WASHINGTON DC, Aug 19, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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For the Galleries: Indian and Pakistani Army officers shake hands on Independence Day

There is No Justice or Moral Standards in the West on Nuclear Affairs

By Eric Margolis
Special to the South Asia Tribune

WASHINGTON, August 19: Few people are aware just how close the world came to a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan in the spring of 1999.

As the two old foes battled fiercely in northern Kashmir above the strategic city of Kargil, over 1.5 million troops on both sides were ready to attack. Powerful Indian armored 'strike corps’ were poised to strike into Pakistan and cut it in half. Unable to match India’s overwhelming conventional might, Pakistan prepared to defend itself with tactical nuclear weapons.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the Kargil confrontation abated, but not before a horrible scare. Western experts estimate a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would kill up to 2 million people outright, cause 100 million casualties, and pollute the entire globe with radioactive dust.

Today, Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear forces remain on hair-trigger alert. Both nations fear a surprise, decapitating first strike by the other could destroy their nuclear forces and the command units that control them.

Flight times of India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear-armed ballistic missiles are only minutes. Neither side has adequate early warning systems against nuclear attack – or the time to consider a response when enemy missiles or aircraft are reported incoming.

On top of this, India’s nuclear command and control system is still shaky, unlike Pakistan’s which is believed to be more reliable and highly professional. False reports approaching enemy missiles or aircraft, or a missile test gone astray, could trigger a nuclear exchange. Even the most advanced early-warning systems can fail or give false readings.

During the Cold War, a scientific sounding rocket launched from northern Norway caused the Soviet Union to believe itself under attack by American missiles and begin a countdown to launch its own missile force. Fortunately for mankind, the Soviets realized their error in time to abort launch sequences.

With these grim thoughts in mind, the just-concluded agreement between Delhi and Islamabad to exchange advance notice of missile tests is welcome and long overdue news. They also agreed to extend the cease-fire along the Line of Control that divides Kashmir.

But Indians and Pakistanis just can’t seem to miss a chance to one up each other. A week after the missile accord was announced, Pakistan proudly revealed the test of its first nuclear-capable, 500 km-range cruise missile, 'Babur.’

Pakistan didn’t warn India of the test. Why? According to Islamabad’s lame excuse, 'Babur’ was an air-breathing missile and thus a different class of weapon from ballistic missiles.

Delhi was not amused by such deceptive semantics, and rightly so. Pakistan’s test blatantly undermined efforts to build confidence and normalize relations between the two old foes. If anything, the terrain-hugging 'Babur,’ which is almost invisible to radar, poses even a greater threat to India of a surprise first strike than Pakistan’s 2,000 km- ranged 'Shaheen-II’ ballistic missiles.

'Babur’s’ advanced radar mapping technology and engine puts it in the class of western and Russian cruise missiles – and will undoubtedly produce a firestorm of protest from America’s right wingers and pro-Israel lobby. Development of the cruise missile is a significant achievement for Pakistani defense technology.

Not to be one-upped, India announced its 3,000 km-range 'Agni-III’ nuclear capable missile would be tested by year end. India’s shorter-ranged 'Agni-II' and 'Prithvi’ missiles can hit nearly all useful targets in Pakistan.

'Agni-III’ is clearly designed to be used against China, a point not lost on Beijing. In fact, China has watched the recent strategic alliance between the US and India with growing concern.

India has a very large nuclear weapons program that is being covertly aided by Israel. India is even building sea-launched strategic missiles and developing an ICBM with a 7,000 km range that can serve only one purpose: to attack North America or Europe. America’s defense establishment has not yet comprehended this fact, or has turned a blind eye to this new threat.

Delhi has always rejected UN nuclear inspection, accusing western powers of 'nuclear apartheid’ in seeking to maintain their monopoly on weapons of mass destruction. The Indians, of course, are perfectly correct. They and Pakistan had as much right to nuclear weapons as France, Britain or Israel, not to mention the United States which is updating its nuclear arsenal and may soon begin work on small warheads designed to attack underground targets.

Eager to enlist India in its so-called 'war on terrorism,’ and to build a strategic counterweight to China, the Bush Administration recently embraced India, sanctified Delhi’s covert nuclear program, and approved the sale of US nuclear technology, conventional arms and advanced technology to India while keeping Pakistan in the nuclear dog-house.

The Indians were cock-a-hoop o be granted major ally status by the US and have their much-criticized nuclear program sanctified by Washington. What many Indians failed to see in their euphoria was that their entente with Washington risked driving them into growing confrontation with neighboring China.

The Bush Administration’s powerful neoconservatives opened all doors in Washington for India after it became a close ally and major arms customer of Israel. In fact, Israel has become India’s second largest supplier of arms and military technology after Russia.

These same neocons have designated China as America’s new enemy of choice - once Iran is destroyed. They plan to use India as a weapon against both China and Pakistan, whose nuclear arsenal is seen as a potential threat enemy of Israel.

The Indians are no fools. They hope to use their new strategic alliance with the US to advance their own very evident superpower ambitions. But Beijing must view the new US-India alliance as a major national security threat, and India as a primary enemy.

Moreover, far from promoting 'stability,’ as President Bush claimed, the US-India axis threatens to destabilize Asia by re-igniting tensions between India and China that led their Himalayan border war in 1962, as well as making Pakistan’s position even more precarious.

But while the White House encourages India’s nuclear power, it is moving closer to attacking Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, as President Bush indicated last week in a speech on Israeli TV.

Western intelligence estimates Iran would require 10 years to develop nuclear weapons. But Israeli intelligence reportedly believes Tehran could produce a nuclear warhead by 2006. So Israel has been exerting intensive pressure on the Bush Administration through its US supporters to destroy Iran’s nuclear plants. Pakistan may be the next target.

Ironically, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea all rejected UN nuclear inspection, and all developed nuclear weapons. Taiwan and South Korea have all had secret nuclear weapons programs. Iran has no nukes but is suspected of wanting to develop them behind the cover of a civilian power program.

However, a UN nuclear agency report last week confirmed Iran’s assertion that particles of enriched uranium found by inspectors on some of its centrifuges were indeed of Pakistani origin. This important finding was largely ignored by the US media which has joined the neocons in agitating for war against Iran.

After resuming uranium enrichment for civilian purposes last week, Tehran now faces sanctions or even war over what it might do in the future. There are clearly no justice nor moral standards when it comes to nuclear affairs.

The writer is a Canada-based Defense Analyst & Columnist who contributes to several leading newspapers including Daily Dawn, Karachi. Email: margolis@foreigncorrespondent.com

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