Clinton urges India to outlaw nuclear testing

President Clinton yesterday warned India of the dangers posed by its nuclear weapons programme and urged the country's leaders…

President Clinton yesterday warned India of the dangers posed by its nuclear weapons programme and urged the country's leaders to sign a pact outlawing the testing of weapons of mass destruction.

In an historic address to the Indian parliament, the US President underlined his opposition to India's nuclear strategy. However, he stopped short of outright condemnation.

His speech came on the third day of a tour which is due to end with a short visit to India's nuclear-capable neighbour, Pakistan.

Mr Clinton said India's nuclear policies were "eroding the barriers against the spread of nuclear weapons, discouraging nations that have chosen to forswear these weapons, encouraging others to keep their options open".


Indian-US relations have been strained since India conducted a series of underground nuclear tests in 1998 and declared itself a nuclear weapons state, provoking Pakistan to respond with nuclear blasts of its own.

India has since promised not to conduct any further nuclear tests, though it has still not agreed to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a global pact barring nuclear trials. Mr Clinton, who suffered a political setback when the US Senate last year refused to ratify the treaty, urged India to join the CTBT club.

Mr Clinton, whose visit comes at a time of heightened tension in the region, questioned whether India had improved its security by conducting nuclear tests. He said most of the world is moving towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.

"Only India can know if it truly is safer today than before the tests," he said. "Only India can determine if it will benefit from expanding its nuclear and missile capabilities if its neighbours respond by doing the same thing."

The Indian Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, said New Delhi remains committed to a world free of nuclear weapons, but its "environment continues to witness proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles".

"Our decision to maintain a minimum credible nuclear deterrent is prompted by a realistic assessment of our security compulsions even as we continue our traditional policies of acting with restraint and responsibility," he said.

The US has eased the economic sanctions imposed on India after the 1998 tests. What remains in place, however, is a gulf in understanding between the world's two largest democracies.

Whereas the US is terrified of a nuclear holocaust erupting in the developing world, India has no such fear. In opinion polls, India's population regularly declares its readiness to go to war with Pakistan.

In the eyes of most Indians, their country's membership of the nuclear club brings international status. Militant nationalism is never far below the surface and peace movements are unknown.

While Mr Clinton's visit might improve economic relations with the region, few here believe the US nuclear crusade will have much immediate impact.

Rahul Bedi reports from Srinagar:

Indian security forces yesterday shot dead two Islamic fedayeen, or suicide squad militants, who had besieged a paramilitary camp in Srinagar, the summer capital of disputed Kashmir, for more than 18 hours.

The conflict between security forces and militants from the radical Lashkar-e-Toiba (Army of the Pure) ended after the army destroyed their building with rocket and mortar fire. Police in Srinagar said the militants wanted to draw Mr Clinton's attention to the 53-year-old Kashmir dispute. India blames Pakistan - which holds a third of Kashmir and lays claim to the rest - of sponsoring civil war.

Over the past six months, at least 15 attacks by Muslim militants fighting Kashmir's decade-old insurgency, in which more than 30,000 people have died, have focused on army, paramilitary and police camps across the Kashmir Valley. Meanwhile, further south in Kashmir's winter capital, Jammu, more than 15,000 Sikhs and Hindus defied a curfew and marched through the city demanding the dismissal of the state government after 35 Sikh villagers were gunned down on Monday in a remote mountain village in southern Kashmir.

The Sikhs were also demanding weapons to "finish insurgency within a short period".

Unidentified gunmen dressed in Indian army uniforms and armed with assault rifles rounded up the 35 Sikhs after evening prayers in Chittisinghpura, 50 miles south-east of Srinagar. They were lined up against a wall and shot in the worst massacre since the insurgency began. It was also the first attack on Kashmir's 80,000-member Sikh community, which was considered a neutral party in the civil war.