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Mediating mortal enemies

By Sheila Bapat
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
March 23, 2000
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When UA graduate student Dinesh Srinivasan sees news coverage about President Clinton's visit to India, he shakes his head in disgust.

"India really doesn't need foreign interference to solve its problems with Pakistan," said Srinivasan, who is also the treasurer of the UA India Club. "But we do need dialogue."

While his appearance in India is good for PR, Clinton can do very little to impact the very tense situations the world's largest democracy is facing with its neighbors, Pakistan and China.

Clinton can stroll the marble halls of the Taj Mahal and be chummy with India's prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He can give lofty speeches about the importance of improving India's desperately polluted environment.

He can criticize the nation's development of nuclear weapons.

India, however, will listen in patient silence. But Clinton's words cannot change the fact that India is neighbored by two nuclear states that have tag teamed against it, making it impossible for India not to develop its own nuclear arsenal.

The Indian-Pakistani hate-hate relationship is like an ingrown plague. It began as a battle over Kashmir when England let go of the territory in the region in the late 1950s and has never ceased since. Both nations see nuclear weapons as way to elevate themselves in the international community, since all of the world's leading nations are nuclear states.

Nukes are also a great way to antagonize each other.

Srinivasan is a doctoral student in pharmacology and toxicology who has attended the UA for five years. Like many Indian natives, feels the conflict between both nations has grown old.

"It's stupid. Both countries would be better off to be helping their people than building nuclear weapons," he said. "But if one country does it, it's almost mandatory that others do it."

Naturally, "third-world" countries who are vying to be major players in the international community believe that nuclear armament is their ticket to power. When India tested nuclear missiles in May, 1998, Indian citizens gleefully danced through the streets as the world watched in shock. They saw the tests as an accomplishment while everyone else saw them as a threat.

But there is clearly a double standard as to who is "allowed" to develop nuclear weapons and who is not.

"Nobody is telling China not to have nuclear weapons," Srinivasan said. "Nations with such power aren't criticized for having them."

India seems to have a two-sided opinion of President Clinton. He is the most powerful man in the world, and he is taking the nation seriously.

He is also the leader of one of the world's most powerful nuclear states, so his call for disarmament is probably seen as hypocritical.

Furthermore, India seems to take pride in handling their situation with Pakistan on their own. Last year when Clinton offered to mediate during the Kargil conflict and invited Prime Minister Vajpayee to visit, Vajpayee firmly said, "No thanks." His response politely gave the finger to the world superpower, and most Indians were happy that Clinton did not get involved.

But this time, Clinton has taken a greater initiative. He wants to help foster a positive relationship between the US and India. And though he may succeed in making friends with Vajpayee, he can't change India's political policies.

Srinivasan follows Clinton's visit to India in the news and doubts that the president's visit can have a great impact.

"I wish (Clinton) could do more, but I really don't think Indian foreign policy entertains foreign interests," Srinivasan said.

For Clinton to encourage peace talks between India and Pakistan is like the Pope asking God and the Devil to make friends. As much as he'd like to help, it's impossible to be a mediator between two nations who want, more than anything else, to be each other's worst enemy.

What no world leader can do is shake the firm mind-set India seems to have about nuclear development. What no visit from any president can solve is the increasingly tense situation in the region that is bound to come to a head in the next century.

"The situation (between India and Pakistan) is critical," Srinivasan said. "But it's something they've got to resolve themselves."

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