Washington deems Delhi as a responsible nuclear state (though it still remains out of the NPT) and advocates her membership of nuclear suppliers group while already easing its way through the Missile Technology Control Regime and Wassenaar Arrangement. India seems to disagree and repeatedly proves herself otherwise. From nuclear accidents to openly supporting cross-border insurgencies, and conducting ‘surgical strikes’ to military chief’ spelling out unclear threats, it has done it all.
This time, it was India’s Army Chief General Bipin Rawat who told a press conference on Wednesday, “We will call the (nuclear) bluff of Pakistan. If we will have to really confront the Pakistanis, and a task is given to us, we are not going to say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons. We will have to call their nuclear bluff.” The statement came in the backdrop of reportedly four secret meetings between Pakistan and India’s national security advisors to ease tensions aside from off-and-on telephonic contacts. Nonetheless, India has been directly targeting Pakistani posts along the LoC, prompting a similar response. Both sides are suffering fatalities of troops at higher rates. The heightened cross-LoC incursions are aimed at softening of Pakistan’s front lines to realize India’s cold start doctrine.
Global nuclear aggravation
From Iran to North Korea and all the way to the American state of Hawaii, there exists a live wide-open nuclear arena for any state to observe and learn from. Last week was particularly newsworthy for news relating to nuclear weapons or for that matter, nuclear weapon states. Three instances are worth detailed deliberations. Interestingly, all of them have some cause to reflect on India’s hawkish or foolhardy rhetoric via-a-vis Pakistan and China.
Firstly, North Korea held talks with the rival South despite high-pitched nuclear rhetoric and posturing and agreed to participate in February’s winter Olympics. Not only will the nuclear neighbor send a large contingent of players but also a cheering squad and a performance-art troupe. With the presence of Pyongyang’s players in Seoul, the prospects of North’s attack naturally become minimal. Both expressed readiness to continue the talks. They are even mulling over fielding a joint ice hockey team.
Secondly, the Cold War era sirens echoed in the Pacific islands of the US State of Hawaii, after a message of missile threat went out erroneously on Saturday. Soon after North Korea’s nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile test, Hawaii had tested a one-minute Attention Alert Signal (steady tone) followed by a one-minute Attack Warning Signal (wailing tone) in December after due intimation to the public to avoid panic. The Mayday text message of Saturday read, “Missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” In the context of the threat and preparations underway, the alert was doubtlessly believed, prompting the residents to stock food supplies in shelters. Reviving post-Pearl Harbor and Cold War-era fears, the botched ballistic missile warning lasted for about 38 minutes until a denial was relayed repeatedly. “There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.” The episode has obvious relevance for South Asia’s tense neighbors.
The third and rather less significant development was America’s nuclear-related Iran sanction-waiver for another year. The nuclear agreement stands intact and Tehran remains under global watch for crossing the NPT-assigned enrichment limits once. In sharp contrast, non-NPT member India gets to enjoy the privileges of a de jure nuclear-weapon state.
The desperation of nuclear fanatics
Despite its history of maintaining nuclear weapons since 1945, the United States faltered many times in assessing and responding the perceived threat. Luckily within minutes after receiving the false alarm text on cell phones, the US military establishment had sufficient redundancies to declare the missile threat a hoax. Had the threat been real, the response would have been swift and multi-pronged. Worth mentioning here it is that Pyongyang and Hawaii are separated by 4,500 kilometers, providing precious reaction time before receiving the deadly payload. Such stark ground realities find little heed from the likes of General Bipin Rawat. Carried away by the jingoism, they deliberately ignore certain basic ground realities such as geographical proximity, meaning minimal flight time for missiles to hit the targets or fighter jets to enter the rival airspace. Then, also comes into question mutual vulnerability from nuclear fallout, though it largely depends on the weather at the time but still less consequential for Pakistan than India.
Strategic thinking and planning in Pakistan have evolved along the doctrine of defensive-offense while India has increasingly taken the opposite route. Interestingly, the perception across the eastern border is to the contrary. Will Islamabad possess some differential surprises to the advancing enemy? Pakistan requires ingenious strategy and weapons to deny access to a four-time larger aggressive neighbor.
Not just Bipin, but Indian Air Force Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa also boasted in October that his pilots have the capability to locate and eliminate nuclear and other strategic targets in Pakistan. He was also speaking with reference to Pakistan tactical nuclear weapons.
Delusional after recent inductions of military wherewithal and deepening of ties with the US, Modi-led India has appeared desperate to put the Cold Start doctrine (CSD) to test. General Bipin made the first such claim last year on January 4, his fifth day after the controversial appointment as army chief. He either sounds like Pranab Goswami or an ambitious politician playing to the BJP-RSS crowd. Personifying themselves as Mahabharata’s fictional warrior heroes, Modi, Ajit and the military general are upping the ante against a real and no less deadly enemy.
Ironically, mutually-assured destruction of population emerges as a deterrent against nuclear war. Neither is there any mass awareness nor preparedness in the wake of an attack and the day after. “Mr Nayar, if you ever drive us to the wall, we will use the bomb. You did it to us in East Bengal. We won’t waste time with conventional weapons. We will come straight out with it,” Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan had told the famous Indian journalist in a rare 1984 interview. Nothing has altered so drastically against Pakistan for Dr Khan’s assertion to become irrelevant.
On February 21, 1987, General Ziaul Haq traveled to Delhi to personally deliver the very same message to Rajiv Gandhi while the 80,000-strong Indian military awaited the premier’s order to attempt crossing the international border. The war was averted then.
With the current hot-headed leadership in India, sanity may not prevail in Delhi. Miscalculations amidst over-confidence can start a war which may turn nuclear within hours. To avert the verbal brashness translating into suicidal actions, the big five and EU must take note of General Bipin and Air Marshal Dhanoa’s menacing words. Like Kim-Jong un, India’s generals’ fascination for war (read nuclear war) has grown with time and expanding the relationship with the US and stockpiling of imported hi-tech military arsenal from the west.
North Korea’s trigger-happy leader – whose New Year message comprised threat of a nuclear war – does not boycott sports fixtures with the arch-rival neighbor but his Indian counterpart sure does. Like his pals in India and DPRK, Donald Trump fancies a nuclear attack as much. The Indian leader, civilian and military alike, don’t spare a thought for the enemy’s second-strike capability about which Zia spoke over three decades ago. No air defense system, American, Israeli or Russian, is failsafe or foolproof. So told Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, to The Atlantic after the Hawaii false alarm: “ . . . there is no fail-safe against errors in judgment by human beings or the systems that provide early warning.”