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.
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.
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.