Post Balakot: Building Nation’s Nuclear Resilience
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 23 May , 2019

February 26, 2019 Indian Air Force  hit Terrorist training camps at Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunwa region. The raid was a big  success and we came back unscathed. It was in retaliation to the terrorist attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir on 14 Feb 2019, which left 40 security personnel’s dead and the nation numb, with grief. Joy swept through the nation on the announcement of this success.  Arm chair strategists on the national media called the raid a defeat, a denouncement of Pakistan’s nuclear bluff , its threat of first use. Much has been written on /debated post Balakot but very little has been talked about in building resilience in the nation, post Balakot.

Pakistan is a nation which has a declared state policy stating that “Kashmir is an unfinished agenda of its independence in 1947”. Since then it has launched four wars against India to wrest Kashmir. It has also launched a low intensity proxy war, the Pulwama incident was a result of this proxy war. It’s a nuclear armed nation, inimical to India and since inception, has aligned itself with foreign countries which too are not well wishers of India. This makes the situation in South Asia very volatile and the Indo Pak borders, the most dangerous place on the earth.

Building resilience and preparedness for crisis will ensure stability of governance, uninterrupted/least disturbance in  maintenance of essential service and vigilance to tackle misinformation, all of which will prevent mass panic . The threats to governance in our scenario range from the specter of Nuclear warfare to the warfare of the ‘Grey Zone” (Hybrid war).

In this article a brief overview of the perils posed by a Nuclear war and the need to be prepared, have been stated.

Nuclear Warfare

Damage to Population Centres.   Citizens  in the important population centres will  be targeted and affected   to varying degrees  depending on their proximity to the ground zero of the blast and the degree of protection they are sheltered in by the flash of the blast , its boom , the blast  overpressure, the heat generated, fire and thereafter by the Radioactive fallout.

Timely and orderly evacuation, based on hard intelligence, planning and provisioning for mass movement of population to safe areas adequately stocked and building adequate of nuclear blast-radiation proof shelters within the cities with plans for evacuation from them, are the need of the hour in building resilience.

Damage to Electronic systems. A nuclear attack in airburst mode will generate Electro Magnetic pulse (EMP), with no traces of blast and fire, but will be highly damaging to the micro circuitry used in the present day electronics.  Telecommunications, information processing, sophisticated medical technology and financial institutions, all heavily dependent on electronics will be extremely vulnerable. Electrical power grids will transmit a transient spike in voltage which will “fry’ the electronics at the recipients end. High altitude air burst at 21 km can blanket thousands of square kilometers and at a height of 320 kms would blanket the entire S Asia, parts of Tibet and Central Asia resulting in simultaneous blackout of power and telecommunications.

The economic and social ramifications of disrupting an advanced highly developed, deeply networked electronic network would be overwhelming. Not a single facet of governance and economy would escape the disruption. The need is to identify the essential facets of Governance, Economy and its financial services and to invest in nuclear hardening/ shielding the electronic equipment with protection to with stand not only the effects of ground blast but also that of an air burst and its resultant EMP. In this, both the Government and the Private industries involved in providing essential services such as banking, power supply, transportation, health care etc have to be responsible in ensuring the nuclear shielding.

Direct Consequences for Medical Care. In population centres , the direct effects of nuclear attack will be most telling on the medical services . With population and medical care concentrated in the cities, the inaccessibility to medical care due to destruction caused by the blast and  by the EMP will result in a dooms day scenario. The need for care will far outpace the medical resources which survive the attack. A study has stated that nearly 35 percent of the survivors would require medical care. How long will the surviving medical facilities be able to cope up in terms of medical manpower, equipment and medical stores in these conditions is open to speculation.

The need of the hour is to create adequate number of underground well connected, well ventilated (filtered air), and well stocked medical facilities, well dispersed in cities and towns and in rural India, with adequate nuclear hardened communications system linking them to a central control centre. Each such centre too must be equipped with casualty evacuation ( cas evac) facilities which can move in nuclear contaminated area for cas evac. A visible and effective medical care in such a scenario will reassure the masses of the presence of governance in their area and will be a huge morale booster.

Lingering Effects of Nuclear War. The long term affect of a nuclear war on India poses an altogether different set of challenges. Maintenance of a reasonable standard of health will be impossible without rapid recovery of economy namely the petroleum, power, potable water, electronics, transport, agriculture and pharmaceuticals.

In case the population in protected shelters in areas designated “Dirty” due to nuclear attack, are not evacuated timely, then the over congestion, lack of disposal of wastes in the shelters , failing air purifying systems, diminishing food and medical supplies  will all compound to adversely affect this scarce human resource.

Presence of millions of dead in the cities and countryside and a ravaged natural environment, will combine to produce an environment fertile for incubation and transmission of diseases, some thus far unknown. Stress, malnutrition, varying degrees of exposure to radiation, lack of medical facilities would tend to weaken the physiological defences to a point where even a common ailment may turn fatal. Those who survive will be too weak to be vaccinated as against epidemics and shortage of drugs to treat ever increasing complications will spell catastrophe.

In this scenario, even an augmentation of medical facilities will barely mitigate the suffering .Focus now has to shift to providing Food and Energy as key to both survival and revival. Earliest assessment of damage and re allocation of surviving resources, duly prioritized, to commence reconstruction/redevelopment will be the need of the hour. The prospects of avoiding catastrophe are to today plan for a well thought out reconstruction plan.

Prospects of General Economic Recovery.  The economic infrastructure ,natural and human resources which is still left intact would have to lead the economic recovery. Surviving Indians, dislocated populations, weakened by shortages will have the unenviable task of rebuilding the economy. State will have to plan before hand the re distribution of undamaged capital and of human resources to safe areas and provision for their survival and functioning in such areas. Water sources including Rivers contaminated by radioactive material will have to placed out of bounds and areas contaminated by wind pattern emanating  from the blast zone will have to vacated. This will lead to mass dislocation of population and choke major surviving surface communications. Appreciated losses in power generation, potable water sources, pharmaceutical and health care will need to be factored in before hand to plan and provision ,to gain maximum productivity from the surviving population.

Post nuclear war, India may find itself under sanctions  and therefore may not be able access Monetary and Material aid or buy essential goods such as crude oil, food grains, medicines, arms. It may find its products rejected due to suspected radioactive contamination. Trade travels of individuals too will be under severe restraints. It may too find its currency untenable in the international market and may have to resort to a system of barter to trade.  It is therefore imperative that India today improves its stock of Gold, Dollar, Euro and Yuan reserves substantially and have them banked/ stored at a place accessible in the aftermath of a nuclear catastrophe.

In Conclusion

We as a Nation owe it to our citizens to make them aware of the pitfalls of a Nuclear war with our nuclear armed neighbours, specially one as unreasonable as Pakistan. We are not building awareness of how quickly our Democracy and Governance can collapse when catastrophe of nuclear war occur and services and amenities so freely available today, stopped or are rationed. Then the rage, the disbelieve, the dissatisfaction will result in  tensions in the society and within the nation and internal conflicts will erupt , tearing  social cohesion, its law and order , both which  will prove counterproductive in the Government’s efforts for evacuation, reconstruction and recovery.

Authorities in Governance along with  essential PSUs and  Private industries must appreciate their strengths and vulnerabilities and discuss threadbare all the different contingencies that may arise in a Nuclear war , the regions that maybe targeted , the industries , cropland and infrastructure that will be lost and make plans to moderate the disaster by sound planning and by slowly and steadily sensitizing citizens of this peril and of Government plans , to prevent panic and to achieve speedy recovery in the eventuality of a Nuclear strike.

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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

Col RN Ghosh Dastidar

is a freelance journalist.

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5 thoughts on “Post Balakot: Building Nation’s Nuclear Resilience

  1. This is in reference to your article in the IDR based on a nuclear attack on our country.I agree with you entirely that the consequences will be catastrophic to a grossly under prepared nation like India. In the same breath , I would remind you of the change in our nuclear policy which has moved from NO FIRST STRIKE to massive SECOND STRIKE RETALIATION for which we now have a NUCLEAR TRIAD. We have now shifted one step further in making huge strides in our surveillance capability which will give us just enough time to call our adversaries nuclear bluff. I mean a first strike if we are convinced that nuclear hostilities are imminent. I am convinced this worked behind the scenes when we reminded our neighbor( Pakis follow a full spectrum deterrence policy) that a first strike against us even in their soil would attract a massive retaliation of the kind which might just wipe him of the face of the earth. AKA the COLD START doctrine. The change in government has assured that. Wishful thinking? I think not. And that is the reason why we have successfully called his bluff. Gone is the time when we were forever scared to approach his nuclear threshold.
    But in this case, technology is as geopolitically relevant to Modi’s decisions as political expedience. Technology can influence doctrines, and doctrines – even if they are aren’t universally applicable – can influence what types of actions states are willing and able to make with their conventional forces. The nuclear weapons possessed by India and Pakistan will continue to limit the risk of a major conventional war, and thus continue to allow Pakistan some room to provoke India without fear of major retaliation, especially a ground retaliation. However, that, along with Pakistan’s problems with militants infiltrating the military, means that the risk of an unintended escalation to nuclear exchange can’t be ignored altogether.

    Balakot just changed all those equations when a bold India for the first time in history went

  2. Good write up Dusty.
    However the problem with our country is that there has been no forward thinking & work done on this aspect till date. Imagine our entire banking sector would go for a six & we would be left twiddling our thumbs in case of such an attack. Emergency services including Medical would just disappear.
    I am not aware whether we have the North & South Blocks catered for this eventuality, so the entire Govt packs up & remains on a holiday.
    Our think tanks should be highlighting this aspect up with the Govt at all levels so that these facilities are also developed side by side the other development works as funds would be at a premium.

  3. The need to educate and prepare general public as well as various organs of state is definitely the need of the hour and the author has highlighted the same in simple terms. Being a nuclear state with a nuclear armed adversary as its neighbour, the Country needs to be prepared for various contingencies. The importance and urgency of initiating action in this regard, without creating panic, can never be over emphasised. The catastrophic results of nuclear strike on centres of population can not even be imagined. However, quite preparations and citizen awareness may help in reducing the impact as also post strike recovery and rehabilitation.
    We need to rope in domain experts, scientists and administrators to educate and prepare various wings of the Government and Non Government agencies as a first step in nuclear disaster management. The Author has done well to initiate discussion on a subject which most of us abhor to even think about. More such articles in various papers, including vernacular, will help enhance public awareness.

  4. It’s a very bold article covering almost all the very important aspects of Pre and Post preparedness of wars. It has covered almost all aspects . Govt must pay heed and do something. This clearly indicated the present status of our country and need of focus without waisting any time. Kudos to the writer for his bold but truth.

  5. Can’t imagine the catastrophe of the damage nuclear war inflicts. Request government and world to eliminate nuclear weapons and get into peaceful dialogue to resolve issues. God bless the earth.

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