A volatile relationship
Ivninderpal Singh

by J. Sri Raman. Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine. Pages 306. $18.95.

FlashpointThe threat of nuclear weapons has haunted mankind ever since America wreaked havoc on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. During the Cold War, many a times, especially during the Cuban missile crisis, a nuclear war seemed imminent between the two superpowers. By the end of the last century, the battleground for nuclear weapons had shifted to South Asia, where the atmosphere had become volatile after India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in May 1998.

J. Sri Raman focuses on how the chain of events which followed the nuclear tests, brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war. The book has nine chapters, beginning with The Summer of 2002 in which the author gives a rough estimate of the expected casualties in case of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

The attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, infuriated India and the Indian Government mounted a diplomatic offensive against Pakistan to cease cross-border terrorism and repatriate 20 terrorists that India claimed were on its wanted list. This resulted in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation involving nearly a million personnel of the armed forces of the two countries along the border. Threats were exchanged at the highest levels of political leadership of both nations. The author has expressed his fear about the safety of monuments of historical and cultural importance in case of a nuclear war.

To understand India-Pakistan relations today, the author goes back to 1857 when Hindus and Muslims fought together against the British. But after just 90 years, when Partition took place, both communities were baying for each other’s blood. And the scars of Partition are still visible on India-Pakistan relations. The writer quotes Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan to highlight the atrocities committed by Hindus and Muslims against each other, inflicting irreparable damage to the cultural traditions of both religions. Who was responsible for this bitterness? The colonial masters were responsible, says Raman. And after 1947, the UK was replaced by the USA in influencing the politics of the region for petty gains in the diplomatic arena.

Since Independence, India and Pakistan have fought four wars, of which three have been over the Kashmir issue. The author traces the history of Kashmir since its occupation by Akbar in 1586. He also talks about how peace has suffered in the Valley.

The security scenario changed in South Asia in May 1998, when both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests leading to an arms race. The author has discussed the compulsions of the BJP and differences within the party on the nuclear issue. He brings out the double standards of the USA when he says that the USA itself promised India help to go nuclear in the 1960s to counter the threat of a nuclear China.

Along with the changing environment in South Asia, there was a lot of turbulence within India. This created friction with Pakistan and threatened to ignite the nuclear flame. The targeting of minority Muslims in India gave a religious slant to the face-off. Raman has given an account of the Gujarat riots and the rising fascist forces in India which were responsible for the ghastly episode.

The September 11 attacks on the USA, following which the USA declared a war on terrorism further fuelled the fire. The Indian Government tried to turn the anti-terror strike to its own advantage vis-`E0-vis Pakistan, followed by "irresponsible" statements by leaders of both countries. All these happenings created tension and unrest in South Asia, bringing the world closer to a nuclear war.

The author has deliberated upon all factors, both external and internal, which led to the growth of nuclear militarism in South Asia. He has touched upon all issues pertaining to India-Pakistan relations since Independence with special emphasis on the genesis of the Kashmir problem.

The book has been written in a lucid and racy manner with a deep insight into the bilateral relations of the ‘traditional enemies’ in South Asia. The book is for all those who favour peace in the region.