Column: 20 years have passed since India and Pakistan engaged in rivalry of nuclear tests

Citizens of India and Pakistan, looking on from their seats as spectators, cheered as the border guards from these nations marched and stamped their feet in a loud, threatening display toward one another. I remember feeling taken aback that these spectators were so enthusiastic, as if they were watching a sporting event. This is my memory of the visit I paid, more than a decade ago, to the border that divides these two nations.

Each evening, people can watch the ceremony involving the border guards of both nations as they take down their own nation’s flag. Because India and Pakistan once made up one country, the soldiers are similar in both their appearance and in their dress. But even though they momentarily and perfunctorily shake hands, they never exchange words. Since their partition and independence, the two nations have waged war three times, and still clash over territorial disputes.

Twenty years have now passed since India and Pakistan pressed ahead with their succession of nuclear tests. This rivalry created a new risk of nuclear war, which had seemed to fade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the world was shaken anew. But both nations have persistently made the claim that nuclear deterrence is needed and they have been unwilling to compromise. During this time, the number of nuclear warheads they hold has doubled.

The developed nations of the world bear heavy responsibility for these current circumstances. After the nuclear tests, the United States imposed sanctions on India and Pakistan. But then, in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it put priority on operations targeting terrorist activities against the United States. In addition, the other nuclear powers turned a blind eye to the nuclear development efforts being made in India and Pakistan. Japan, the A-bombed nation, has also pushed forward with a nuclear deal to sell its nuclear energy technology to India.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the late Indian prime minister, once said, “All the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart. Peace has been said to be indivisible, so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.” Mr. Nehru was a leader of the non-aligned nations, which included Pakistan, and campaigned for nuclear abolition during the Cold War era. If both nations continue clinging to a policy of prioritizing their domestic interests above all else, the road to realizing a world without nuclear weapons will be long indeed.

(Originally published on May 31, 2018)