India shrugs off world censure for nuclear blast

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The Independent Online
INDIA spent an uncomfortable first day as the sixth and latest member of the club of self-declared nuclear nations. Australia and New Zealand recalled their high commissioners, Japan threatened to cut off aid, China said it was "gravely concerned" and everyone from the UN Secretary- General, Kofi Annan, to President Bill Clinton wagged their heads at the testing of three nuclear weapons, including an H-bomb, at an underground site in the Rajasthan desert.

Mr Clinton said he intended to "fully implement" the economic sanctions of America's 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act. That would mean blocking aid, barring bank loans and banning exports of equipment, such as computer, that might have a military use.

Closer to home, the news was greeted with delight. Pakistan was caught off-balance and appeared stunned. Dominating the front page of Dawn, a Pakistani national daily, was a colour photograph of a mushroom cloud, uncaptioned. The Foreign Minister, Gohar Ayub Khan, told parliament: "The responsibility for dealing a death- blow to the global efforts of nuclear non-proliferation rests squarely with India."

Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, spoke truthfully when he said: "We had been feeling for a long time that India will carry out a thermonuclear test." But that was the beauty of India's timing: 24 years is a long time to wait for the other shoe to drop, and so well was the secret of the test protected that the rest of the world scrambled to respond.

One reason that even India's neighbours were lulled into complacency was that the Defence Minister in the coalition government, George Fernandes, an old-fashioned socialist, has in the past spoken out against India's nuclear capability. The government's "National Agenda for Governance", echoing the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu nationalists who dominate it, had trailed Monday's test with what appears with hindsight to be stark clarity: "To ensure the security, territorial integrity and unity of India," it stated, "we will ... exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons." But everyone assumed such an event must be a long way down the road.

The Indian media's response was jubilant. "The thermonuclear explosion on Monday has placed India next only to the United States and Russia in terms of nuclear capability," the Times of India quoted "defence experts" as saying. "Explosion of self-esteem," burbled the Pioneer. As the government is led by Hindu nationalists, who have not held power for more than a fortnight before and who are often labelled "fascists" by their opponents, some foreign commentators have seen the hand of political extremism behind the nuclear tests. But the inference that this pushes the government into an extreme position vis-a-vis their parliamentary opponents is quite wrong. Spokesmen of parties representing nearly all shades of opinion joined in congratulating the government. Madhavrao Scindia, of the Congress Party, said: "The tests are the logical culmination of the process initiated by Indira Gandhi in 1974. Every sovereign country needs to ensure that adequate steps are taken to safeguard the country's security interest."

Such opinions echo the common man's view that, for all its great size, India is pushed around by other nations far too easily. Monday put a stop to that notion.

The CIA said it is holding an inquiry into the failure to detect the tests. The chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee called it a "colossal failure ... perhaps the biggest one in recent years", writes Mary Dejevsky in Washington. Richard Shelby said: "We want to know why this happened, how this happened, who was asleep, why they were asleep."