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Student Groups Sponsor Panel To Discuss India And Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

By Nomi Giszpenc
Staff Reporter

India's recent refusal to sign a comprehensive test ban treaty ignited discussion Thursday night at a panel talk in 3-370.

On Sept. 24, more than 160 countries signed a comprehensive test ban treaty, but India refused to sign. India's refusal stood in stark contrast the country's attitude in 1954 when Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru himself proposed a nuclear test ban treaty.

The discussion was sponsored jointly by Sangam, the Indian students group at MIT, the Pakistani Students Association at MIT, and the Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia.

The conflict between India and Pakistan has played a large role in those nations' refusal to sign the treaty. Other motives underlying such a move are hard to pin down, as the three speakers demonstrated.

All three speakers agreed that nuclear weapons should be completely destroyed, but they did not all agree that India should have signed the treaty.

Bidwai calls for gradual process

Praful Bidwai, an Indian journalist and the first speaker on the panel, emphasized the positive implications of a test ban. He expressed a great deal of hope for the goals of the treaty but was apprehensive about the ramifications of India's position.

A paper treaty would have no force unless specific countries, crucial to their regions, sign it, Bidwai said. He cited Israel as one example and India as another. If the treaty succeeded, it would be milestone, he said, but if key nations did not sign, the result would be tragic.

Though the test ban does not include disarmament policies, it would reinforce nuclear restraint and slow down the arms race, Bidwai said. The world disables 2,000 nuclear weapons a year, a process if continued would eliminate all weapons in 20 years, he said.

Russia and the United States have signed the Strategic Treaty for Arms Reduction which would implement a two-thirds reduction of nuclear weapons in the next six months to a year.

All of these factors are evidence that the political norm is changing, Bidwai said. However, there is a danger that India will cling to its opportunity for holding the "currency of power" as it looks toward its position in the 21st century, Bidwai said.

Mian indicts colonial mentality

Zia Mian, a Pakistani peace activist and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, was the second speaker on the panel. He focused on the region's colonial inheritance and the history of Pakistan and its conflict with India.

These two factors have greatly affected public opinion in these regions, he said.

Under colonialism, states would try to act just like their colonizers and attempt to have the same privileges as they did. That is exactly how the former colonies of South Asia are behaving now, Mian said.

In general, the global dilemma is that as long as some nations have nuclear weapons and others do not, non-nuclear states will threaten to jump in, he said.

The particular problem in South Asia is that since India is conventionally superior to Pakistan, nuclear weapons are an integral part of Pakistan's obtaining military equality, Mian said.

Prashad distrusts nuclear elites

Vijay Prashad, assistant professor of international affairs at Trinity College, was the third panel speaker. He argued that since conventional, not nuclear, weapons were the biggest threat in South Asia, the test ban treaty was irrelevant.

Furthermore, nuclear elites can not be trusted to hold to any signed treaties, he said.

Prashad's talk opened with his opinion of what really controls Afghanistan today - not the Taliban militia and not the warlords or government troops but the undetectable plastic landmines scattered across the countryside.

The five nuclear elites are the top sellers of conventional arms. Sales are a means to circumvent nuclear weapon acquisition and will only damage the poorest people of the client nations, not anyone from the elite nations, Prashad said.

Conventional weapons are destroying children and civilians, while nuclear weapons have not done so for half a century, he said.

Prashad disagreed with Mian, who stressed that the level of destructiveness is going up dangerously in the Indo-Pakistani conflict. He said that he feels that India had done the right thing by refusing to sign the treaty, drawing attention to the different status of elite and non-nuclear states, but that it had done it "for all the wrong reasons."