Pakistan halts all nuclear testing

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The Independent Online
PAKISTAN yesterday announced a "unilateral moratorium" on its nuclear testing programme, as a new coalition of established nuclear powers and countries which have renounced atomic weapons prepared to throw its weight into efforts to stop an arms race on the Subcontinent.

In Islamabad, the government proclaimed itself ready to reach a no-testing agreement with India, as what it called an "important regional confidence- building measure". Urging India to reciprocate, the Foreign Ministry declared Pakistan's readiness to "formalise this arrangement" if Delhi was willing.

On paper, therefore, given India's readiness to open talks on a moratorium, the pieces are in place for at least a temporary halt to testing - the first demand of the Big Five nuclear powers who have led international outrage at the combined total of 11 explosions (five by India followed by six by Pakistan) conducted over the last month.

Such though is the mutual suspicion between the two rivals, however, that nothing is guaranteed. Meanwhile, in an unusual and ground-breaking development, foreign ministers of the G8 major industrial powers will join in London today with their counterparts from Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and the Ukraine, and the ambassadors of China and the Philippines, to urge Delhi and Islamabad to give up their nuclear programmes.

No-one is talking of a G-14 to add to the existing thicket of international bodies, not least because other countries like Australia may join later. But the gathering deliberately unites three categories of power: the five permanent members of the UN Security council, or "P-5", the major non-nuclear industrial states of Japan, Italy, Canada and Japan, and a select group of countries which either had weapons and got rid of them (Ukraine and South Africa) or, like Brazil and Argentina, planned to build them but thought better of it.

The Philippines is represented as current chairman of the Asean regional forum, especially alarmed at the nuclear proliferation taking place on its doorstep.

No one is expecting miracles: "This sort of persuasion and advocacy will take some time," a British official said. Nor will there be any offer to mediate in the sharpest quarrel between India and Pakistan, the dispute over Kashmir.

The focus therefore will be on the nuclear aspect of the South Asian crisis. Yesterday's offer by Islamabad could hasten a halt to further tests. But the London meeting will also demand pledges not to "weaponise" the two countries' existing nuclear stockpiles, nor deploy such weapons, to adhere to a treaty banning further production of fissile material, and then to sign up to the comprehensive test ban and non-proliferation treaties.

This last is the cornerstone of international efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. India justifies its nuclear aspirations by claiming the five recognised powers use the NPT as a means of maintaining their monopoly of such weapons. Hence the enlistment of "renounced" powers to their cause, in the hope that a good example will be catching.