BBy Dr. D.K. Giri
(Prof. International Politics, JMI
Two days ago, in retaliation to unprovoked firing in Uri, from across LoC by Pakistan, Indian army is said to have killed seven Pakistani soldiers including an army major, and five terrorists. On the Indian side one soldier lost his life. This is a routine affair. Ceasefire is broken with regular intervals. It is a situation of an ‘undeclared war’ between India and Pakistan.
Perhaps, in exasperation and in order to deliver a stern warning, Indian Army chief, General Bipin Rawat had said last week, “India will call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff, and give a befitting reply to Pakistan’s continued aggression on the border.” The General’s tough message elicited predictable response from Islamabad; its foreign minister said, rather childishly that their “nuclear threat is real…the General’s doubt would swiftly be removed.”
Incredibly, Islamabad continues to brandish their nuclear options, whereas nuclear confrontation anywhere is a catastrophe for the whole world. That is why no nuclear weapon has been used since August 6 and 9, 1945 when United States detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then, although there has been stockpiling of nuclear arsenals, and threats of using these, the latest being those from Kim Jong-Un the North Korean President, none has been used.
So Islamabad threatening to use nuclear weapons against India is technically ridiculous but politically possible. Given the unstable, volatile politics in Pakistan which is largely controlled by the Army and propelled by terrorist outfits, Islamabad is capable of taking any irresponsible and suicidal step.
Arguably, a war with Pakistan, undeclared which is underway, limited or a full blown is not an impossibility, but precluding a nuclear confrontation should be both a burden as well as pre-condition for such a war. Preventing a nuclear war from breaking out at any rate between India and Pakistan should engage New Delhi, its friends and allies and Pakistan’s patron like China. The real risk for not only India and Pakistan but the entire world is the possibility of nuclearisation of the conflict between these two nuclear nations.
Let us first assess the probability of nuclear war between the two countries, and then, discuss the possible strategies to eliminate such a scenario. Many South Asian experts anticipate “western nuclear sky falling” over South Asia. But the Atlantic Council, a prestigious think-tank in Washington rules out the possibility of a nuclear war. The reasons they forward for such a hypothesis are; one, India, Pakistan and China are committed to “an open economic order and multilateral institutionalism”, although they may be caught in a complex rivalry.
Two, the control over the trigger on nuclear weapons is in the hands of civilian leadership in both Pakistan and India, with a minor role of the army. This may not be entirely true in case of Pakistan. The think-tank further argues that three factors – structural, normative and institutional may deter New Delhi and Islamabad to go for the nuclear option in a war.
The same study based on seminars in New Delhi and Islamabad suggests that the real danger is not the existence of the nuclear arsenals, but the weakness and fragility of the institutions controlling these. This is obviously a contradiction of its own assumption. Pakistan and India are not developing nuclear warheads, Pakistan has developed tactical nuclear options, but has not operationalised these, further argues the study.
Evidently, Islamabad and India both have the first-strike options. Islamabad is planning to use nuclear option to back-up the army and make-up for the loss in a conventional war with India. So it is anybody’s call if Pakistan will use nuclear weapons at all, and if India will retaliate in nuclear terms, although India has the technology to intercept the missiles coming from Pakistan. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out altogether purely because of the volatility of Pakistani leadership. The terrorist infested country has no definite central authority.
The speculative debate on a nuclear war between India and Pakistan is not only technical or scientific, it should be political and diplomatic as well. As it is said, “war is science, but prevention of war, in this case a nuclear war, is an art of diplomacy.” The victory for India over a nuclear war with Pakistan lies in its diplomatic and political capacity to prevent its occurrence.
Some Indian politicians claim that India could defeat Pakistan even in a nuclear war. That claim is plainly frivolous and irresponsible. There are no winners in a nuclear war, only losers. A short film the “Day After” first aired in 1983 graphically depicts the horrendous consequence of a nuclear war, wiping out life of any kind on the planet for generations to come. So any thought of nuclear option is madness and suicidal.
The accidents in nuclear reactors, small leaks in Chernobyl and Fukushima have caused incalculable harm to humans and the ecology. Countries with nuclear energy are rattled over these accidents and are abandoning the nuclear option. Germany has already decommissioned 21 of its nuclear plants and has switched over to renewables to meet its energy needs. Other European countries link France and Sweden are using nuclear energy for generating electricity etc.
Peaceful use of nuclear energy is an option for energy/deficit countries like India and Pakistan. They can do so with utmost care. Any negligence or oversight can cause havoc. Clearly, the Indian General’s allusion to nuclear threat was to desist Pakistan from continuing warfare against India under a nuclear threat, which will deter India from escalating the cross-border firings into a full-scale war. Islamabad was as usual churlish and careless to call it an invitation to nuclear war.
Finally, how does New Delhi prevent Islamabad from pressing the nuclear button? It could continue to dialogue with Pakistani stakeholders on converting nuclear energy into peaceful use. Second, New Delhi should work with USA, Russia and China to delink Pakistani army from the nuclear option. In view of the terrorist presence and prevalence in Pakistani politics, the use of nuclear option should be taken away from Pakistan and based in a joint international control.
Further, aid and partnership with Pakistan should be conditional to its nuclear weaponry. Terrorists are trained and indoctrinated to use suicide squads, and human-bombs, so, if they have any access to the nuclear button, they would not hesitate for seconds to use it. Since a nuclear break-out between India and China could not be localised, the impact will be felt by the rest of the world, the big powers dealing with and patronising Pakistan would work on it. New Delhi should make all efforts to drive home this point.
The internecine conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has to end. We have been pleading and advocating a permanent solution to the problem in this column. In the meantime, in military terms, India will have to maintain its decisive edge over Pakistan and thwart all of its efforts in destabilising Kashmir. In diplomatic terms, New Delhi will have to immobilise the Pakistani nuclear arsenal both structurally and institutionally. No doubt this will be the toughest test for Indian political leadership. Are they up to it? They better be.—INFA