Jason Reed / Reuters Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Colombo for the SAARC summit, two months after both nations detonated nuclear devices, July 28, 1998.

Dealing with the Bomb in South Asia


Last May Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee authorized a series of nuclear tests beneath the desert sands of Rajasthan. While the aftershocks were still registering on seismographs around the world, he proclaimed India a nuclear-weapons state. Fifteen days later, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, claiming he had no choice but to match an adversarial neighbor, ordered Pakistan's own series of tests in the Chagai Hills of Baluchistan and declared that his country, too, had nuclear arms.

The tests spurred immediate global condemnation. In all, 152 nations -- large and small, developed and developing -- voiced their opposition. So did numerous international organizations, including the g-8 major industrialized democracies, the Regional Forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Organization of American States, the Nordic Council of Ministers, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. They all saw the tests as a double setback: for peace in South Asia and for international efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and control dangerous technology.

The consequences for American policy toward South Asia were also severe. The explosions derailed an initiative by the United States to put its relations with both India and Pakistan on sounder footing. The relationship between the United States and India had been in a rut throughout much of the Cold War, when the United States was the leader of the West and India a leader of the nonaligned movement, which it helped found in 1955. With those divisive categories now largely in the past, President Clinton saw India and the United States -- fellow democracies with highly developed entrepreneurial economies -- as natural partners.

With Pakistan, too, the Clinton administration had sought a fresh start. For decades, Pakistan had been a U.S. ally on the frontline of the struggle against the Soviet Union. That preoccupation had inhibited the United States and Pakistan from making common cause in other areas, especially fostering moderation and democracy in the Islamic world. The more complex and

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