Prophecy of doom
Published — Thursday 12 March 2015
When India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, the world suddenly became a dangerous place. South Asia, now home to about 2 billion people, was in the midst of a nuclear arms race. Ignoring other national priorities of alleviating poverty, investing in social and human capital, both neighbors chose to go nuclear in the name of fortifying national security. The global community, which had urged restraint and called for curbing nuclear proliferation, feared the worst in case these two archrivals were to engage in another military confrontation.
Since those tests, India and Pakistan have fought a proxy Kargil war in 1999 and were on the verge of another precarious situation in 2001-02. Hectic diplomatic efforts and international pressure averted a major crisis in South Asia at that time, but both sides have continued to strengthen their military power over the years. They have still not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and are exploring the use of nuclear technology for civilian purposes as well.
In response to India’s rapid development of new missile technology, Pakistan continues to reactively build its own arsenal of tactical and nuclear-capable missiles for “minimum deterrence.” In context of the recent cross-border military escalation between India and Pakistan, it may be felt that nuclear escalation poses a real challenge for regional stability and security.
In a hearing at the US Congress, George Perkovich and Ashley Tellis, experts on South Asian affairs, once again highlighted the dangers of nuclear weapons in the region. They believed that a major terrorist attack similar to the 26/11 Mumbai incident, planned and coordinated by militants, may force India to launch a full-scale military offensive against the country. Failing to match the might of India’s conventional military power, Pakistan may be forced to use its nuclear weapons as a last resort.
This dooms day scenario would have horrific consequences for global peace and affect over one-third of the world’s population. While the risks to global peace are omnipresent, it is highly unlikely that both India and Pakistan will show the immaturity to enter into a serious armed conflict in the foreseeable future. Although the two countries have a frosty relationship, they agree on the need to build trust and confidence for resolution of all outstanding issues. It is hoped that greater economic partnership and cultural exchange among people would provide a boost to the diplomatic efforts and usher a new era of progress in South Asia. Recent round of foreign secretary level talks between the two sides is a good omen for peace in the region.
Further, Pakistan is taking concrete steps to uproot the menace of terrorism from its soil. The country is conducting a military crackdown in the North Waziristan region, known as a terrorist safe haven for Pakistan-based Taleban groups. The current operation against terrorists is indiscriminate and also targeted at some militia groups, who may have been viewed as “strategic assets” in previous decades by Pakistan’s security establishment. As these militant groups are now known to be supporting anti-state activities, Pakistan has firmly committed to eliminating them and their abettors.