Pakistan defies impotent West

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The Independent Online
PAKISTAN yesterday gave an extra twist to the spiral of South Asian nuclear tension, exploding another device in the Baluchistan desert, bringing its declared number of detonations to six - one more than its neighbour and bitter enemy, India.

World reaction to Pakistan's latest test was predictably hostile, but no sanctions were added to those previously imposed against the two countries, emphasising the international community's impotence. President Clinton said the latest test only served to increase tensions "in an already volatile region", and called on India and Pakistan to renounce further nuclear and missile testing immediately. India declared a unilateral moratorium last week; last night the UN Security Council called on Pakistan to do the same.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said Pakistan had acted "in flagrant disregard of international opinion", and that the new test "did nothing to improve Pakistan's security". He announced that foreign ministers of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations would meet in London on 12 June to co-ordinate efforts to bring nuclear activities in India and Pakistan under international supervision "and encourage them to address the roots of the tension".

Whatever technical lessons may have been learnt, the most obvious reason for yesterday's test was political: Pakistan's hunger to go one better than India. The tone of triumphalism in the remarks of the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Gohar Ayub Khan, on national television was undisguised. "We will go further and start producing nuclear weapons," he said. "The Pakistani people will be very proud that in the sub-continent they now have the upper edge, and that the military balance ... is now in favour of Pakistan."

India sounded a note of restraint, saying it would not affect Delhi's unilateral moratorium on further nuclear tests, announced last week. Both India and Pakistan insist they are willing to enter into talks to avoid confrontation, but their proposals conflict, and few expect serious negotiations any time soon.

India has made it plain that it now has enough data to continue developing its nuclear weapons through computer simulation. Both states have recently acquired long-range missiles, and are now committed to fitting them with nuclear warheads. It is therefore hard to see how a nuclear arms race in south Asia can be avoided. A spokesman for Jane's, the specialist defence publishers, said that the sub-continent was now "the world's number one nuclear flashpoint", overshadowing the Gulf and the Middle East.

Pakistan's government took elaborate steps to win popular approval for its test programme and prepare the nation for austerity by announcing that the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was to move out of his palatial accommodation and government buildings were to be sold off. Mr Sharif claimed government spending would be halved, saying: "We have decided to stand on our own feet ... today we have broken the begging bowl and thrown it out."

For now the strategy seems to have worked. Pakistanis appear jubilant about the tests, but the mood could change rapidly. In India, the BJP- led government's brief nuclear-powered honeymoon ended abruptly on Thursday as the opposition attacked it for recklessness. The rupee is at an all- time low, the stock market has crashed and business is braced for worse.

Pakistan may soon test the assertion of its former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in 1974 that the country would "eat grass if necessary" to match India after Delhi's first nuclear test. Yesterday people queued at banks to withdraw their savings.