Peace workshop stresses need for new strategies
By Beena Sarwar
LAHORE, Dec 20, 1998 (IPS): ''Peace has been brought onto the world agenda, and a movement is being created and developed in South Asia, but we must not repeat the mistakes of the European peace movement,'' vehemently commented eminent scholar Eqbal Ahmed.
''It was rotten. It was ethno-centric, nuko-centric, phobo-centric (creating fear rather than understanding), techno-centric (concerned with the technology rather than causes), Oxo-centric ''It failed to link up with the European and American working class, with issues of race and poverty. And lastly, it never talked of Israel. We cannot, we must not, repeat these mistakes. We must show people that their bread is linked with the bomb.''
Ahmed's retirement ceremony from Hampshire College, USA, last year, was probably one of the most spectacular such events, a major event for the American Left, attended by luminaries like Edward Said and Noam Chomsky. His keynote speech was the highlight of an intensive day-long peace workshop on nuclear issues here on Saturday, held to deliberate on the intricacies of these issues.
The purpose of the workshop was, as Dr Parvez Hoodbhoy, a well known physics professor from the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, put it in his introduction, '' to inform ourselves with solid arguments that come from sound knowledge rather than emotion. We need to understand a whole range of issues, from the implications of the nuclear tests to Pakistan's economy, to the future of the sub-continent, to why the tests were initially received with jubilation.''
Passionately involved in the causes of education and peace, this prominent scientist is on the board of the organisation which convened the workshop, Mashal Books, a small publishing house in Lahore that focuses on issues of women, peace, environment and philosophy. Mashal intends to publish the proceedings of the workshop.
The workshop, supported by the Colombo-based Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS), was heavily sabotaged by the fog hovering over Lahore which prevented the participation of three speakers who were to arrive from Delhi: Indian activist Praful Bidwai, along with Pakistani physicist Dr Zia Mian and journalist Imtiaz Alam.But in the best tradition of activism (and show biz), the show went on. The workshop's success, said Hoodbhoy, depended more on the quality of its discussions. Setting the tone for the proceedings, Dr A.H. Nayyar, another eminent scientist at QAU's physics department, in his lucid, critical and open talk on nuclear weapons history, development, and control regimes -- explained that India's nuclear programme dates back to before Independence. ''It was initiated in 1945 by the ambitious scientist Homi Bhabha who was well aware of what a nuclear programme would entail and had no qualms about its consequences,'' he said. ''So to say that India's nuclear programme was in response to China's is totally untrue. China became independent in 1949 and its nuclear programme started much later, by which time India's programme was quite advanced.''
''Pakistan's policies have always been reactive to India's. It now claims to have de-linked its policies from India's, but this is not apparent,'' added Nayyar, who, like many of the other prominent resource persons at the workshop, has been outspokenly critical of Pakistan's nuclear programme. The negative side of the nuclear tests of May, he said, were that they had led to a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, to the creation of larger and more destructive nuclear weapons in both countries and elaborate missile programmes.
''The race is on for making smaller, smarter, more destructive weapons that can be mounted on missiles. There is also the danger of an unintended nuclear war. ''And of course there is the diversion of already scarce resources and scientists, and the development of jingoism which is affecting the psyche of the peoples of both countries, and the sanctions that are crippling our economy.'' On the bright side, he said, ''the attention of the world has been focussed on this region, and there is much greater pressure to resolve the existing conflicts. The nuclear tests have also led the emergence of peace movements in both countries.'' The tests, he said, have highlighted the failure of the non-proliferation agenda and although the control mechanisms like CTBT and FMCT are discriminatory, ''they are supported by peace movements as steps towards nuclear disarmament''.
There is hope for a non-nuclear world if there is openness in nuclear programmes and they are available for inspection, he felt. He pointed out that several countries, including South Africa, Brazil and Argentina have abandoned their nuclear programmes, while there are some 30 nations which have advanced nuclear technology and could weaponise but ''choose not to''. Ultimately, he said, it is the choice of each country, which path it takes.
''Nuclear bombs are the ultimate anti-democratic weapon,'' said Sunil Shah, a doctor and activist based in Houston, Texas. ''They target people who hadn't volunteered to be a part of war.'' By the same token, workshop participants strongly condemned the recent US air strikes on Iraq. ''What are the lessons being taught by the USA through its actions?'' questioned a participant, urging the peace activists in South Asia to break their silence about their anger at the US policies, which are vociferously condemned by religious extremists.
Parvez Hoodbhoy, who abandoned his initial foray into nuclear physics ''because there was nothing new in it anymore'' in favour of particle physics, debunked some of the major myths associated with nuclear programmes. Firstly he said, manufacturing nuclear weapons was no great scientific feat. ''Fifty years ago, there was much excitement at the discove of new principles of physics. But now all the technology and knowledge is commonly available.'' The second myth is that Pakistan had to respond to India's nuclear tests in view of the threat that was posed. ''India did its best to scare Pakistan, and there was certainly fear and tension here. But did we really have no other choice?'' In Hoodbhoy's view, scientists from other countries, including India, could have been invited to inspect Pakistan's untested bombs and testify to the purity of the uranium being used. Thirdly, there is o such thing as 'minimal deterrent' Russia ended up with 30,000 nuclear weapons, and the USA with 40,000 by the end of the Cold War. And this was in addition to the delivery vehicles, measures and counter-measures that had to be installed. ''According to the Brookings Institute, some 5.5 (five point five) trillion dollars were spent on weaponisation, of which only a small part was spent on nuclear weapons. The rest went on the command and control systems, delivery systems, satellites etc. In other words, there is no end to this race once it begins.''
Another misperception is that nuclear weapons will never be used. He cited a discussion he had some ten years ago with a group of brigadiers who were preparing a nuclear policy paper . In answer to his question about the circumstances in which Pakistan would use nuclear weapons, one officer responded: if it appeared that the Pakistan army was about to lose a conventional war, or if the country's major urban centres were about to be taken over by the Indian army. Hoodbhoy answered with the view is that even these circumstances would not justify pulling the nuclear trigger. ''For one thing, India could retaliate with more than a 100 nuclear weapons which can target each Pakistani city. Pakistan has only three or four. Even if the Indian army overran Pakistan, they could never hope to hold on to it for any length of time.'' ''Professor,'' came the answer, ''you are very rational. But we are men of 'ghairat' (honour). The Pakistan army will not be defeated.'' Citing the number of 'misses' during the Cold War, he termed as 'stupid' foreign minister's Sartaj Aziz's statement that accidental war was impossible because Pakistan has a 'perfect command and control system': ''How can he guarantee the Indian command and control system?'' ''My fear of an accidental war increases each time I talk to policy makers,'' confessed Hoodbhoy. There has to be a hotline with India, continuous monitoring and confidence building measures, as well as a 'safing' of nuclear weapons, to ensure that they cannot go off accidentally or through sabotage. ''These weapons must be kept dis-assembled''. Talking about the contentious issue of Kashmir, he added that while many have resigned themselves to no end to that problem, ''no one is willing to tell the public that''.
Abbotabad-based economist turned activist Omar Asghar Khan turned the focus towards accidents and mishaps at nuclear power plants, as well as the health hazards of uranium mining. ''The question is how to engage the public mind in this debate,'' he said. ''We collected 700,000 signatures against the atom bomb from Pakistan in the 1950s,'' said veteran feminist Tahira Mazhar Ali. ''If we are to mobilise that kind of public opinion again, it will take hard work. And I can guarantee that those who celebrated these tests initially are not doing so any more''.
Participants were encouraged and surprised by the participation of Sajjad Haider, a ruling party MNA, who offered to organise a parliamentary meeting in Islamabad so that his fellow parliamentarians could be informed about these issues. Note: Other prominent speakers at the workshop included I.A. Rehman, Khaled Ahmed, and Dr Mubashir Hasan, who addressed issues of history, nationalism and religious extremism. More on their talks later - separate article needed for that. (ends)