A new agenda for South Asia?

Editorial April 14, 2010

The new goodwill in Washington between Pakistan and its hosts has been becoming increasingly obvious by the day.

In a meeting with visiting Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his delegation US President Barack Obama has made some fairly clear-cut assurances that America has no intention of grabbing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and trusts its ability to safeguard it. The comments are especially relevant in the face of past US warnings that the Taliban were seeking to seize weapons and were indeed desperate to obtain a nuclear device.

The very possibility of this conjures up visions that are too awful even to contemplate. However, as the US president himself said so to Prime Minister Gilani, Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are ‘immaculately well guarded’. Of course differences remain. During the most recent round of talks the most significant ones concerned Pakistan’s opposition to a ban on new weapon production.

The reasons cited for this by Prime Minister Gilani seem logical, only if it reflects Islamabad’s quest for parity with a much more powerful neighbour. And while one can understand that compulsion given Pakistan’s history with India, it may well be worth pointing out here that both countries have between them a major chunk of the world’s poor.

The bulk of both their populations – and this is something we both need to accept – is poor, malnourished, vulnerable to all kinds of diseases and finds it difficult just to find two square meals a day. The point being made here is that while demanding a civilian nuclear energy deal is all well and good, having nuclear energy will not eliminate poverty in Pakistan and neither will it help feed and house the millions who live below the poverty line.

To that end, Pakistan – and indeed India – both need to sort out matters themselves and realize that an arms race is in nobody’s interest. If America can help in this then it will be seen by the people of the subcontinent in somewhat positive light.


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