The former US President Bill Clinton described Kashmir as “nuclear flashpoint” after the Kargil mini-war between Pakistan and India. It happened at a time when both India and Pakistan had become declared Nuclear Weapons States (NWS). It was unprecedented in the post-World War-II global scenario that the two nuclear powers directly challenged each other in such a dangerous manner, except for the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The danger of war between India and Pakistan looms large even today as unresolved disputes, especially Jammu and Kashmir, continue to haunt both the states and any miscalculation on either side may spell disaster not only for the two countries but the entire world.
The moot question is that after becoming NWS both India and Pakistan have been lagging behind in launching awareness campaigns amongst the masses about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the devastation those weapons could cause if used accidentally or deliberately. Similarly, governments in both the countries have not taken any measures to secure the people once a nuclear calamity is upon their heads. There are no safe shelters although one would be lucky to reach those shelters once they are caught under the mushroom cloud.
Just imagine the devastation caused by the American nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 74 years ago while those nuclear bombs were of a rudimentary class and lethality. Even then it caused over 200000 deaths in both cities while subsequent devastation as a result of radiation affected the equal number. Those who survived had to face the trauma throughout their lives including thousands of birth deformities. Talking of devastation in present day and age, the nuclear scientists are of the opinion that in terms of lethality today’s nuclear bombs are 100-to-1000 times greater than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Therefore, the United States Catholic Conference held on 13th May 1983 was right in observing: “…we may be the first generation since Genesis with the capacity to destroy God’s Creation”.
Pakistan’s proposals of bilateral agreement of shunning nuclear weapons or declaring South Asia as a nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) were rejected by India on the pretext that India’s nuclear programme was not Pakistan-specific
With regard to South Asia, India cannot absolve itself of the responsibility of plunging the region in a dangerous situation after becoming a NWS. Historically, Pakistan has been a reluctant client for the nuclear weapons which was evident since 1974 when India first detonated a nuclear device in the name of “peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE)”. Pakistan’s proposals of bilateral agreement of shunning nuclear weapons or declaring South Asia as a nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) were rejected by India on the pretext that India’s nuclear programme was not Pakistan-specific.
Fast forward, the present dispensation in India has a history of bigotry. In an excellent scholarly book entitled “South Asia on a Short Fuse” Praful Bidwai and Achin Venaik state that the BJP (or its earlier incarnations) is the only political party which officially said it wanted India to be a nuclear weapons power. It has been saying this consistently since 1951, well before there was any issue of the Pakistan and Chinese bombs. The classic statement of Hindutva from virtually the birth of the RSS in 1925 has been “Unite Hindus and Militarize Hinduism”. Therefore, it was not surprising when the BJP government under AB Vajpai declared India as a nuclear weapons state in May 1998 and again after gaining absolute majority in the parliamentary elections this year, the BJP government led by Mr. Narendra Modi is rescinding from its self-professed “No First Use (NFU)” policy.
Had Pakistan entertained nuclear ambitions, it would have pursued this route much earlier when it became part of President Dwight D Eisenhower’s “Atom for Peace” initiative which he launched in 1953 during his address at the UN General Assembly. However, it did not go for the weaponization pursuit till India detonated its nuclear device in 1974 and subsequently rejected Pakistan’s proposals of avoiding nuclear route. Even while Pakistan attained the nuclear weapons capability its declaratory policy was not to weaponize the nuclear programme. However, given the bitter experience in the past with India’s double speak, Pakistan could not trust the Indian assurances that its nuclear weapons were not intended against Pakistan. For Pakistan knew that it had to enhance its capabilities in the nuclear field as Indian intentions could change any time. Undoubtedly, Pakistan’s decision was correct. Soon after nuclear explosions in 1998 the then Home Minister Mr. LK Advani arrogantly boasted that “Now we will bring Pakistan to its knees”.
In the present scenario, India has indulged in a dangerous game of creating “new normal” after the Pulwama by attacking Balakot on the pretext that through the element of surprise and in the name of “surgical strikes” it would getaway with its actions. In doing so the Indian policy makers, certainly under the guidance of Hindutva elite, have been entertaining the skewed notion of containing the conflict to the local level. Secondly, Indian policy makers believe that they can capture a territory in the AJK and force Pakistan to bargain. All these scenarios run the risk of escalation from tactical to strategic levels to which no side would have control and no side would be a winner.
Recent statements emanating from the Indian political elite and military establishment have enhanced the dangers of a war between Pakistan and India. Indian threats are a sequel to the Hindutva agenda aimed at creating an environment of fear psychosis in the country by suppressing the minorities, especially Muslims, and raise tensions in the region to justify its occupation in Jammu and Kashmir.By raising the temperature along the Line of Control (LOC), India is flexing muscles to a bigger conflagration. Ironically if war breaks out, common people in both the countries are completely unaware of the impending dangers and horrors of a nuclear war and the accompanying devastation once a nuclear bomb is used. Shouldn’t the governments and civil societies of both the countries inform their citizens about the horrors of a nuclear war? Isn’t it the right of citizens of India and Pakistan to know what an atomic bomb would mean for their lives and existence? And at the governmental level shouldn’t there be clarity from moral and humanitarian point of view about the ownership of death and destruction of innocent people likely to be killed for no fault of theirs except that they would be present at the point of impact at a wrong time?
The above questions are not for the academic purposes but call for practical steps to protect the lives of innocent people who have no say in policymaking. Similarly, innocent Kashmiris are facing complete lockdown over a month now with no fault of theirs. They are being suppressed for raising voice for the right to self-determination, an inalienable right granted to them under UN Security Council’s resolutions. The Hindutva leadership is certainly following a suicidal course in the conduct of relations with Pakistan without realizing that a war would not be a one-sided affair as was evident when Pakistan retaliated immediately and decisively after Indian attack at Balakot. It is time for leaders on both sides to reflect and save their people from the devastations of war.
The writer is former ambassador of Pakistan to Iran and UAE