“What would Gandhi say?”
Sapna Pandya, last year’s Indian Students’ Association co-president, pondered that question shortly after she heard of India’s nuclear weapons tests last month.
The peace professed by Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi seemed like a thing of the past as arms competition on the Indian subcontinent erupted.
GW students were immersed in finals and Commencement when India shocked the world by conducting nuclear weapons tests near the Pakistani border in mid-May. Pakistan responded with nuclear tests of its own.
And as the United Nations attempts to intervene and extinguish any embers of the heated rhetoric, GW students with links to the region are considering the effects of the events.
About a month after the initial tests, students involved in GW’s Pakistani Student Association and ISA said the tests surprised them.
Pandya said she hopes the recent problems will not spoil the positive relationship she sees between Indian and Pakistani students at GW.
“This past year was unique in the sense of (holding events together),” said Atif Qarni, last year’s PSA president.
PSA and ISA held two events together last year – a panel discussion on the history of Pakistan and India and a joint celebration of the 50th anniversary of both countries’ independence in December 1997.
Members of each group said the events in South Asia will not alter the positive interaction between the two groups at GW.
Students with roots in the region are fed up with the two governments, not each other, Pandya said.
“This isn’t one group attacking another, this is the government being stupid,” she said. “Most students are asking why.”
To answer that question, Mital Desai, president of GW’s South Asian Society, a student group with members of both Indian and Pakistani descent, said he plans to organize debates and discussions about the nuclear tests.
The discussions may offer forums for students to talk about the issues raised by the current events, Desai said.
For example, Pandya said despite the errors she sees the two governments committing, she is surprised at the global reaction – particularly in the United States’.
The United States and other nations, including China – the countries’ northern neighbor – denounced the tests. The United States also imposed economic sanctions against both countries to deter the escalation of an arms race.
Pandya said the United States’ use of sanctions is like an adult scolding a child who has misbehaved.
“I feel like the United States is saying `Do as we say, not as we do,’ ” she said.
Desai said he wonders what the United States’ reaction would be if it faced a similar situation.
Qarni said the U.S. decision to impose sanctions on both countries was appropriate. But it seemed unfair for nuclear powers to chastise other nations for developing weapons, he said.
“The U.S. reaction is understandable, but I don’t think it’s right,” Desai said. “If the United States was in the same situation as India is with China and Pakistan, it would do the same thing.
“India has the right to protect its sovereignty, and it has become known as a world power now,” Desai said.
Qarni said he is not in favor of the nuclear testing, but felt once India began testing weapons, it was important for Pakistan to follow suit.
Desai said the testing fostered pride in India, but Pandya said better ways exist to produce national pride.
She added that no matter what the outcome, the people of the two countries will suffer.
“The people’s taxes are being spent to develop these weapons and then they have no food,” Pandya said.
Qarni said he hopes the countries can shift attention away from military build-up and on to other sectors of their economies.
“Both countries have to be able to defend themselves . but now they can concentrate on education and not spend as much money on the military,” he said.