If nuclear war does break out between India and Pakistan they will only have themselves to blame. Since the early 1970s they have been walking along the unmarked path that leads to nuclear holocaust and enough people both within and without have told them how to turn back. Even today if Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were as serious as they say they are about avoiding nuclear war they could sit down for two hours and sort the whole thing out. It is not that complicated.
The late Mahbub ul Haq, at one time Pakistan's minister of finance and one of the most creative minds to have come out of a land that has produced more than its fair share of brilliant heads, suggested the creation of a UN trusteeship to last 10 or 15 years over both Indian-held and Pakistan-held Kashmir. "Why not withdraw armed forces from inside Kashmir to near the border belt, withdraw all administrative machinery, open the border between the two parts of Kashmir and give the Kashmiris themselves a chance for self-government and peaceful development?"
Yet if Pakistan and India have only themselves to blame for today's decisions or non-decisions, historians will doubtless extend the culpability in many directions. To the British first and foremost, who divided India and left without resolving the issue of the Moslem state of Kashmir inside a predominantly Hindu India. There was not much point in spilling 250,000 lives in the pursuit of partition if that problem couldn't have been solved at the same time.
To India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who repeatedly miscalculated by refusing to take seriously Mohammed Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League. At one time Jinnah would have worked to keep India whole as long as there was an important place for Muslims and the League. And again to Nehru for promising the Kashmiris a referendum on independence which 75 years later India has still not delivered on.
In more recent times much responsibility needs to heaped on the shoulders of that most pacific-inclined of all American presidents, Jimmy Carter. At that time when India's prime minister was the near pacifist, Morarji Desai, it could have been possible to persuade India to renounce its quest for nuclear weapons if Washington had used a little more carrot and a bit less stick, in its attempt to pressure India to sign a safeguards agreement on the use of spent nuclear fuel. The quid pro quo would have been for America to step up the pace in negotiating a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to honour its promise implicit in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to get rid of its nuclear weapons at a faster pace. Such a compromise would have served the world well; a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would not only have slowed the American-Soviet arms race, it would have made the Indian and Pakistan nuclear bombs much more difficult to develop.
Carter compounded his earlier errors by allowing himself to be thrown off course by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Carter put his telescope to his blind eye and ignored what Pakistan's nuclear establishment was up to in return for forging an anti-Soviet partnership to arm the mujahideen. For years after, under Carter and then under Ronald Reagan, the White House went through an annual ritual of giving assurances that all was well in Pakistan's nuclear laboratories. It was not only an ill-conceived policy it was an unnecessary one.
But the blame goes further back than Carter, to Richard Nixon. It was he and Henry Kissinger, with their grand notions of realpolitik, who favoured the ploy of a nuclear-armed China to play off against the Soviet Union. Nixon made it abundantly clear that he gave so much time and attention to China and so little to India because the former was nuclear armed, and the latter was not. Alas, it took the big bang of India's first open nuclear bomb test to penetrate where all the good journalism, books and wise diplomatic missives- that have argued that it was democratic India that has the best long run future of all the big Asian countries- had failed to reach.
Blame China too. It was Chinese scientific and material aid that made the Pakistani nuclear bomb possible. China was more aware of India's future potential than was America yet, like so many decisions made by the big powers, it was a policy that has totally backfired as India develops a stockpile of nuclear missiles more aimed at China than at Pakistan.
The western powers including Russia are now paying in anxiety for the many years of living out a Faustian bargain between their foreign and economic policies on the one hand and their nuclear proliferation commitments on the other. For reasons of financial self-interest, many western countries until relatively recently failed to police their high technology exports rigorously enough. The ability to build stocks of plutonium or enriched uranium and construct a bomb slipped through to countries as diverse as Israel, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa (although the latter three of their own volition decided to forgo their nuclear weapons).
If millions and millions of people have to die in the world's first nuclear war there will be a lot of decision makers still alive who should feel more than a twang of their consciences. Why have our political leaders been so myopic and careless of our future well-being?