Dangerous tit-for-tat

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 April, 1999, 12:00am
 

As if the world did not already have enough trouble spots to worry about, the dangerous game of missile one-upmanship taking place on the Indian sub-continent raises fears that this may be about to become another flashpoint.


Pakistan has fired two nuclear-capable missiles within as many days in response to India's test of its own weapon last weekend. While Islamabad says that the tests are over, the situation remains extremely volatile.


For years, the international community has been struggling to forestall a fully-fledged arms race between the two neighbours which have already fought three wars in the past 51 years. Since both now have nuclear weapons, any further conflict would run a real risk of developing into a bigger war.


Only two months ago, efforts to defuse tension seemed to be bearing fruit when the two countries concluded the Lahore Agreement, committing them to taking measures to improve mutual confidence. But India's unpredictable and extreme nationalist government, led by the beleaguered Bharatiya Janata Party, once again put paid to such hopes. Last year, it conducted the nuclear tests which provoked Pakistan into following suit. Now it has done so again, with the missile test that prompted Islamabad to respond in similar vein.


But Pakistan is not entirely an innocent victim this time. It is hard to avoid suspecting that there may be some who see advantages in the timing of these tit-for-tat tests, which have distracted attention away from the sentencing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto to five years for corruption. Human rights groups have already questioned the verdict, saying it could hurt the democratic process.


Islamabad ignored repeated pleas from the international community not to allow itself to be provoked by India into joining this game of missile one-upmanship. It can be under no illusions about the consequences after the crippling sanctions imposed in response to last year's nuclear tests.


Although no such measures have been proposed this time, a meeting of international aid donors has been postponed, which can only deal a further blow to the nation's weak economy. While India must take the major share of the blame for starting this arms race, Pakistan would have been wiser to have responded with more restraint.


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Dangerous tit-for-tat

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