Thinking the Unthinkable
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 19 Oct , 2011

While our Prime Minister plays the conjuror with war clouds and the mysteries of lightening strikes, a grave and potently disastrous possibility of an armed Indo –Pak conflict is being peremptorily dismissed, through mere warnings of the most awful consequences of a nuclear war. The more responsible approach of ensuring that the use of nuclear weapons is prevented at all costs, particularly by those who have the capacity to do so, is being deliberately sidestepped. The world cannot permit the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima to revisit mankind again in the 21st century. The members of the nuclear club- ‘recognized’ and ‘yet to be recognized’- have a moral responsibility to all of humanity-a responsibility that cannot be shrugged away under the garb of diplomacy or the niceties of international relations. The consequences are far to grave.

Pakistans nuclear weapons program was conceived as a strategic necessity against India”¦ Instead of being a back up or “˜a last resort capability to be used when all else has failed, it has been recklessly paraded as a “˜first choice- weapon.

At a fundamental level the philosophy of nuclear warfare as it has evolved through the ‘cold war’ had come to recognize that while nuclear weapons have a great deterrent value bordering on the ‘absolute’, they are not really usable when deterrence fails. The afore said position has an inherent contradiction and has been debated at considerable length, but the centrality of the premise that nuclear weapons, in the ultimate analysis are weapons that are not meant to be detonated remains. A self- imposed restraint accompanies the acquisition of nuclear capability.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program was conceived as a strategic necessity against India. In the backdrop of the breakup of the country in 71, our nuclear test in 74 and its unfinished agenda of wresting Kashmir from us, this was justifiable. But its nuclear policy and its practice seems to have gone awry from the time Pakistan first acquired its nuclear weapons fabrication and delivery capability, howsoever rudimentary that might have been. Instead of being a back up or ‘a last resort’ capability to be used when all else has failed, it has been recklessly paraded as a ‘first choice- weapon’.

And, instead of frowning on such irresponsible brinkmanship, most of the ‘first world’ went along and as a matter of fact,assisted Pakistan in its bizarre gamesmanship, for some frivolous or imaginary gains in the cold war calculus. With the fading away of the ‘cold war’ shouldn’t a fresh appraisal reveal the flaws of pursuing old policies like the recent appearance of the story in the American media (and faithfully reproduced by us) of the nuclear shadow boxing that Pakistan indulged in, during the Kargil War? Unfortunately, much to our dismay, the West has not been able to jettison its old mind-sets; otherwise its tone and tenor would have been markedly different to the current crisis that engulfs the Indian Sub Continent.

“¦Pakistan thinks that it can indulge in nuclear brinkmanship to pursue unimpeded, its covert war in Kashmir- a sub conventional war diabolically designed to draw sustenance from terrorism across India.

The contours of Pakistan’s nuclear strategy began to unfold from the latter half of the eighties when the first hints of a possible nuclear flashpoint appeared in the Western media as tensions built up over the Indian Army’s deployment for ‘Exercise Brass Tacks’. The hint graduated to a clear threat in 1990 again conveyed to us by Washington and London. From then onwards, in concert with its covert war in Kashmir, its nuclear blackmail has continued to get increasingly brazen; even if you sneeze I will bomb you. And what is truly lamentable is that the West actively endorses this strategy; never even a hint to Pakistan to exercise caution and restraint and refrain from beating the nuclear war drums at the drop of a hat.

Some felt that the transition from the covert to the overt status in 1998 would introduce an element of maturity and responsibility in the Country’s philosophy of nuclear deterrence. Instead their propensity to gamble and precipitate nuclear flashpoints has increased and finds blatant expression in the statements of its leaders. One does not have to try and read the fine print of the messages emanating from Pakistan. Since April, beginning with the interview of President Musharraf by a German news magazine, India has been subjected to a barrage of brazen threats. Compare this with the Indian disposition. Not a word on the subject. But it would be a fatal mistake if the silence were read for submission.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Vinay Shankar

Lt Gen Vinay Shankar, former Director General Artillery.

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