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Punishment: Make It Swift, Severe . . .

<i> Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, is now the opposition leader</i>

While the world slept, India detonated a series of nuclear tests signaling its determination to threaten the entire nonproliferation regime in the region.

That India chose to detonate nuclear devices on the eve of President Clinton’s visit this coming November to South Asia showed its defiance of world opinion in the age of Pax Americana.

The post-Cold War global regime has been predicated on the free flow of information and technology. This, we believed, was a world of markets, not missiles. However, India chose to gamble more than $30 billion of foreign investments on a series of tests that have united the nation behind its weak coalition government.

The Indian explosion is a direct challenge to the American-led efforts to arrive at a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and at a regime to control weapons of mass destruction.

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To Pakistan, which suffered disintegration at the hands of India in 1971, it is a clear warning to desist from its support of the people of Jammu and Kashmir at the insistence of a nuclear India. China, surely, is uneasy too.

As prime minister of Pakistan, I tried to persuade Western leaders for more than a decade that, in the absence of Western mediation, South Asia was plunging head long into a proliferation race that Pakistan did not want and sought to prevent.

I stressed that the 50-year-old Indo-Pak dispute over Kashmir, where an uprising had tied down 600,000 Indian troops, was leading to a dangerous flash point in the South Asia region. Alas, my pleadings failed to convince a Western world preoccupied with the Middle East peace talks and the bloodshed in Bosnia, Rwanda and other parts of the world.

Western leaders believed that they preferred India and Pakistan to bilaterally deal with the dispute that threatened a nuclear race. This was a strategic error. It paved the way for India to come out openly as a nuclear power.

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What is the Pakistani reaction? Pakistanis believe that the West will impose sanctions for some time but ultimately acquiesce to India as a nuclear power. After a decade, the West will reward India, as a nuclear power, with a seat on the U.N. Security Council along with other members of the nuclear club.

Two years ago, when the Chinese and the French tested nuclear devices, as prime minister of Pakistan I received disturbing reports that a frustrated Indian military wanted to force Pakistan’s nuclear hand before making a decision on a military solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. A segment of the Indian military doubted whether Pakistan had nuclear capability or was bluffing to create a nuclear deterrence that did not exist. An Indian explosion, they believed, would force Pakistan to come into the open. If Pakistan did not have a nuclear capability, India could consider a military solution of the Kashmir dispute.

Pakistan had not actually put together a device--although it could do so--as a signal to the West of its support to a nonproliferation regime unless its security was threatened. An Indian detonation, our experts believed, would threaten Pakistan’s security unless we could create an equilibrium through deterrence.

Pakistan decided to open the option of a test by making the necessary preparations to respond with a nuclear test of its own within 30 days unless the West showed the will to stop India in its nuclear tracks. Pakistan also decided that if it was forced to detonate, it would follow up with a unilateral signing of the international agreements aimed at controlling weapons of mass destruction.

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This is surely a nightmare situation for the West. What can the West do? Doling out military and economic assistance can shore up Pakistan’s security for a decade. But as Pakistan learned in the aftermath of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, not more than that. Nor can a West that failed to prevent the Indian test guarantee that a weak Indian coalition government rashly seeking popular support would not equally rashly seek a nuclear war in South Asia.

I am not a military expert. But I believe that sanctions are not simply enough. Rogue nations that defy world opinion ought to be taught a lesson. If a preemptive military strike is possible to neutralize India’s nuclear capability, that is the response that is necessary.


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