedly capped its nuclear programme. That, however, does not mean it is incapable of producing nuclear weapons or has not already  kept some of them in the basement. Like Israel and India, it has long been categorised as a threshold nuclear state, one that has the capability to manufacture a nuclear device or has already produced it but is yet to officially declare such a capability.

 Some years ago, late Murtaza Bhutto, who had done extensive research on nuclear deterrence at the Harvard University, was writing in these pages that the time has come Pakistan should announce its nuclear option. Based on the US-led West’s pathetic handling of India’s nuclear conduct, one’s contention, like many others, has been that it will not be surprising if five members of the nuclear club admit India into the NPT regime as a nuclear power. What will Pakistan do in such a scenario? Accept a perpetual Indian hegemony? Islamabad should have pre-empted India’s ultimate nuclear design, which became crystal clear on Monday, some years ago by at least conducing a nuclear test.

 Even before Monday, the strategy of nuclear ambiguity that both India and Pakistan had been pursuing had favoured the former, since it had already conducted a nuclear test. About Pakistan’s nuclear weapons potential, there exist many speculations. Did it really obtain a nuclear design from China? Does it had the nuclear weapons capability, as the successive governments have claimed? Contradictory and confusing statements of Pakistan’s successive leaders have also contributed to the prevailing state of uncertainty about Pakistan’s nuclear capability, among Pakistanis especially. Way back in 1987, Ziaul Haq had stated that Pakistan was only a “screwdriver away” from manufacturing a nuclear device. His successor army chief General Beg claimed that the country had conducted a “cold” nuclear test . Successive civilian leaders in the post-Zia phase have been stating that Pakistan has the capability to manufacture a nuclear device but has chosen not to produce them. Still the big question is where is the proof?

 Tuesdays talk among scholarly circles in Islamabad was that, by conducting the nuclear tests, the Indians may have thrown a feeler to see whether Pakistan really has the nuclear capability or it has been lying all these years about it. Now, in case Pakistan does not respond in kind, India will conclude that the latter possibility is right. Even in the case of April test-firing of intermediate-range Ghauri missile by Pakistan, the Indians had raised serious questions about the validity of Pakistan’s claim. Like Pakistan’s nuclear capability claims, the country’s official claims about Ghauri being an indigenous product are also disputable. Either it is North Korea or China, which has supplied the missile to Pakistan. This is what the international media has alleged.

 This uncertain state of affairs about Pakistan’s nuclear capability has to end. The sooner it happens, the better it will be for Pakistan. And the only way this uncertainty can end is if Pakistan declares itself a nuclear power, on which depends Islamabad’s survival as an independent and sovereign state. As a starter, Pakistan could have conducted as many nuclear tests as India tha done. But this will need months, since the country has been caught off-guard. Thus, again, the only way left for Pakistan is to announce its nuclear option, provided it has the capability to do so.