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Under the Nuclear Shadow: As India and Pakistan Falter On the Brink of War, a Conversation with Indian Writer Arundhati Roy

StoryJune 04, 2002
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India and Pakistan are balanced on a knife’s edge between small-scale skirmishes and all-out nuclear war.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf sat across the table from each other Monday at a regional security summit in Kazakhstan.

Musharraf challenged India to agree to unconditional talks to avert war, but he also blamed five decades of conflict on India’s refusal to let the Kashmiri people decide which country they want to join.

The Indian Prime Minister refused the offer, saying Musharraf had kept none of his promises over the past six months, and cross-border infiltration by militants into Kashmir has only increased.

As both sides struggled to gain the diplomatic high ground, Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire along the line of control which divides Kashmir, killing eight civilians.

Not surprisingly, many civilians are upset at the diplomatic maneuvering of their leaders while the killing continues. But most don’t know much about nuclear war and what it would mean for them.

Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy, who lives in New Delhi, does know a little about nuclear war. She writes in the British Observer: "If I go away and everything and every one, every friend, every tree, every home, every dog, squirrel and bird that I have known and loved is incinerated, how shall I live on? While we wait for rain, for football, for justice, on TV the old generals and the eager boy anchors talk of first strike and second strike capability, as though they’re discussing a family board game. My friends and I discuss Prophecy, the film of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the dead bodies choking the river, the living stripped of their skin and hair, we remember especially the man who just melted into the steps of the building and we imagine ourselves like that, as stains on staircases."


  • Arundhati Roy, activist and Booker prize-winning author living in New Delhi. Her books include, ??The God of Small Things, for which she won the Booker Prize in 1997, ??The Common Good, ??The Cost of Living, and ??Power Politics. E-MAIL:

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  • Freefall–Laurie Anderson, Bright Red / Tightrope (Warner Bros. Records).

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