The abrogation of the special status of Jammu & Kashmir by the Indian government initiated a sustained crescendo of threats to use nuclear weapons, possibility of an all-out war and also calls for international intervention by Pakistan. By and large the vocal proclamations of a possible mushroom cloud over Southeast Asia were fed by senior Pakistani politicians; notably the Prime Minister himself; aided by other responsible office bearers. Foreign Minister Qureshi put it across more diplomatically when he cautioned that the two nuclear powers may go to war with global implications. The Pakistani Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed predicted a full-blown war between the two countries as early as October/November. Next, he informed that Pakistan has tactical nuclear weapons as small as 125-250 grams which are capable of destroying a targeted area.
Going by Sheikh Rashid’s prognosis and the pitch of the rhetoric otherwise, the countdown to a war between Pakistan and India should have begun by now. In fact, It was surely one of the triggers that led the Indian Defence Minister alluding to a possible review of India’s ‘No First Use’ nuclear weapons policy. The high decibel nuclear sabre-rattling seemed to have stung the Indian political elite.
Notwithstanding the barrage of threats, it can safely be said that there is no possibility of a nuclear war, nor is there a likelihood of conventional conflict between the two estranged neighbours. Imran Khan, having sobered down, not just because the country is close to bankruptcy, or that Pakistan is beset with multiple problems in Sind, Baluchistan, Gilgit, Baltistan, FATA and NWFP; went on to state while addressing a minority group of Sikhs in Pakistan, “I want to tell India that war is not a solution to any problem. The winner in war is also a loser. War gives birth to a host of other issues.”
In the words of a former Indian National Security Advisory Board member Bharat Karnad, “It’s a kind of very hollow posturing. All this is for the consumption of the domestic market to try and convince the people that he is doing something on behalf of Kashmiris.”Actually, it goes beyond domestic consumption and attempts to address a global audience to internationalise the Kashmir issue.
The Pakistani tendency of waiving the nuclear red flag has been there for decades. It started much before both the neighbours developed the bomb. To quote President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s statement in 1965, “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.”Only a very naïve audience should be taking the current Pakistani posturing seriously.
As far as ‘No First Use’ policy is concerned, the only other country that has announced such a policy is China. In 1964, they emphatically stated that they would “not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances”. The Americans, on the contrary, have a stated policy of “reserves the right to use” nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict. The UK policy allows the use of nuclear weapon under most extreme circumstances, or against rogue states using weapons of mass destruction that include biological and chemical weapons. The Russians also retain a conditional use option. They reserve the right to use it should weapons of mass destruction be used against them or their allies, or should a conventional scenario lead to threatening the existence of the Russian state. The North Koreans avow no first use but threatened to use them when the US forces and South Koreans had an exercise in 2016. The French would use it if there is an invasion on their or their allies’ territory.
It’s only India and China who have declared a clear ‘No First Use’ policy as a cardinal rule underlining their policy on the use of nuclear weapons.
As far as India reviewing its policy is concerned, it needs to be perceived that the Indians initiating their project to become a nuclear-capable nation was in response to the threat from the Chinese. The debacle of 1962 with the Chinese overwhelming the Indians was a major trigger for India to explore the production of a nuclear weapon.
The next trigger, both for India and Pakistan was in 1971, when the two countries fought, resulting in the creation of Bangladesh. Richard Nixon sent a battle group led by USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal to deter India resulting in Indians feeling the need to develop nuclear deterrence.
The Pakistanis having lost the conventional battle in 1971 decisively, realised the necessity of nuclear deterrence against India. Thus, while the Indians decided on nuclear deterrence keeping the Chinese threat in view and also an intervention by a superpower, Pakistan’s reasons were entirely India-centric.
As on date, especially with the talks between the Americans and Taliban having failed Pakistan is again on a sticky wicket. The presence of President Trump at the Howdy Modi event in Houston, however much influenced by his urge to woo Indian origin Americans, is also a reflection of larger American acceptance of the need of a stronger relationship with India. Of course, Trump’s offering a mediator role repeatedly, remains a sticky issue. While evaluating the strength of the relationship it needs to be recalled that we have signed a slew of agreements with the US to include the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, the Indian variant of Communication Compatibility Security Agreement, and also the progress on Basic Exchange and Co-operation Agreement.
As far as the Pakistanis are concerned they remain on Financial Action Task Force’s grey list, have problems with China as far as China Pakistan Economic Corridor is concerned, Afghans blame them for all their ills and the OIC just about responded when Article 370 was mostly trashed.
Under such circumstances, Pakistan is nowhere close to arming its missiles with nuclear weapons. Should Pakistan even demonstrate a higher degree of readiness to use nuclear weapons, the current ruling junta, including the military hierarchy, will have to go home. None of their benefactors will accept such a situation. They are a privileged class and can retain such a status only as long as status quo is maintained.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)