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Last Updated: Monday, 9 February, 2004, 13:15 GMT
India steers clear of nuclear row

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News Online correspondent in Delhi

India has been uncharacteristically reserved in its response to revelations that a top Pakistani scientist leaked nuclear secrets to several countries.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (R) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
Both sides are keen not to antagonise the other
A year ago, Indian officials would have jumped to add their voice to the chorus of international condemnation.

It would have afforded an easy opportunity to snipe at its long-term rival - bitter exchanges between the two are a recurring sideshow at many global forums.

But clearly, this time, both countries have staked their fortune on a much larger gaming board.

With their recent rapprochement over Kashmir and the first round of peace discussions scheduled for next week, neither side can afford to queer the pitch.

It is not Pakistan alone which needs to be blamed
Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha
On Friday, 48 hours after Pakistani scientist AQ Khan publicly confessed to leaking nuclear secrets, Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha indicated that the matter would not end there.

"There are issues which will have to be debated by the IAEA and elsewhere and resolved so that we have more responsible behaviour from countries which have nuclear capability," he said.

Kashmir pressure

But in a remarkable scaling down of even that level of criticism, Mr Sinha said on Monday that many other countries were involved in spreading nuclear technology.

"I would like to say what it clearly demonstrates is that there is a flourishing black market in nuclear technology.

"It is not Pakistan alone which needs to be blamed for this," he told Reuters Television.

Many observers say that India clearly has the Kashmir peace talks in mind.

Indian Agni missile
India wants to be seen as a responsible nuclear power
"Sinha's measured comments are a clear reflection of the Indian decision not to milk the recent revelations to score political points over Islamabad," writes The Times of India's Siddhartha Varadarajan.

With India approaching general elections, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party is keen to highlight the India-Pakistan détente in its campaign for re-election.

Delhi is also aware that any sharp comment from its side could invite a strong reaction from Islamabad - potentially damaging the peace process.

Nuclear understanding

There are some who believe Pakistan's crisis has in any case worked to India's advantage.

It poses a direct security threat in our region and we have to state our concerns upfront
The Hindu's Amit Baruah
"It highlight's India's position as a responsible nuclear power," says Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta.

India and Pakistan have also often spoken with one voice during global nuclear policy discussions.

On Sunday at an international security conference in Munich, both countries announced that they had no plans to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Speaking together at a press conference, Indian National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra and Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said they would do the utmost to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Despite the apparent goodwill between the two sides, there are some in India who want Delhi to take a stronger stance.

Amit Baruah, diplomatic correspondent at The Hindu, says that the revelation that a Pakistani scientist was involved in nuclear proliferation is not one to be taken lightly.

"It poses a direct security threat in our region and we have to state our concerns upfront."

Acknowledging that India may not wish to upset its equation with Pakistan at the moment, he suggests another way out.

"We could pursue this through multilateral talks, through the IAEA and ensure that there's full accountability for what Pakistan has been doing," he told the BBC.

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