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EDITORIAL: New Delhi shouldn’t even try to employ the usual spin on the matter of illicit uranium possession and suspected sales in its eastern state of Jharkhand, in an attempt to brush it under the carpet of course, because the entire international community - not just Pakistan - is now expecting it to come clean and explain why this black market for uranium exists, how long it has existed, and just whose purpose its existence serves. This was after all the second reported incident of an attempted sale of uranium in the same area, which is the hub of uranium mining in the country, and since ‘two is a trend’ not even the Indian government can now officially refute Islamabad’s claim that these incidents “point to lax controls, poor regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials inside India”.

Even as these developments trigger feverish speculation across the region if not the entire world, it seems India’s inadequate command and control of its uranium deposits, from where it is mined to feed the country’s nuclear arsenal, has led to a situation where the old, discarded law of the markets – ‘supply creates its own demand’ – has been brought back to life. And it has raised the same old questions that bewildered economic historians right up to the Great Depression; that is, if supply has not just suddenly appeared but is also sustaining then doesn’t it mean that corresponding demand must be rising also? Otherwise why go through the trouble of taking an illegal substance to the market again and again? That is the number-one question that everybody expects honest and responsible answers to. Because if the supply is being maintained despite what are clearly big setbacks considering the immediate picture, then the weight of the evidence clearly backs the argument that there is, or are, buyers eager to fetch the said commodity off the black market regardless of the price.

All this is a far cry from the position that India has taken since at least the beginning of the so-called war against terrorism; that it was Pakistan whose control of the nuclear programme was allegedly suspect, and very soon some pockets within the military would enable a grand transfer of nuclear armament, perhaps even the secret to the technology, to outfits such as Al Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The timing of these developments is also important and could prove to be instructive. These things are happening just when the Indian national security advisor (NSA) has built up a pretty passionate YouTube following just by outlining, for the consumption and comments of all, the numerous ways in which he will bring fourth- or fifth-generation war to Pakistan and all that. For material that is the main input in an atomic bomb to be sniffing out the highest bidder in the illegal market at such a point would surely raise a very large number of red flags inside India as well. Whatever is happening and whoever is doing it is very clearly meant to bring about a lot of destruction in this area. And the Indian government will only do the right thing, for itself and for its neighbouring countries, by nipping this evil in the bud right here and now.

The thing to note is that uranium has to be enriched and fitted into a warhead and then delivered to the desired location for maximum effect only. But if the purpose is to spread death and panic, with the intention of causing yet more panic and deaths, then simply letting people be exposed to uranium isotopes might not exactly deliver the mushroom cloud, but it can be counted on to deliver a whole lot of destruction. In the absence of any concrete statements from Delhi, how this situation is going to be handled remains to be seen.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021