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Tuesday, 4 June, 2002, 23:40 GMT 00:40 UK
Pakistanis weigh nuclear fears
Pakistani troopers near an anti-aircraft gun in Islamabad airport
Security has been stepped up at Islamabad airport

These days Wali Dad works as a security guard in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

But he used to be in the army and has seen people die from conventional weapons in battle - three years ago, when Pakistani and Indian forces last clashed in a major way in the Kargil region of northern Kashmir.

It is no solution just to sit in your house and turn off the lights

Harun Saeed, student
"No one who has seen people die in combat could even think about a scenario where nuclear weapons are used," Wali Dad says.

"God save us from this thing. I only know about ordinary weapons and ammunition. I do not know how nuclear weapons work. But I think they are dreadful."

Seeking protection

Many in Pakistan without first-hand experience of war are saying the same today.

They hear the leaders of both Pakistan and India say they would not contemplate using nuclear weapons. But they feel they cannot be sure.

And in a city like Islamabad - clearly a potential target for any Indian strike - many people say they want to hear more from the authorities about what, if anything, they might be able to do to protect themselves against nuclear attack.

Among them is Harun Saeed, a 17-year-old high school student.

Atomic bomb on Nagasaki
Many people have seen images of the World War II atomic bomb attacks
"We should be given advice," he says, "because it is no solution just to sit in your house and turn off the lights. We should know more about the ways we might be able to survive."

But Harun also fears that a nuclear conflict could destroy the whole of Pakistan. "Instead of war there should be meetings and talks," he says.

I met Maqsood Ahmed, also 17, with Harun in one of Islamabad's shopping precincts. He says India is more powerful than Pakistan and it could attack first.

"But we are not losers," he says. "We can also destroy India."

'World War Three'

Maqsood says he does not believe Pakistan or India should use their nuclear weapons but he thinks it could happen.

True Muslims are not afraid of war

Mohammed Asif
Trader
And if it did, World War Three could be around the corner, with China siding with Pakistan and the United States with India.

Did all this make him scared, I asked? "No," he said. "But we should be aware of it."

The destruction at Hiroshima is an image that has clearly made a strong impact across much of Pakistani society.

Several people told me they knew everything - all living things, most buildings - would turn to dust in a nuclear attack.

Pakistanis burn an effigy of the Indian premier
Anti-Indian rallies have taken place in recent days
It is an image Japan drew on when it urged Pakistan's then leader, Nawaz Sharif, not to match India's underground nuclear tests four years ago. He went ahead with the tests.

For all the anxieties, there are those who believe Nawaz Sharif's decision was right. "We have no choice but to protect ourselves," said one schoolgirl in an Islamabad market.

Mohammed Asif, a trader, had a different perspective on the idea of a nuclear conflict in South Asia.

"True Muslims are not afraid of war," he told me.

"When lives are at stake we should not worry about having bunkers or shelters. Honour comes first. Every individual Pakistani, every Muslim, has the power of an atomic bomb."

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See also:

04 Jun 02 | South Asia
04 Jun 02 | South Asia
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02 Jun 02 | South Asia
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