India-Pakistan - Nuclear overbidding, reactionary drift and western hypocrisy

Jul/Aug 1998

On 11 and 13 May, India carried out five nuclear explosions at a site located near its border with Pakistan. Just over two weeks later, on 28 and 30 May, Pakistan retaliated with another set of nuclear tests. This time, although several seismologists disputed this, Pakistani government sources claimed that at least five, and possibly six devices had been involved.

That these two countries have nuclear capabilities is nothing new. India carried out its first and, up to May 11th, only test, a long way back, in May 1974, at a time when the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was striving to deflect growing domestic discontent and social unrest by whipping up nationalist feelings. As to Pakistan, although this is its first known nuclear experiment, its leaders have often boasted in the past of their progress in developing nuclear weapons. In any case, there had been numerous warnings over the past few years from international agencies that preparations for nuclear tests were underway in both countries, so that the recent explosions certainly did not come as a major surprise.

Predictably, however, these explosions triggered a barrage of condemnation from western powers. Threats of economic sanctions were made and a US-sponsored motion was passed by the United Nations, demanding that both countries should abandon their plans for further tests as well as their current research programme on ballistic missiles. At the same time, Clinton's aides spelt out in no uncertain terms that neither country should foster any hope of ever being admitted to the exclusive club nuclear powers, formed by the USA, France, Britain, Russia and China, which has awarded itself the world monopoly of nuclear weapons under the UN-sponsored Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty.

That the nuclear powers should claim the high moral ground by accusing India and Pakistan of reviving a nuclear threat allegedly buried by past international treaties, is of course pure hypocrisy. After all, the USA, which is the ringleader and most vocal moralist in the Non-proliferation club, is still the only country in the world to have ever actually used nuclear weapons, back in 1945 against Japan. It is also the USA which has been responsible, directly or indirectly, for most significant wars over the past fifty years. This, and the fact that Washington sits on what is, by very far, the largest nuclear stockpile in the world, large enough to blow up a planet several times the size of this one, make its claim to guarantee a nuclear-free, safe world a sinister joke - a safe world for the profits of imperialist companies, maybe, but not for the world population, least of all that of Third World countries like India and Pakistan, which are at the receiving end of imperialism's plunder.

As for Clinton's warnings against the risk of a nuclear arms race in southern Asia, these are even more hypocritical. As if this region had even been safe and peaceful! What about the past fifty years of manoeuvring and playing one country against its neighbours by strategists in Washington and London, for the sake of preserving their imperialist world order?

That there may today be a danger of regional conflagration in southern Asia is probably true. But the root causes of this threat have much more to do with the conditions created in the region by past and present imperialist policies than with the nuclear tests carried out in May.

The scars left by the 1947 partition

Last year, grandiose ceremonies took place both in India and Pakistan for the 50th anniversary of independence. But very little was said on this occasion about the bloodshed unleashed in 1947 by Britain's decision to give in to the Muslim politicians' demand for a separate Muslim state.

Yet the partition of the former British colony into India and Pakistan, laid out by the 1947 Mountbatten settlement, opened the floodgates to massive pogroms, for which the colonial authorities, local politicians and religious leaders, shared responsibility. Over ten million people had to leave their homes, some by choice but most under the pressure of armed terror. The casualties were enormous. Estimates vary between 180,000 and over half-a-million dead. But whatever the real figure, this created a wall of blood between the two communities in both countries, as well as between the two countries themselves.

Even today, this forcible and often brutal transfer of population, which took place over half-a-century ago, is still directly reflected in the conflicts and tensions which dominate the political scene in both countries.

In India itself, a sizeable Muslim minority remained after partition (numbering today over 100 million or 11% of the overall population). Soon this minority was singled out by a large part of the political spectrum as a "problem"; as an enemy within and a hotbed of "foreign agents". By the 1980s, as the world economic crisis began to bite more severely on the Indian poor, a fast-growing reactionary wave developed largely on the basis of a vicious anti-Muslim demagogy. This reactionary wave was behind much of the recurring large-scale anti-Muslim pogroms which have plagued Indian society ever since. It in turn fed a parallel growth of Muslim fundamentalist forces, which had been relatively weak in India up to then.

In Pakistan, on the other hand, the scars left over by partition are, in a way, even more visible. Many of the Muslim refugees who came over from India in 1947 settled in Sind, the richer southern province surrounding Karachi, the country's economic capital. But they were never really assimilated by the local feudalistic landlord elite, who prevented them from settling on their lands. Most of the refugees ended up in the slums of the poorest districts of the large Sindhi towns, where they made up a large part of the chronically under-employed urban proletariat while providing the Non-skilled labour demanded by export industries.

Trapped between the discrimination exercised against them, the violence of the Pakistani police and their increasing deprivation, the refugees and their descendants became cannon fodder for ambitious politicians. The Karachi conurbation, where the former refugees make up two-thirds of the 12-million population, provides a graphic illustration of the consequences. Since the mid-1980s, Karachi has been a battleground for the permanent confrontation between the Pakistani ruling elite and the leaders of the MQM (Mohajir Qaumi Mahaz or National Movement of Immigrants), a populist paramilitary organisation which has successfully capitalised on the frustration of the former refugees. In 1992, the Pakistani army occupied the town in a massive effort to crush the MQM. It was a total, but bloody failure and the army withdrew rather than face a humiliating defeat. Since then, the police has been given a free hand to wage an on-going dirty war against the MQM, costing, officially, dozens of lives week after week. Torture and terrorism are the preferred weapons on both sides, with the police retaliating against the MQM's terrorist bombs with random shooting, arrests and torture of alleged MQM militants, whose only crime, more often than not, is to live in Karachi's shanty towns - and to belong to families which found themselves on the wrong side of the border drawn by the British Foreign Office at the time of the 1947 partition!

The regional rivalry built into the Mountbatten settlement

The two states which came out of the Mountbatten settlement were both artificial and unviable.

The original Pakistan was split into two territories one thousand miles apart, which had nothing in common apart from religion - neither their language, nor even their ethnic background. The border which divided India from West Pakistan (today's Pakistan) cut straight across the Punjab, a linguistically homogeneous region, just as East Pakistan (today's Bangladesh) split the old Bengal province right down the middle. These borders made neither geographical nor economic sense, as can be seen easily by looking at the strange corridor, less than 30 miles wide, which was (and still is) the only means of terrestrial communication between mainland India and its eastern states on the other side of what was previously East Pakistan. On the other hand, the borders had been carefully drawn to ensure that most of the industrial and trading resources of the former British colonies, which were owned either by British companies or by old Indian families such as the Tatas and Birlas, remained in the new India.

Right from partition day, therefore, this combination of economic imbalance and unviable borders built in instability and effectively set the two new states at each other's throats.

The inviability of the Pakistani state carved out by Mountbatten soon resulted in its explosion, when political rivalry between the Awami League, which dominated East Pakistan, and the Pakistan People's Party, which dominated West Pakistan, came to a head, in March 1971. The Pakistani army, led mainly by western Pakistani officers, sided with the PPP and the Awami League was banned. The Indian government immediately jumped on the opportunity, offering the Awami League shelter for its government-in-exile and, more importantly, military assistance to set up a liberation army in East Pakistan.

Eventually the Indian army intervened massively to support the insurgents against the troops sent by Karachi. After six months of a bloody war, which left three million dead and ten million refugees, Bangladesh became independent in December 1971. This, in a sense, resolved the problem of Pakistan's inviability. But at the same time it erected another wall of blood between India and Pakistan out of which reactionary forces on both sides were quick to make political capital.

But, as if this was not enough, the British colonial power had also left behind a few other booby traps which were to become major bones of contention between Pakistan and India - the main one being Kashmir.

One of the features of the Mountbatten settlement, designed to tilt it heavily in favour of the former colony's most conservative forces, was to grant the regional feudal powers, wherever they existed, the choice to either remain independent or join the new states. No fewer than 560 such "princely states" were listed in the settlement. Most of them had no real political existence and relinquished power to the new central governments by means of symbolic treaties. But in a few cases the traditional dynasties refused to toe the line. Kashmir, a mountainous region on the north-west Indo-Pakistani border, was one of them.

Kashmir had a large Muslim majority and a long nationalist tradition. When the old ruling family declared independence, Muslim guerilla forces invaded the country from Pakistan to proclaim a Muslim state, thereby pushing the traditional ruler into India's arms. Hardly six months after independence, this led to the first Indo-Pakistani war, which resulted, in January 1949, in the partition of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. An uneasy truce followed in the newly-partitioned Kashmir, amidst feverish manoeuvring by both sides to get sections of the population to support the reunification of Kashmir under the auspices of either India or Pakistan. In 1965, the truce eventually collapsed, resulting in a bloody 3-week war, in which India was a clear winner, although it did not alter the 1949 "peace line".

Since then Kashmir has remained a permanent flashpoint in the relationship between India and Pakistan. By the late 1980s, after a significant re-emergence of separatist guerillas, the Indian government gave up any attempt at maintaining the appearances of democratic rule. The Kashmir and Jammu state institutions were disbanded and direct rule was exercised by New Delhi, that is effectively by the commanding officers of the occupying Indian forces. Kashmir became the scene of a vicious war by proxy, in which up to 350,000 Indian troops fought a secular Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, on the one hand, and on the other, several Muslim fundamentalist guerillas mostly armed by Pakistan - a war which has resulted in casualties which were estimated at 50,000 by 1997, not to mention 150,000 refugees who fled into India.

Imperialist manoeuvres in southern Asia

However, the rivalry between India and Pakistan never took place in a vacuum. For imperialism, southern Asia was a strategic area, at the junction between south-east Asia, Russia (then the Soviet Union) and the Middle-East. When the US leaders moan today about the threat of an arms race in the region, they conveniently forget that they themselves, and their predecessors, have been contributing to a fifty-year long arms race in the region, including in the nuclear field.

Less than four years after independence, the crisis caused by the nationalisation of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company by Musaddeq's government in Iran, led western powers to seek new locations for military bases around the Middle-East. As the Indian government under Nehru insisted on a Non-alignment policy in the Cold War, the USA and Britain turned to Pakistan. Possible sites for US air bases in Pakistan were investigated and in return, by mid-1952, the USA presented Pakistan with a comprehensive programme of military aid. Soon US advisers were permanently based at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, while Pakistan was invited to join the regional Cold War military alliances set up by the US leaders - such at the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATRO), which was primarily aimed at isolating China, and what was later to become the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO), which was aimed at containing Soviet influence in the Middle- East. In fact, in 1960, the US spy plane which was to be shot down over the USSR, sparking off a serious diplomatic crisis at the time, would fly out of a secret US base located near Peshawar, in Pakistan.

By the mid-50s, the Pakistani army leaders were manoeuvring to take over control in their country. Predictably they welcomed the US offer of equipment and political backup, which probably played a significant role in their success in sidelining the leading figures of the ruling Muslim League - a move which was formalised in 1954 by the dissolution of the constituent assembly. From then onwards, whether openly or from behind the thin veil of a "civilian-led democracy", the army was to keep the country under its fist, often using the "threat" of India as a justification for overburdening the economy with a massive military budget and reducing further the limited political rights enjoyed by the population.

The relationship between western imperialism and India was more convoluted than with Pakistan, not because of Nehru's "support" for the Soviet bloc, but rather because of his reluctance to submit India unconditionally to the hazard of US policy. "Non-alignment" was about taking the best of both blocs, while conceding as little as possible to either. But this did not mean that Nehru was against maintaining a working relationship with Washington (the Indian industrialists would have frowned on this), nor that the US heaped massive pressure on India. Having imposed an embargo on China, the USA could hardly afford the same bellicose attitude towards India, Asia's second largest country. Nor did they need to.

Even though Nehru was among the first heads of government to recognise Mao's regime in 1949, there was no question of US sanctions against India. US economic aid continued to be forthcoming (Soviet aid only became available from 1953, and on a much more limited scale) and, two years later, Nehru signed his first defence agreement with the USA. Of course, the US sided with Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir, whereas the USSR made a point of vetoing any discussion on the subject at the UN Security Council, thereby implicitly supporting Nehru's argument that this was purely an "internal" problem. But this did not prevent the Indian Central Intelligence Bureau from helping CIA agents to set up an army of Tibetan émigrés on Indian territory, in 1956, to organise a separatist uprising against Beijing.

The fact was, that in Nehru's view China represented a much more serious threat than any other country in Asia. In terms of sheer size, it was the only real rival to Nehru's ambition of building India into the region's dominant power. The US strategists knew this of course. When relations between India and China began to deteriorate, with a series of border skirmishes in the late 50s, both the US and the USSR provided Nehru with military hardware, which he used in 1961-62 to penetrate into disputed border areas with China. But when, in November 1962, the Chinese army retaliated with a large-scale offensive in Assam and, to a lesser extent, in Kashmir, literally wiping out the Indian army, Nehru immediately turned to the USA for assistance. US weapons flowed into the country, to the extent that by 1963, Indian debt to the US, largely on military contracts, amounted to more than half the total value of the Indian money in circulation! Then, and only then, did the Soviet Union try to cover the US bid with more weapons, in order to remain in the game.

A turn came in 1965, with the second Indo-Pakistani war. The Pakistani generals had counted on US support for their attempt to take over Kashmir. This was a miscalculation. Washington was so embarrassed when it was revealed that both sides had used the same US-supplied weapons, that they launched a damage- limitation exercise by declaring an arms embargo on both countries - or at least this was the pretext they used, but maybe this was only a way of avoiding an open break with India. In any case, this allowed the USSR to step in, first by brokering a peace agreement between India and Pakistan and subsequently by becoming both India's biggest arms supplier and the biggest single buyer of its goods (only slightly ahead of the USA though). This situation was prolonged by the 1971 war against Bangladesh, when the USA had to back Pakistan against India, but only with token gestures, while the Soviet Union was free to back India all the way.

However, by the early 1970s, US-Indian relations began to change again. When Indira Gandhi ordered the first nuclear test in India, in 1974, thanks to the technological help of the USSR, but possibly also of the USA, there was no question of sanctions. This regional counterweight to China's nuclear capability (demonstrated already ten years before) was apparently welcome. Indeed, the following month, the Aid-India Consortium, the group set up by the US-controlled World Bank to provide loans to the Indian government, approved its largest loan programme ever. Meanwhile the Pentagon was busy helping India to develop one of the world's largest radar and military communications systems aimed mainly against China. The overbidding between India's weapons suppliers had resumed.

Then, in the late 1970s, the centre of gravity of US policy in southern Asia switched again to Pakistan. This time, the trigger was the political crisis in Afghanistan and the subsequent invasion by Soviet troops in 1979. Due to its long border with Afghanistan, Pakistan became the main channel for US aid to the anti-communist Afghan guerillas. The Pakistani army, and more particularly its political police, the ISI, were entrusted with the responsibility of arming and training volunteers in the refugee camps on the border zone. And since the strongest and most reliable currents among them (from the point of view of the US) were Islamic Fundamentalists, they received the largest part of the aid on offer, whether it be money, equipment or armaments, light and heavy.

This 10-year long war was devastating for Afghanistan. But it also drastically transformed the political and social landscape in Pakistan. It was under general Zia, who ran the country until 1988, that the systematic Islamisation of the legal system was carried out. At the same time, the coalition of the army and Fundamentalist groups turned Pakistan into the world's third largest producer of heroin. It was also during this period that the Pakistani military began to develop their own nuclear capability with the help of China. There again, the US leaders were much too busy playing their great power games against the Soviet Union to talk about sanctions. They simply turned a blind eye, while providing the Pakistani generals with yet more heavy conventional weapons to play with.

The departure of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, soon followed by the breakdown of the Soviet Union, did alter US policy in Pakistan in that, by 1990, for the first time, Washington cut off military assistance and new economic aid, in retaliation against Pakistan's nuclear programme. However, this was only temporary and partial as Pakistan soon had a role to play in the imperialist "world order".

First, Pakistan was called in to provide troops and logistical support for the Gulf War, thanks to its US bases. Then it was once again Pakistan, which was used by western powers to intervene in Afghanistan. It became the training ground and launching pad for the Taliban fundamentalist militias, which were to take control of the largest part of Afghanistan in 1996. Their success was greeted with great satisfaction by Unocal and other American oil companies, which were keen for Afghanistan to return to political stability, in order to establish a direct route to the sea for the oil and gas produced in Turkmenistan. So throughout the 1990s, the arms race continued in the region, with a lower profile on the part of the USA maybe, but no less of a decisive role.

The rise of reactionary forces

As described earlier, Pakistan has been in an on- going political crisis for a long time. To the virtual state of civil war which dominates the life of its largest towns, in the South, must be added the terrorist activities carried out by Islamic Fundamentalist groups across the country, particularly in their strongholds, along the Afghan and Kashmiri borders. The authority of the civilian state, crippled by generalised corruption, is ignored in vast parts of the country. All the more so as the economy, which was shattered by the chaos generated by the Afghan war, has never recovered and continues to slide downward.

Only the army keeps the country together, but at what cost! This enormously inflated parasite swallowed nearly half of the state's total revenue last year. Although it has also other sources of income, thanks to the booty accumulated over the past two decades. For instance, the so-called "Fauji Foundation", a conglomerate run by the army which owns a host of factories in engineering and food processing, a gas field, transport companies, hospitals, arms production facilities, etc..

Democracy has long lost any meaning in Pakistan, if it ever had one. The present regime of prime minister Nawaz Sharif won the last general election, although on a record low 35% turnout. But his ruling clique is merely an offshoot of the Zia dictatorship of the 1980s, selected and trained by it. Behind this "democratic" government, are the army's strong men, such as the ISI head, general Babar, who orchestrated the Taliban operation in the early 1990s and is now responsible for the vicious civil war waged against the MQM in Karachi. In any case, Sharif's regime is only the latest in a long series of increasingly repressive regimes, which have merely been covers for the army's dictatorship.

India, on the other hand, is certainly not the "largest democracy in the world", as was claimed ad nauseum at the time of the 50th anniversary of independence. If its political system was ever democratic, it was only so for the privileged and a fraction of the petty bourgeoisie. But for the vast majority of the population, politics has always meant bribes, thuggery and nepotism.

Over the past period, however, there has been a "democratic" shift in Indian society, but in the most reactionary direction, with the arrival in power of a BJP-led government, in March this year.

The BJP (Indian People's Party) is the political wing of the Hindu nationalist movement. In its methods, outlook and orientations, this movement is best described as Hindu fundamentalist (or "revivalist" as they are sometimes called), in that it is a populist movement, whose declared aim is to set up a political power shaped according to what it calls the Hindu religion. Of course, there has never been such a thing as a well-defined Hindu religion, in any case not for many centuries and certainly not covering a large part of today's India. So this movement, whose primary aim was to use religion as a means to create an Indian national identity different from the traditional secular nationalism represented, at least in theory, by the old Congress party, has had to create this religion artificially. It has done so by using a mixture of demagogy (anti-Muslim mostly, but also occasionally whipping up the old caste prejudices) and religious symbols going back many centuries.

This Hindu fundamentalism first emerged in the 1920s, with the setting up of what is still its main organisation, the RSS (National Self-Help League). The RSS was, and is still a virulently anti- communist movement, organised in military units called "shakas", whose main activities involved drills and parades in uniform. Not surprisingly its founders admitted to have been inspired by the model of Mussolini's "Black Shirts". Its shakas have often been used as militias by private employers to break strikes, particularly since the 1970s. They were also instrumental in the large-scale anti-Muslim pogroms of Winter 1992, which left over 2000 dead across the country.

The BJP, on the other hand, tries to be the "respectable" face of Hindu fundamentalism and the latest in a long series of attempts by the Hindu fundamentalists at setting up a parliamentary party. Set up in 1980, it won only two seats in the Union's parliament in the 1984 election. However, by the 1996 election, it had become the largest party in New Delhi, with 161 seats - a position which it improved slightly this year, with 178 seats and 25% of the vote.

This sudden meteoric rise fed on a number of factors. After decades of almost uninterrupted power, the old Congress Party has finally imploded due to its internal rivalries, having lost credit among large sections of the population as a result of a string of corruption scandals, affecting the highest circles of the party, including the deceased former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. To replace it, there was no credible all-Indian party: the centre-left Janata Dal was also too discredited while the two Communist Parties were both small and isolated geographically. The BJP, on the other hand, appeared as a "new" all-Indian party, which was determined to fight corruption (or so it said), to "stand up for India against the foreigners" (meaning against the multinationals, Muslims or any rival country, depending on the preoccupations of the audience) and to "restore the role of the state" (which could be understood either as advocating tougher repression or an end to the catastrophic privatisation policy which has resulted in a sharp rise of unemployment). Such a language, in the context of a sharply declining standard of living, both among the poorest sections of the population and among the petty bourgeoisie, has eventually allowed the BJP to climb the ladder to power - by default so to speak.

In 1996, the BJP was unable to put together a government coalition. Instead, a "United Front" government was formed by the various left and centre-left parties, together with a large number of regionalist parties. In reality, the United Front government could only hold on to power as long as the Congress Party did not vote against it. Eventually, after two years of austerity policies imposed with the support of the left, including the two communist parties, the Congress Party decided that they had recovered enough to benefit from a new election, and they voted down the government. As it turned out, this proved to be a miscalculation. The Congress Party made no gains, but the BJP and its allies did, enough in any case to muster an absolute majority in the Union's parliament.

The BJP coalition is made of 14 parties, most of which are regionalist parties, sometimes even with an autonomist agenda, which is rather ironical given the BJP's support for tough policies against the many nationalist movements demanding independence in various parts of India. But, despite the openly reactionary policy of the BJP, its coalition also has a left wing, represented by one of India's two Socialist Parties - the Samata Party, whose leader and now minister of Defence, Georges Fernandes, was a prestigious figure in the trade-union movement, best known for having led the 1974-75 all-India railway strike and having been thrown in jail by Indira Gandhi for that reason. This, however, is in fact less surprising than it may seem: the Samata Party has at least two things in common with the BJP's demagogic language - its anti-communism and a virulent belief in a strong nationalist- minded state power.

However, it did not take long for the new anti-corruption government to reveal its real face: less than two months after coming into office, three of its ministers had already been forced to resign after being convicted on corruption charges! Besides, for a government which pledged to resist the on-going invasion of the Indian economy by multinationals (specially US companies), the Financial Times noted on 19 May that it had approved a "flurry of foreign projects", including one with a US company in power generation, 18 in oil production and exploration (5 of which are with US companies), not to mention a license granted to a US company for a copper mine. In fact, US officials clearly know better than to believe the BJP's grandiose anti-US statements, judging by their satisfaction after last March election. Electoral demagogy is one thing, but government politics are obviously another!

But probably the most graphic warning as to what this government may have in store for the Indian poor population, is given by the state of Maharashtra (where India's commercial capital, Bombay, is located). Here, the BJP came into office in 1995 in alliance with another similar local party, Shiv Sena - after an election campaign which, it must be noted, was partly financed by British banks such as Standard Chartered and HSBC. The reports published recently about Bombay in British papers all note the gangsterisation of politics which has occurred since 1995, with a policeforce totally controlled by the thugs who are now in power resorting increasingly to terrorist methods. The Third World journalist Jeremy Seabrook reported how the BJP president in Bombay, Ram Nayak himself, was murdered that same year, because of disagreements over his demand for a cut on any goods smuggled into Bombay. Others mentioned how the town's previously large trade-unions have been decimated by official and unofficial terrorism. In particular, Datta Samant, the leader of the powerful 1982-83 textile strike in Bombay, was murdered in 1997, by a gang hired by a car manufacturer. Of course, such practices have always existed in so-called "Indian democracy". But what has been different in Bombay, over the past few years, is the scale on which they have occurred.

Nationalist overbidding

The reactionary forces which are in power today in Pakistan and in India have in common an agenda aimed at defending the interests of the rich against the poor, using the most brutal methods. But they also have in common a vocal nationalism, which is more than just pure demagogy - because it can also become a powerful and necessary cover for their attacks against the poor.

It was not merely a coincidence if, six hours after having justified Pakistan's nuclear tests by an alleged plan by India to raid the country's nuclear facilities, Nawaz Sharif declared a state of emergency, suspending all constitutional rights, in order to introduce "painful economic reforms" and bring back law and order. Since then, every bomb attacks (which are frequent events in Pakistan) have been vocally blamed on India. What Sharif's real plans are is not clear yet - except that he publicly declared his intention to sort out the catastrophic debt of the country. And one cannot avoid seeing a connection between this strident anti-Indian campaign and the accompanying state of emergency, and the strikes which were triggered across the country by recent attempts to impose massive job cuts in public services.

In India, on the other hand, the recent nuclear tests were prepared by a full month of discussion in the press and speeches about the potential danger for India represented by Pakistan, and above all China, and therefore the urgent need to "rearm" India. In these discussions, the Samata party leader and Defence minister Georges Fernandes even put on Nehru's mantle to say that: "India has, in the last few years, isolated itself on security issues and more so on economic issues. A leader of the developing world, India abdicated its role at some point during the Uruguay Round of talks. With this in mind, I said India has to restore its pride and its place in the world". Not only has India to "restore its pride and its place", but added Fernandes in another interview, its main enemy is China, while Pakistan is no more than an instrument of China. And he then proceeded to accuse the Chinese army of having set up secret military bases in Myanmar and in the disputed border areas of northern Assam, to prepare a future invasion. This statement by the minister of Defence, coming just at a time when Beijing Chief of Staff was paying an official visit to New Delhi, as part of on-going "friendly" negotiations with India on the precise definition of its north-east borders with China, amounted to a provocation. Officially, Beijing chose to ignore it. But for how long?

All this nationalist demagogy may well remain pure politicking. But in the context of threatening bankruptcy which exists today in Asia, where the poor masses, in countries like India and Pakistan, have already been squeezed into a desperate situation over the past decade, through the various "structural adjustment plans" imposed by the international finance authorities, such demagogy may also come to be seen as an expedient way of deflecting the frustration of the poor and justifying more sacrifices being forced on them.

This is probably a real danger. But it is a danger directly linked with other dangers which originate not from New Delhi or Islamabad, but from Washington and London - the risk of economic catastrophes caused by the mechanisms of the world economic market and the greed of imperialist predators, and the threat represented by state machineries which have been, and still are, armed by the West as part of its imperialist great power policy.