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HVK Archives: China fuelled arms race in South Asia

China fuelled arms race in South Asia - The Observer

Prem Prakash ()
June 13, 1998

Title: China fuelled arms race in South Asia
Author: Prem Prakash
Publication: The Observer
Date: June 13, 1998

On October 16, 1964, China had exploded a nuclear device in
direct response to Jawaharlal Nehru's efforts to modernise and
re-equip India's army, following the debacle In 1962. This was
where the South Asian nuclear arms race began.

It was China's aggressive entry into South Asia by its invasion
of India's borders in October 1962 that started the arms race.

It is tragic that in the noise of sanctions following the Indian and
Pakistani nuclear explosions the world at large seems to have
forgotten history. It is even more tragic when very responsible
Indian leaders, forgetting reality, use the issue for a political
slanging match at home.

Indians through their long and ancient history have been naively
forgiving. India has paid very heavily for trying to live by its
ideals. Its policy, after independence, to stay non-aligned (not
neutral) in the cold war was a product of that idealism. To India
the cold war seemed only a waste of mankind's resources, but
that was not the perception of the US and its allies - or, for that
matter, of the USSR and its supreme ally, China.

Mao was never prepared to accept India's non-alignment nor
was Stalin. And even after Stalin, the Soviet Union, though
friendly towards India, was always suspicious of its non-aligned

The humiliating defeat suffered by the Indian Army at the hands
of the Chinese In 1962 raised high hopes in the mind of
Pakistan's military President, Ayub Khan. But when Nehru
started work in earnest to re-equip and modernise India's
fighting machine, Pakistan was alarmed by the possibility of
India getting closer to its friends in the West.

That was not to be, but, meanwhile, Pakistan quietly developed
a close alliance with China, and China's involvement in South
Asia became far more pronounced.

The speed with which Nehru was modernising his army was a
worrying factor both for Pakistan and China. The defeat of
Chiang Kai Shek and China's entry Into Tibet totally changed
the cold war power equations in Asia. The Chinese leadership
managed to get access to the nuclear technology from the
Soviet Union under the guise of a possible US-led invasion of
its mainland.

Despite its own treaty with the Soviet Union that any attack on
China would be construed as an attack upon the entire Socialist
bloc and would thus invoke nuclear protection from the Soviet
Union, China went ahead with its own development of nuclear
weapons. When the spectre of a modernised Indian Army
began to loom large across the border of a hostile Tibet, that
push towards nuclear capability became feverish.

Nehru died In May 1984, a broken and tired human but one who
had managed to put India's war machine back in order. Five
months later China demonstrated its nuclear power at Lop Nor.
India could no longer ignore what Chinese were doing,
especially when their sixth test, on 17 June 1967, heralded
China's fist hydrogen bomb.

Meanwhile, hopeful of Chinese backing and sure of western
non-involvement, Ayub Khan sent in his forces into Gujarat's
Rann of Kutch, hoping to bargain for or seize Kashmir through a
clandestine operation that started soon after Nehru's death.

Nehru, on the verge of death, had made a last-ditch effort to
make friends with Pakistan. But even as his envoy, Sheikh
Abdullah, was in Muzaffarabad, negotiating with the leaders of
Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (POK), Nehru died in New Delhi.
He did, however, leave behind a contingency plan to meet any
adventure that Pakistan may make, aided and abetted by

It is an Incontrovertible fact that throughout Nehru's lifetime the
whole thrust of nuclear programme was for peace. It was his
firm belief in the futility of war that had made him ignore all the
needs of India's fine army. The self-same army that had
distinguished itself against Rommel in North Africa helping to
turn the tide in the war against Nazi Germany, was not able to
match the Chinese in a border conflict.

India's response to the Chinese nuclear threat came in 1974,
when Indira Gandhi gave the go-ahead to the country's
scientists to test. Like it or not, tests are necessary to be able to
check research.

But scientists had proved their work in 1974, India held its hand
until now.

As for Pakistan, its very survival rests on its 'hate India'
ideology. If Islam could have held Jinnah's nation together,
there would have been no loss of Bangladesh, nor would there
be the ethnic strife that wrecks Pakistan today - as witnessed in
the plight of the Mohajirs, the real founders of Pakistan!

India has made every effort to try and win back the friendship of
China to ease tensions in South Asia. Diluting Nehru's China
policy, most succeeding Congress governments have been
cold towards the Dalai Lama. Rajiv Gandhi visited China in
1988. Then, in 1992, Narasimha Rao sought to ease tension
(some would say he blundered) by signing an agreement which
gave China de facto control of the Indian territory it had
occupied by clandestine entry and force of arms in 1962. It was
a pragmatic realisation that border disputes cannot be solved
by any war.

China, however, had its own agenda. Since 1992, it has moved
massively into Myanmar threatening India's trade routes in the
Indian Ocean. It has also deployed nuclear missiles in Tibet
against India. Why? And Chinese technology has enabled
Pakistan to test-fire the Ghauri missile, a weapon aimed solely
at India.

There is hardly any progress in the India-China talks on border
settlement as envisaged in the Beijing agreement of 1992.

Did India have any other alternative but to let potential
adventurers know that India, too, had nuclear capability? If the
United States had been sincere about stopping Pakistan from
developing nuclear weapons it could well have done so In the
eighties during the Ronald Reagan era.

The United Kingdom too supplied nuclear technology to
Pakistan in the seventies. Both chose to do so despite reports
by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other Intelligence
outfits on the Pakistan-China clandestine nuclear operation.
Pakistan was a front-line ally of the US fighting the Soviet Union
in Afghanistan.

That situation also suited China, with whom the US had begun to
develop very close trade relations. Because of those trade ties,
America is now in no position to oppose China on any issue.

When it comes to dealing with Beijing, Washington forgets all its
idealism and its championing of human rights.

Those who criticise India must realise that a Communist China
trampling upon human rights has set for itself a global role. The
only nation capable of giving it some challenge in Asia is India.
China has surrounded India with its nuclear might in alliance
with Pakistan and Myanmar. Can India ignore all this?

This is how the recent history has evolved. The arms race in
South Asia started the moment China invaded India. Its
subsequent nuclear tests and its development of missiles have
totally engulfed not just South Asia but entire Asia in a nuclear
arena. China is very much part of South Asia. Any arms race,
conventional or nuclear, cannot be checked without
understanding Chinese intentions.

China wishes to be supreme in Asia. To achieve that aim it must
also be supreme in South Asia. Any attempt at arms control in
South Asia cannot be successful without China being a party to
it. China started arms race in South Asia and it must be involved
In ending it. Can President Clinton or the West secure that?
Therein lies the answer.

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