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Ashutosh Sheshabalaya On Indian Issues
India'S Nuclear Choices Underpinned By Changing Yardsticks
by Ashutosh Sheshabalaya

Response to June 2003 article in The Los Angeles Times
In 'S. Asia Nukes Get a 'Pass' From Bush' (LA Times, June 25), Barbara Crossette seems to be out of date on both yardsticks and perspectives.

Unlike Pakistan, India is both secular, indeed very secular, as well as a democracy. Its "Hindu nationalist" government includes a Muslim President (Abdul Kalam) and a Christian (George Fernandes) as Defence Minister. Such instances densely permeate the fabric of Indian society, from regional political heads to judges of the Supreme Court, film stars, media and sports personalities, doctors, lawyers and teachers. India's richest person, Azim Premji, Chairman of IT giant Wipro, is a Muslim, while the country's largest industrial group, Tata, is controlled by Parsis (Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran). The situation in military-Islamic Pakistan is very different indeed.

Secondly, India's $3 trillion gross domestic product, measured in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), not only leaves Pakistan far behind, but is also larger than Germany's, and in fact more than the UK and France combined. (PPP is now used, among others, by the World Bank and the CIA, as being the best measure of economic size).

Along similar lines, India is fast emerging as a technology superpower. On current trends, by 2008, its IT sector alone will be larger than the Pakistani economy. Unlike Pakistan, India's nuclear program is also a direct spinoff of its world-class efforts in civilian areas such as the use of space and nuclear power programs for development. For instance, India's IRS remote-sensing satellites are used not only for spying but to combat deforestation and pollution and manage natural disasters. Likewise, its space launcher program is not used only for ballistic missiles, but also for lofting weather, communication and research satellites, both for itself as well as countries like Belgium, Germany and Korea. This too is the case with Param Padma, a teraflop supercomputer - a field where India clearly leads Europe and Russia.

Ms. Crossette's assertion that India has been "reluctant" to keep its nuclear facilities "at international standards of maintenance, raising fears of accidents", is incorrect, possibly mischievous. At the end of February, a 15-member team of American nuclear scientists led by Richard Meserve, Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, visited India and praised it for safety measures at its 14 nuclear power plants - incidentally four times more numerous than China's. During this visit, an Associated Press report (February 27) noted that India "has never had a serious accident such as the one at the Three Mile Island plant in the United States in 1979."

Ms. Crossette is even more off the mark in her muddling "South Asian" poverty with that of Pakistan's. Being based at the UN, Ms. Crossette ought to be familiar with the May 2002 report by the World Bank's research manager, David Dollar. Dr. Dollar noted that "no amount of quibbling can get around the fact that there has been massive poverty reduction in China and India", in spite of an increase in their combined population "by nearly 700 million people" over the past two decades.

No doubt India is still a poor country (and whether "poor" countries deserve to have a military may be an issue for Ms. Crossette). However, India is clearly winning the fight against poverty. Moreover, if factors such as size, stability, economic and technological prowess as well as securalism and democracy, do not play a role in giving a country the right to decide whether or not to possess nuclear weapons, maybe Ms. Crossette can tell me what does.

I am listening.

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