Nepali Times
A dangerous place

Nepal will be directly downwind from the fallout. A retired admiral of the Indian Navy and a Pakistani academic spoke in Kathmandu recently, urging activism for a nuclear-free South Asia.

Admiral Ramdas, chief of the Indian Navy (1990-93), and now turned "peacenik".
he shared history, common heritage, historical experience, compulsions of geography make South Asia one. Our destines are intertwined by history and geography. And in the middle of it all we have India, the land where the Buddha found enlightenment, the land of Ashoka and Gandhi. A country that maintained that it would never go into nuclear weapons, but it broke the code.

Pakistan and India have influenced the course of events in South Asia. This continued state of animosity portends grave danger, which is heightened by the process of nuclearisation. This tension has hijacked the destiny of our region. Smaller South Asians have tried to distance themselves from the nuclear issue saying "it doesn't really concern us, it is happening on the other side." But nuclear weapons have a politics of their own, and an overarching influence on all matters concerning politics, economics and development. The price you pay for nuclearisation is quite dramatic not only in financial but also human terms. The hope that after the Cold War nuclear weapons would not be needed has been regrettably debunked. The power and status that nuclear weapons were supposed to give you are false, but this doctrine is interpreted currently as: well, India has the bomb so it can be a member of the Security Council. But if that is the only currency required to be a member of the Security Council, then why not Pakistan, why not anyone else?

Many argue that nuclear weapons are a great political status symbol and have deterrence value. But nuclear weapons are politically counter-productive, economically disastrous, militarily totally inefficient, and ethically and morally indefensible. Indian and Pakistani activists have now formed peace and nuclear disarmament movements-at a meeting in Delhi last year, there were delegates from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. Over 450 million people in India live below the poverty line, it is similar in other parts of South Asia. Poverty is the real issue here, that is the common enemy.

South Asians are South Asians no matter where they come from, and it is important to express that as forcefully as we can. Our future is going to be determined by what we the people say, and not those people who think they know all about what we need, and do not need. Unfortunately, on nuclear weapons, India has been an errant member. Pakistan, which does everything India does, has followed suit, and I'm glad no one else has.

To deal with this culture of solving problems through violence, we need a new kind of education, from elementary school up so we can spread the message of tolerance and encourage a culture of peace as opposed to a culture of violence. This whole region can be a nuclear-free zone. India and Pakistan already have the weapons so they may not want to join this initially, but the remaining countries of South Asia have a right to demand that they live in a nuclear-free zone.

Collectively we can make quite an impact and reach out to politicians who at present are only listening to scientists in the nuclear weapons field and get carried away by their machismo. We owe the future generations a peaceful and safe environment.

Zia Mian, professor of energy and environmental sciences at Princeton University, and anti-nuke activist.

am a doom-monger. We now believe that in May 1998 India probably tested at least one real nuclear weapon that they can actually use in war, the other four were much more experimental. The hydrogen bomb that they tested may not have worked anywhere near as well as they claimed. Pakistan also claimed to have tested six devices (to match India's five plus one in 1974-that is the level of infantile sensibilities that are at work on this issue). Pakistan tested at least one nuclear weapon optimised for use in war.

The size of the weapons tested appear to be in the Hiroshima category-10-15 kilotons. There is no great scientific breakthrough, this is 60-year-old engineering, although politicians and the media in both countries have lauded it as the greatest technological breakthrough in their countries. Both countries also tested missiles and claim they can field ballistic missiles with ranges in excess of 2,000 km.

There is no sign that the arms race between India and Pakistan is abating. There was a recent Agni missile test by India, there is pressure from the nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles complex to carry out more tests to refine warheads and delivery vehicles. Indian and Pakistani facilities that make fissile material and weapons are running three shifts a day, seven days a week to maximise the number of weapons that they can make. India, Pakistan and Israel are the only countries which are continuing to produce enriched uranium and plutonium for weapon use.

The big question we now face is how soon and in what ways these weapons will be deployed, and the structures of command and control, and how that authority will be maintained given the other failures of technology and institution we suffer from. A detailed study of a single nuclear blast over Mumbai has shown that a 15 kiloton explosion would kill 800,000 people immediately-people burned and blasted to death or given fatal doses of radiation immediately. There will be many thousands more who will die of their wounds over the next weeks and months. The simple fact of population density makes similar death tolls certain in any other major Indian or Pakistani city. There is no way you can change that, no way you can talk about nuclear shelter, evacuating tens of millions of people in the 15-30 minutes it usually takes from launch to impact. We have calculated and simulated a small nuclear war in South Asia. We assumed that instead of just one bomb in one city, that there is retaliation and counter retaliation. We looked at a case where five Indian cities and five Pakistani cities are attacked, each with only one weapon-this is a very conservative assumption. Senior Indian generals are on record as saying that India should be aiming to use at least three nuclear weapons against every target. And we are not even using a hydrogen bomb scenario. There will be some 2.9 million immediate deaths, and about 1.5 million severely injured people who would die later. With ballistic missiles there is no place in South Asia that would be outside the target list. And there is no such thing as a military target, anywhere you put a nuclear base you are going to be close to a large population in South Asia.

Nuclear weapons by virtue of their inherent properties are dangerous even if countries do not decide to go to war with them. Hundreds of nuclear weapons accidents have happened in the past with US and Soviet weapons on bombers, missiles on submarines where all but one of the safety systems failed and it was only blind luck that they didn't go off. Military accidents in India and Pakistan have been very common, and every single nuclear weapon we build adds to the risk.

South Asia is not just a dangerous place, but will continue to be a dangerous place unless we do something about it. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union did nothing to reduce the number or the deployment of nuclear weapons. So even a settlement of the Kahsmir dispute would not necessarily lead to the end of the nuclearisation of the subcontinent. Kargil showed that nuclear weapons do not deter war. We tested weapons in 1998, we went to war in 1999-we have a clear case of two nuclear weapons armed states going to war.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)