Politics and peace

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 September, 1998, 12:00am

The threat of a dangerous nuclear arms race in Asia is starting to recede with India and Pakistan's announcements that they want to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty within the next 12 months.

Together with their decision to resume talks about Kashmir, this means there is now a better chance of defusing tensions on the Indian sub-continent than at any time since both countries conducted nuclear tests in May.

But the path towards peace remains a difficult one. New Delhi has made it clear it expects substantial concessions before signing any treaty. Foremost among these is an early lifting of the sanctions imposed after its tests, a condition also insisted on by Islamabad.

It is a demand most of the world would accept to end both countries' nuclear testing ambitions. But, on this, for the first time, Asia may be about to feel the adverse consequences of the Lewinsky affair.

Although a bill has been put forward to allow US President Bill Clinton to waive these sanctions, Republican congressmen have taken advantage of his weakened authority following the Starr Report as an excuse to delay it. Partly due to domestic distractions, Mr Clinton's November visit to India and Pakistan, which would have helped to advance an agreement, has been put back to next year.

If both countries really want to renounce their nuclear testing ambitions, doubtless they will eventually do so, irrespective of the Lewinsky affair. But there is a real danger that a young intern's damage to the authority of the US presidency may delay the advent of peace on the Indian sub-continent.