During the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution removing the special powers of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan renewed its nuclear sabre-rattling. Prime Minister Imran Khan cautioned that in a war when the existence of Pakistan would be in danger, his government was bound to use nuclear weapons to defend the country.
This of course was usual, as Pakistan has not undertaken that she would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the case of a war, unlike India. For India, this was required in Prime Minister Vajpayee’s time to assuage the feelings of the world when international community was outraged on India conducting a declared nuclear test. But Pakistan had not undertaken any such promise; as an inferior military power, her defence against sure defeat is nuclear weaponry. A confident India was sure of winning any future war with Pakistan as in the past, so could afford to promise the world that she would never use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state and would not be the first to use it against any country.
However, during the recent escalation, there has been a hint of change in India’s stand. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said India’s non-use of nuclear weapons first need not be a stand forever, the insinuation being a threat to Pakistan that India could use nuclear weapons even before she is attacked with nuclear bomb or missile. Rajnath’s declaration may not frighten Pakistan, but it could influence international community to equate India with Pakistan in nuclear war-mongering.
Nevertheless a nuclear disaster is looming over Delhi. Yes, it is an attack from Pakistan, and not by Pakistan. Whenever there is a terrorist attack on India, be it in Mumbai or on Parliament, India generally considers it to be by Pakistan, which means the Pak government. Soon the peace process going on is stopped, belligerent declarations are made and even troops are moved to the border. But all these are more to mollify the hurt and enraged feelings of the people, than with an intention of taking any concrete action. This escalation of tempers happens especially when elections are nearing and leaders have to depend on rhetoric to pose bold and aggressive in their party propaganda.
Of course there have been wars between India and Pakistan – 1949, ’65, ’71 and the Kargil one. These were not because of terrorist action, but military aggression. But nuclear attack from Pakistan, a catastrophe to come unexpected, is possible, nay, probable by terrorist action.
The Pak government or the army will not opt for such a suicidal option. But the Islamic terrorists are a part of Pak power structure that can easily infiltrate into the control system of the nuclear weaponry: bombers and missile.
Impossible? Not for a terrorist suicide squad. If they could destroy the world trade centre towers in New York and part of US Defense Headquarter Pentagon, nothing is impossible for the fanatic terrorists.
India is a democracy, while the Islamic Pakistan is sinking deeper to be a failed state. Frustration could lead the fanatics to lose their head. Fear of retaliation? Not for Islamic terrorists. They believe in an afterlife beside Allah’s throne with all luxuries including nubile girls at their disposal. So killing infidels is a passport for them to heaven. So deterrence will not work with terrorists.
Who is responsible for the nuclear sword hanging over the subcontinent? India cannot absolve itself from that responsibility. Gandhi and Nehru were dead against the Bomb. Gandhi had said “ "The West is today pining for wisdom. It is despairing of the multiplication of the atom bomb, because atom bombs mean utter destruction not merely of the West but of the whole world, as if the prophesy of the Bible was going to be fulfilled and there was to be a perfect deluge. It is up to you to tell the world of its wickedness and sin – that is the teaching your teachers have taught Asia." Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru allowed research on nuclear science for peaceful purposes but not for weaponisation.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted to make the Bomb stealthily and had an underground explosion conducted. She told the world it was a peaceful experiment.
It was Vajpayee’s BJP government that conducted a series of underground explosions and boasted that India had now become a nuclear weapon power. Deputy PM L.K.Advani had asked the world to beware of the changed nuclear status of the country, implying Pakistan to behave. However the BJP boast turned to be a balloon that burst within days when Pakistan too exploded a series of nuclear devices underground.
The world roundly condemned India and Pakistan for defying the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and placed sanctions against them. The sanctions cost India heavily with the denial of essential imports. But BJP thought it could impress people for making India a nuclear power and gain votes. But voters were not impressed and the party lost next general elections.
Could India’s nuclear status make Pakistan behave? Terrorists from Pakistan continue to enter India, kill people. Especially military installations were attacked by suicide squads.
What to do to avert a clandestine nuclear attack of terrorists from Pakistan? Pakistan has been offering to militarily denuclearize, if India too is prepared to do so. Making an area nuclear weapon free is not a new Idea. South American countries and South Africa have done it. They had developed nuclear weapon capabilities but wisely destroyed their weapons to declare themselves Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ). India and Pakistan too could destroy their nuclear weaponry and declare the subcontinent a NWFZ.
Why is India against military denuclearization? The argument is that India faces another nuclear armed potential enemy, China. Also being a large country, it deserves to be a nuclear power and does not want to lose that status.
Does China pose a nuclear weapon threat to India? China has no such quarrel with India as to resort to a nuclear war. Chinese have grabbed what they wanted in 1962; now the dispute is nominal to get the de facto boundary recognized. Nothing more serious than army patrol confrontation with fisticuffs is going to happen on the India-China border now.
What about India’s status as a world nuclear power? The world has recognized only the five countries – USA, Russia, Britain, France and China – as legitimate nuclear powers. The others – Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – are considered rogue nuclear states. Israel has the reason to have the Bomb as a repellent to the large number of hostile Muslim nations around and it has the US backing.
Will people in general agree to a military denuclearization of India with Pakistan, and both countries sign NPT? Forgo the status of nuclear weapon power (though unrecognized) by a big country like ours? Shouldn‘t the large Hindu Rashtra have its own nuclear defence when the small Jewish nation Israel had it? Why are the nuclear weapon states not doing away with their Bombs as promised, though they face no threats of a nuclear attack? Will it not be foolish to do away with our nuclear weapon capability that has been built up with our own R&D and at enormous expense? The arguments are popular and look patriotic. Anyone suggesting weapon denuclearization would be stamped unpatriotic.
However, all these sentiments, though normal, do not help us if a Pak Bomb or nuclear missile hits the Capital. That it is impossible to the fanatic terrorists is a wrong impression. That we can stop every bomb-carrying plane or missile having nuclear warhead, is another myth. Of course we can destroy Lahore and Islamabad for the nuclear attack on Delhi.
Loss of Delhi? Impossible. Albert Einstein had said “the splitting of the atom has changed everything, save our mode of thinking and the drift to unparalleled catastrophe.”
Yes. Our mode of thinking has to change to foresee such a catastrophe. And severity of the catastrophe can be seen if we review what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the US nuclear bombing. The cities were completely destroyed and the revival became almost impossible. The dead were fortunate, the living suffered from radiation and the cancerous infection lasted for generations.
What to do? There are two alternatives. One is to destroy Pak nuclear capacity by conventional bombing. Israel did it when Iraq tried to build the bomb, and succeeded. But then, Iraq was in the nascent stage of making the Bomb and could not retaliate with a nuclear weapon. Pakistan’s position is not like that now. The second is to agree with Pakistan to destroy nuclear weapons in the possession of both India and Pakistan. This solution has been proposed by Pakistan several times. Let us put forward the proposal now. The whole world will applaud India’s proposal and Pakistan will be compelled to agree to the proposal.
Let us make the Indian subcontinent NWFZ. India and Pakistan may wage a hundred years war. But avoid a nuclear catastrophe. Realize that destroying Islamabad and Lahore is no compensation for the destruction of Delhi.(Published on 28th October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 44)