Islamabad achieves balance of terror - and global disapproval

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The Independent Online
FOR decades they were five. Three weeks ago they became six, and now they are seven. Pakistan's announcement yesterday that it had conducted a series of nuclear tests in retaliation for India's blasts on 11 and 13 May, means it becomes the latest member of the select club of declared nuclear powers. The eighth but as yet undeclared member is Israel.

Almost a quarter of a century ago, the then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto announced that Pakistan would "eat grass if necessary" to match India after Delhi exploded its first nuclear device in 1974. The intervening years saw a succession of hints, threats and assorted skulduggery pointing unequivocally in one direction: that the country was on the threshold of going nuclear. Yesterday, it formally crossed that threshold. In all probability it has been able to do so for the best part of a decade.

The chorus of disapproval around the world was predictable and unanimous: even China, which has unquestionably helped Pakistan to build the bomb and the missiles which might carry it, shed the diplomatic equivalent of crocodile tears - expressing its "deep regret" over the tests, and professing its unease over the gathering arms race in the sub-continent. Some experts warn that, precisely because of this assistance, Pakistan could perhaps now deploy a nuclear missile more quickly than India.

The economic consequences for Pakistan will be severe - as much as $2bn (pounds 1.23bn) in lost aid and other funding.

The tests, carried out despite intense pressure from Washington that included a trip to Islamabad by Strobe Talbott, the Deputy Secretary of State, also mean that Pakistan will not see the F-16 fighters for which it paid a reported $658m in the late Eighties. The aircraft were never delivered, precisely because of Pakistan's evident determination to go nuclear.

Now the nuclear triangle in South and Eastern Asia is complete. India, as it knew well before yesterday's tests, must face two traditional enemies, Pakistan and China, both nuclear powers with whom it has fought a combined total of four wars in the past half century.

As a result of certain sanctions from Washington, it stands to lose agricultural aid from the US which in 1997 was worth $350m (pounds 215m).

The one hope is, now a crude balance of terror has been reached, that Islamabad and Delhi will sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, signed by 149 other nations, and join talks to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Such was the demand of the Foreign Office last night.

For disarmament groups however, the events offered a familiar lesson.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament plans a demonstration today outside Pakistan's High Commission. The CND will protest not only the "nuclear madness" in Asia, but the "hypocrisy" of the original five nuclear powers - Britain, the US, France, Russia and China - in opposing tests while refusing to give up their own weapons.