EDITORIAL: Bring the de facto nuclear states into the legal loop
Speaking at the 40th annual security conference in Munich, Pakistan’s foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has said that Pakistan will not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But he has reiterated the pledge that Islamabad will fulfill its international obligation to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Mr Kasuri’s statement comes in the wake of the proliferation scandal that has dogged Pakistan in recent weeks and saw an in-depth interrogation carried out by the government into charges of proliferation against some Pakistani scientists. The interrogation, which was completed last week and has resulted in the removal of Dr A Q Khan, former head of Khan Research Laboratories, is evidence of Pakistan’s commitment to nonproliferation. It has set the stage for Mr Kasuri’s confident statement that Islamabad takes its commitments very seriously.
Mr Kasuri’s reiteration of Pakistan’s long-held viewpoint is commendable and should allay fears about any rollback of its nuclear capability. A similar assurance was held out by President Pervez Musharraf during his press conference last Thursday. Given these assurances and the sensitivity of the issue, we would request the political opposition to stop being bloody-minded on this score and extend nonpartisan support to the government.
Mr Kasuri was also right when he said that Pakistan’s commitment to nonproliferation stems from a basic postulate of realpolitik: if a state is nuclear-capable, it serves to enhance security overall for it to deny the capability to other states. Since there is a normative rejection of this capability, enshrined in the NPT and signed by more than 180 states, the efforts towards preventing horizontal proliferation also have legal-normative underpinnings.
However, there is a related issue here which Mr Kasuri did not mention but which needs to be looked at given the reality of three states — India, Israel and Pakistan — that are nuclear capable and are also outside the framework of the NPT. The treaty is constituted in a manner that without a major overhaul of its legal framework, none of these states can be accepted as nuclear-weapons states in the legal sense. Any such change, indeed, would turn the treaty topsy-turvy. However, clearly, there is need to grant legitimacy to these three states through some framework even if such a framework stands outside the NPT and for which there may need to be a separate multilateral treaty. We believe that it is essential for the five legitimate nuclear-weapon states to start thinking of creating a mechanism whereby the de facto capabilities of these states can be legitimised.
Since Pakistan and India are embarked on a peace process, part of which also deals with nuclear risk reduction, it would make eminent sense for the two sides to deliberate on a joint draft to this end. India has close relations with Israel and it could get input from that country also before such a draft is finalised and presented to the Club of Five. Movement towards this end would bring the three de facto nuclear states into the legal loop. It would also enhance their commitment to nonproliferation. *
Mr Vajpayee’s use of the communal card
India’s Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has started his election campaign on an ominous note. The symbolism of the kickoff rally from Ayodhaya will not be lost on anyone, whether inside or outside India, who cares for the ideal of pluralism and has seen it become a victim of the BJP’s communal agenda. Indeed, Mr Vajpayee’s assertion that the BJP needs to return to power to finish its unfinished business, including constructing the Ram temple, shows clearly that in the run-up to the hustings Mr Vajpayee is once again going to play the Hindutva card. How should one look at this?
There can be two views. One argument, given the record of the BJP and its Sangh Parivar cohorts, would be that this could potentially lead to a replay of Gujrat in certain parts of India. From this perspective, one would feel compelled to chide Mr Vajpayee for pandering to the Sangh Parivar vote and besmirching his good image as a decent politician. In this view, Mr Vajpayee’s statement only serves to bring into sharp salience the fact that the BJP is the political offspring of the Hidutva movement and is therefore Janus-faced. There is empirical evidence to support that view.
But there is another side to this also. The BJP, at the end of the day, is a political party and may be expected to do whatever it needs to do to mobilise its vote. A large part of its vote indeed belongs to centrist and right-of-centre Hindu community. However, there is no denying the fact that over the past three years it has also emerged as a major political party that needs to respond to the aspirations of multiple constituencies, including the Muslim population. We are therefore likely to see it employ various strategies in the run-up to the elections. In the recent state elections, it did not use the Hindutva card, emphasizing instead issues of governance against Congress incumbents. This strategy was, in large measure, informed by its inability earlier to put to good use the communal card that its chief minister in Gujarat had played successfully.
What we are likely to see therefore is the BJP wooing multiple actors using a mix of strategies. Even so, there is no reason for anyone to accept the sort of blatant communalism which was voiced by Mr Vajpayee. There is also the external factor of the peace process between India and Pakistan. That track necessitates putting down elements and ideologies that have poisoned relations over the years. We hope that Mr Vajapyee is not going to push this card any further and that this was just one of those things that politicians, even those of Mr Vajpayee’s caliber, cannot always ignore. *