India, Pakistan slow nuclear race

Agreement on measures to cut risk reached during Indian leader's visit

February 22, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LAHORE, Pakistan -- The prime ministers of India and Pakistan pledged yesterday to take immediate steps to reduce the risk of nuclear war and seek solutions to a half-century of raging disputes, including their most volatile source of discord, the conflict in Kashmir.

Agreements between the world's newest nuclear powers were announced in two signed documents and a joint statement, all issued at the end of a historic weekend bus trip to Pakistan by Atal Behari Vajpayee, the first Indian prime minister to visit the country in 10 years.

Last May, after the two nations tested their bombs, their leaders spoke truculently of each other as both populations celebrated in a sort of nuclear euphoria. Now, 8 1/2 months later, the two prime ministers amiably sat side by side.

"We must bring peace to our people," Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said at a joint press conference in the elegant mansion of the governor of Punjab. "We must bring prosperity to our people. We owe this to ourselves and to future generations."

While the atmosphere of the summit meeting was cordial -- and the very act of their meeting extraordinary -- there had been some expectation of a monumental breakthrough, such as a joint agreement to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Indian officials had earlier mentioned a "no first use," pact on nuclear weapons, though that would have been less valuable for Pakistan, which has achieved strategic parity. The Pakistanis had discussed a "no war" treaty, which would have protected them against the superior conventional forces of a foe by whom they have been defeated three times.

Instead, the agreements were long on good intentions and short on details. The two countries mostly talked about how they would continue to talk, listing areas for discussion: the liberaliz- ing of visa rules, coordinating trade positions, releasing prisoners and detainees.

A "memorandum of understanding," was presented, the nations promising to build trust through a series of high-level bilateral meetings and to adopt measures that would prevent accidental launch of their destructive weaponry.

To reduce the risk of a catastrophic war, the nations promised to alert each other to "any accidental, unauthorized or unexplained incident" that might trigger a nuclear exchange. They promised to continue their declared moratoriums on further nuclear trials and agreed to announce in advance any testing of ballistic missiles.

In a speech on the mansion lawns before hundreds of invited dignitaries, Vajpayee explained the need for an era of neighborliness and invited Sharif and his wife to visit New Delhi.

"We can change history but not geography," he said. "We can change our friends but not our neighbors. We have seen hostility for years. Now friendship must be given a chance."

If friendship is to flourish, the two nations must find a way to solve the issue that is their greatest source of friction, the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

In another of yesterday's documents, billed as the Lahore Declaration, the nations stated that resolution of the Kashmir question was "essential" and that they would "intensify their efforts" to achieve it.

"The question of Jammu and Kashmir is being discussed on an agenda that has been accepted by the two parties," Vajpayee said. "The discussion is going on. It is very difficult for me to say what solutions will emerge."

As if to dramatize the difficulties in any talks about Kashmir, 20 Hindus were murdered there on Friday night, an event that chased some of Vajpayee's diplomacy off the front pages back home. As he returned to New Delhi last night, reporters questioned him about whether he had discussed the slaughter with his Pakistani counterpart.

"I told him the killings must stop," Vajpayee answered. "If the killing of innocent men, women and children continues, it will be difficult to normalize relations between the two countries."

Sharif faces similar suspicions about any appeasement regarding Kashmir. Throughout the weekend, thousands of Pakistanis protested Vajpayee's visit, their chief concern being Kashmir.

A Saturday night banquet at the historic Lahore Fort was delayed for 90 minutes as 1,000 demonstrators pelted vehicles with rocks. Baton-wielding police had to fire tear gas into the crowd and charge them before the protest was dispersed.

Yesterday, police fought with demonstrators near the Lahore headquarters of Jamaat-I-Islami, the nation's main Islamic party. Pub Date: 2/22/99

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