India dashes hope of early nuclear ban

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The Independent Online
WHILE THE longer term consequences of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests are anybody's guess, the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, took the opportunity on Thursday firmly to scotch the notion that India might now move swiftly to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Although Nehru was, in 1954, the first statesman in the world to give voice to the notion of a test ban treaty - back then they called it a "Standstill Agreement" - as the CTBT became a reality through the early 1990s, India, as one of the "threshold" nuclear states which had never tested, adopted the role of spoiler.

With five successful tests now under its belt, a unilateral moratorium on testing in place and a stated position that India now possesses enough data to obviate the need for further testing, it was thought that India might be preparing to win back the world's approval by signing. But Mr Vajpayee told the upper house of India's Lok Sabha (parliament): "We have said that we are ready to hold talks on the CTBT, but there is no question of signing the treaty in its present form."

He denied that India had made the tests with a particular adversary in mind. "India is not engaged in any arms race. Our nuclear tests were not aimed at anybody," he insisted.

He made dove-like noises in the direction of Pakistan. "We were even prepared to discuss the Kashmir question if Pakistan wanted to raise it," he said, "but we have not got any positive response so far. We hope that the response will come, both countries will sit together to find solutions to the problems.

Pakistan's foreign minister, Gohur Ayub Khan, later welcomed Mr Vajpayee's speech, calling it "a positive move" and "a definite shift in India's foreign policy vis-a-vis Pakistan on the question of Kashmir". The two sides remain miles apart, however, as Pakistan insists on third party mediation over the future of Kashmir, while India will only permit it to be treated as a bilateral issue.

After a lacklustre Indian Budget on Monday which led most commentators to dismiss India's prospects for economic recovery any time soon, the credit rating agencies said trade sanctions following the nuclear tests, and the lack of measures to stimulate private investment in the Budget, have "intensified the downward pressure" on the country's sovereign rating. Pakistan's rating has already been lowered by Standard & Poor's, and may be lowered further.

"India and Pakistan, with their nuclear tests are two beggars fighting," was one Indian's jaded reaction to the accumulating bad economic news. And at the launch in Delhi of a new organisation to fight the government's nuclear arms policy, the Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament, or MIND, one speaker pointed out that "the total outlay for the Ministry of Health and Welfare" in the just-announced Budget - 36.8 billion rupees, about pounds 540m - was "well below just the increase in defence expenditure". The increase in allocation to the Departments of Space and Atomic Energy was more than five times the increase in the outlay for health.