October 1999 News


Kashmir can spark off nuclear conflict: Sir Michael

12 October 1999
The Indian Express
By Saurabh Shukla

Kashmir is one of the prime sources of difference between India and Pakistan and it can spark a nuclear conflict," says, Sir Michael Aityah, president of Pugwash International. "Kashmir was always a source of trouble, and now potentially,it is more a source of trouble as it has acquired a nuclear dimension," he added. He considers Kashmir to be a political conflict between India and Pakistan that may prove lethal. Speaking to The Indian Express, Sir Michael added to the usual Western paranoia of an imminent nuclear disaster in South Asia.

"There is certainly a concern amongst many people that weapon grade nuclear material or nuclear technology might leak out, and that India and Pakistan are in a state of political conflict makes it worrisome as there is a chance that some misunderstanding might trigger a reaction," Sir Michael felt.

According to him there is also a concern about the escalation of hostilities between the two countries that may spark a nuclear conflict in South Asia.

However he stressed the need for bilateral discussions between the two countries and said that Pugwash was involved in discussions between security experts and policy analysts from both India Pakistan. "We privately made Palestinians and Israelis talk and would be keen to do it with Indians and Pakistanis. We have been getting them together. Some months back in Europe we had a private meeting between them, but it is quite difficult to get the Pakistanis for the meeting here. We were keen to have Pakistanis but no one could make it," he added. The Pug Wash Conferences has been one of the leading anti-nuke campaigners and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace along with with its former president Joseph Rotblat in 1995.

"We were very concerned at Pugwash when India and Pakistan conducted the nuclear test, especially for India as they had been advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons and it saddened us that they went nuclear," he said. According to him, he will be speaking to some key officials in the Indian Government to advocate his view, for a world free of nuclear weapons. For a mathematician by profession it was his speech as president of the Royal Society in London criticising the nuclear weapons, it won him accolades and he got associated with the Pugwash movement. In 1997 he was offered the Chair of Pugwash Conference. "In a lecture on science and society I was quite critical of the approach of the nuclear weapons and described them as an economic, military and political disaster," he added.

According to him, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was small step towards the bigger goal of nuclear-weapons free world. "CTBT is just a very, very modest step in the direction in which we have to go that of abolition of nuclear weapons," Sir Michael felt.

"According to him, it wouldn't mean much if the CTBT failed to come into force, what was required was to make it broad-based. For him the recipe to stem the tide of nuclear weapons was to have an effective verification and control mechanism that cheeks the spread of nuclear weapons. "Verification and control of nuclear weapons is very important and involves a lot of technical aspects, Pugwash has been studying some of these issues and policies and have come out with some solutions that might work," he added.

There is a risk of accidents and there should understanding between the two countries. "India and Pakistan have to move towards confidence building measures, and reduce the scope of misjudgment that may spark a nuclear conflict," he felt.

"The fundamental thing is to solve the political conflict (Kashmir) first," he emphasised. In a lighter vein, Aityah remarked that humanity does not know how to do the intelligent thing but one has to be optimistic and work towards abolition of nuclear weapons."

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