Pakistan, India and their nuclear bombs

July 5, 2008

May photo of PML-N party protest in favour of A.Q. KhanBy pure coincidence, Pakistan and India are both embroiled at the same time in domestic rows over their nuclear bombs.

In Pakistan, disgraced nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan kicked up a storm by saying that the Pakistan Army under President Pervez Musharraf knew about the illegal shipment of uranium centrifuges to North Korea in 2000 — contradicting his earlier confession that he acted alone in spreading Pakistan’s nuclear arms technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Although Khan has subsequently suggested his remarks may have been overplayed, they are nonetheless likely to raise anxieties overseas about Pakistan’s nuclear programme.  His statement, and partial retraction, have also spawned a range of conspiracy theories about which of Pakistan’s squabbling politicians stood to gain from it, as seen in the comments to this blog on All Things Pakistan.

India’s Brahmos missiles on display/Jan photo, B. MathurIndia has an entirely different problem, but nonetheless one which stems from domestic politics. A nuclear deal with the United States which would have given its nuclear programme legitimacy and, it hoped, set it on the road to superpower status, has foundered on opposition from the Congress-led government’s communist allies. The government is hoping to salvage the deal with support from the regional Samajwadi Party before time runs out on the Republican administration of President George W. Bush.

What is interesting is how these two very different issues will play out in the minds of U.S. voters and on perceptions within South Asia of the U.S. presidential elections.

File photo of Senator Barack ObamaPakistanis are already worried that Barack Obama, if elected president, would take a harder line on Pakistan than the outgoing Bush administration which stands accused of failing to tackle al Qaeda hideouts there. The row about Pakistan’s nuclear programme can only make the country more vulnerable to U.S. pressure,  says Pakistan’s The Post.  And all this comes at a time when some are beginning to say that Pakistan would be better off if John McCain were to be elected. “Most Pakistanis may prefer Obama,” writes Ikram Sehgal in The News, but ” pragmatism and national interest dictate that McCain suits us far better as the next U.S. president.”

India has always been wary of the U.S. Democrats, who have been tougher on nuclear proliferation than the Republicans. So while Obama might have charmed Non-Resident Indians in the United States (who admittedly are the ones who will vote),  at home McCain looks like a better bet for upholding the nuclear deal. “Obama good for the world, McCain good for India,” wrote a blogger on merinews.

Is this the first sign of a convergence of views between India and Pakistan on who they want to become the next U.S. president? Or is it too early in the campaign to see clearly which candidate the two countries would prefer? And in any case, would U.S. voters care?


 

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