Calming South Asia

Talbott mission: India and Pakistan seem willing to put their nuclear rivalry on hold.

February 04, 1999

THE PURPOSE of economic sanctions on India and Pakistan is not to punish them for detonating nuclear explosions last May but to persuade them to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, renouncing further nuclear explosions.

There were good reasons to impose sanctions, after both countries detonated underground nuclear explosions to test weapons they are capable of inflicting on each other. Since their joint independence in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars.

There are equally good reasons to want sanctions lifted. They could propel either nation into the Asian recession. They punish ordinary people who have no say in nuclear policies. They perpetuate poverty in countries that are already, on average, very poor.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott's tacit agreement with India on Monday, for India to again qualify for World Bank loans and to sign the test ban treaty in midyear, is welcome. Next come efforts to sign up Pakistan.

Sanctions against Pakistan were already relaxed, for fear of its economic fragility. This made dealing with an always-suspicious India more difficult.

But the frigidity of U.S. relations with the world's largest democracy, a legacy of India's friendship with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, has no rationale any longer. Closer friendship is in the interest equally of India and the United States.

India and Pakistan would also be better off if money spent on nuclear weapons went into improving the lives of their people.

But India is afraid of China, and Pakistan fears India, hence the arms race. More diplomacy on the model of Mr. Talbott's mission might help escort both countries to their senses.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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