Rediff Logo News Travel Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index

July 6, 1998


E-Mail this story to a friend

The Rediff Interview/Arundhati Ghose

'This government talks big, but its knees are made of jelly'

Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi

Arundhati Ghose, who headed the Indian delegation at the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva in 1996, has flayed the move to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in return for high technology. "I am totally against such a solution to the CTBT," she stated, a trifle angrily, "What then happens to nuclear elimination which we had espoused so strongly?"

In an exclusive interview to Rediff On The Net, Ghose warned that the government had obviously not read the fine print of the CTBT properly. "The CTBT only bans testing. It is not a moratorium on all kinds of testing," she said. "It allows computer simulation and sub-critical testing. India as yet cannot do sub-critical testing, we can only manage sub-kilo testing. This is a difference that not many are aware of. India needs more tests before we can sign the CTBT, but of course, this is not the best time to go ahead with them."

Ghose, who earned the sobriquet 'Iron Lady' when she led India's charge against the CTBT in Geneva brilliantly, earning the respect of her peers and opponents, said Monday morning's news of a deal for signing the CTBT was the most depressing she has read in a long time.

"I am all for a nuclear-free world, but in Geneva, it became clear that the P-5 (the nuclear weapon states of United States, Russia, China, France and Britain) have no intention whatsoever of disarming completely," she said, adding, "The nuclear states only want to stop production, but if they keep their present stockpile, that is a threat enough to other nations."

Ghose declared that she was rather disappointed with the Bharatiya Janata Party government. "I didn't expect such a response from the BJP. This government talks big, but its knees are made of jelly," she stated.

The former diplomat insisted that there was no need to sign the CTBT. "The government should pass a moratorium saying that it will not explode any further weapons, but should include Articles 1 and 9 of the CTBT convention (which allows the use of nuclear weapons if a nation's sovereignty is under threat). Put all this in a bill and have it passed in Parliament," Ghose declared.

"We can also undertake certain measures. Let us promise no first use, not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, not to transfer nuclear technology, and have a treaty to ban tactical nuclear weapons, as a step forward," she added, "All these will be sufficient."

Ghose pointed out that nuclear weapons are unlikely to ever be used in today's world, but the danger of their use amounts to a coercive threat. "India had that experience in 1971, when the USS Enterprise (an aircraft carrier) entered the Bay of Bengal," she said. "I have always felt that this was what prompted Indira Gandhi to explode the nuclear device in 1974."

However, the former diplomat was rather harsh on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. "After conducting the tests, I expected the prime minister to go on TV and radio and tell the country exactly why he had done the tests, and on what to expect. On the contrary, the government has not taken the people into confidence. I am astounded by the fact that the government only cares for the scientists' view," she said.

Despite her trenchant criticism of the government, Ghose hailed the nuclear tests. "It is foolish to say that because India is a poor country, we should not conduct tests. I don't agree that because we have conducted tests we have become a great power. No country has ever become great because of nuclear tests. But we live in a tough neighbourhood and we have to plan for our own security," she said forcefully.

Showing the same alertness that made her opponents wary of her in Geneva, Ghose pointed out that the one positive aspect of the tests forced Pakistan to go overt besides also making clear the Chinese linkage to the Pakistani programme. "Pakistan simply wants parity with India, and that is impossible given the difference between the two countries," she added.

According to Ghose, Pakistan looks at North India rather than the rest of India. "Remember, no other South Asian country shares borders with each other except with India. And each one of them sees India through a different prism. Dhaka sees India through Calcutta, Sri Lanka through Madras, Nepal through Bihar. Similarly, Pakistan sees India through Delhi, and therefore, always tries to match every move of Delhi. I don't think Pakistan is even aware of Maharashtra or Karnataka, even though they too have large Muslim populations," she said.

Yet, there is no denying the fact that internationally, Islamabad has forced the world to see India and Pakistan as two equals. Who is to blame? "Pakistan sought parity to earn global recognition," said Ghose, "and managed to trap India in that. Till Gujral came along, India was unable to break away."

Ghose said the fault was due to a lack of clear thinking by India. "Pakistan and India both had and have brilliant diplomats. But where Islamabad scores is that they are far more clear on their goals, unlike India," she said.

Turning to China, she warned that in a recent media report, the country had declared that Pakistan was Beijing's Israel. "Pakistan serves two favours for China. It helps keep India south of the Himalayas and help Beijing curry favour with the Muslim world, on whose oil it is dependent. In return, Pakistan got help in its weapons programmes," she stated.

Ghose had a unique explanation for the angry US response to India's nuclear tests. "The US has spent much of the recent years creating a new world order built around it as the sole superpower. The nuclear blasts have pierced that architecture which Washington is so carefully putting into place, and that is why their response was so harsh, so personal," she added.

She reminded that not all countries had criticised India's blasts. "Japan will follow the US, but certain Arab countries were not at all critical. Egyptian papers hailed the tests," she said, "but publicly no one is in a position to take on the world's sole superpower."

Turning to the issue of sanctions, she claimed that the United States was not very keen to impose complete sanctions on India. "The US is trying to find ways to deal with India to ensure that the market does not close up completely. India, in return, should not penalise US companies who are often the technological leaders in their fields, far ahead of the Europeans and even the Japanese."

The ex-diplomat agreed that India desperately needed newer and more sophisticated technology, but insisted that a CTBT-hitech barter was not the way to realise it. "Foreign companies are dying to get into India and we must allow them to come in and bring in new technology."

Ghose insisted that India and the US were two different countries with differing interests. "Many people believe that we two countries have much in common, but we have only three aspects in common: democracy, a diverse population, and both are large nations. But while the US is a melting pot in the sense that all those who come in end up similar, India is more akin to a mosaic. Thus our approaches are different, our outlooks are different, and our interests are different," she stated.

A common lament has been that the US did not take India seriously as it did China, and for that Ghose blamed democracy and the English language. "If Americans want to know about us, all they have to do is read about us. Since we are democratic, all our dirty linen is washed in public, and in the language the Americans read. In China, first it is secretive and second, in a language that they cannot understand. This makes them more interested because they have to study that country," she added.

Yet, things are changing, at least with the present government. "This new government is the first completely non-Congress government. It is basically a Hindi-speaking government, excluding Jaswant Singh, and so the US is now forced to take notice and learn about it and the country," she concluded.

The Rediff Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview