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Is Threat Of Nuclear War Outbreak In South Asia Real? – Analysis


By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (Retd.)

That Pakistan has been using the nuclear bogey to continue its proxy war on India is no secret. The United States has for long ignored blatant Chinese nuclear proliferation to Pakistan, as well as nuclear proliferation engineered by Musharraf through Abdul Qadeer Khan, digesting Musharraf’s lie that it was unaware of these happenings.

AQ Khan was not even interrogated by Americans. The rapidly multiplying tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) stockpile of Pakistan too is largely ignored by the US save for the perfunctory noises that are occasionally made, like the safety of sea-based systems. It seems that the States is apparently content with Pakistani explanation these are to counter India’s ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, even as Khalid Kidwai, former Adviser to Pakistan’s National Command Authority, says India has already been forced to rethink the said doctrine.

Significantly, Pakistan’s Shaheen-III has a range of 2,750 kms, giving it the reach to strike Middle East including Israel. Pakistan’s assertion that Shaheen-III would deter India’s second strike is actually laughable. More significantly, the US administration continues to support and equip Pakistani military even despite the fact that majority of the US-NATO casualties in Afghanistan is due to Pakistani proxies.

Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, once said: “It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be moulded until they clothe the ideas and disguise.” So, as witnessed in the past few years, the western think tanks have been ranting about India-Pakistan nuclear war or rather conventional war mushrooming into nuclear exchange, with all these alarmist discussions happening despite knowing that nuclear weapons are meant or deterrence; used for political leverage.

US and British think-tanks creating the hyperbole understand it best, both being part of Permanent 5 cohort. Yet, the repetition continues tirelessly with the scenario bragging about a potential major terrorist attack in India resulting in a conventional military response, and which would eventually result in nuclear exchange albeit first initiated by Pakistan.

In fact, the Goebbels’ theory succeeds every time when our media and scholars even with army background, air their views on how the nuclear exchange will play out, and that too on day-to-day basis. Similar views are being aired post the terrorist strike at the Pathankot Indian Air Force (IAF) base. That such perception-building facilitates the west to continue molly-coddling Pakistan despite all the extremism it generated is pretty obvious, though much more is involved.

Let us go into the realm of hypothetical that most of those on the media engage in. Let us for instance imagine the initiation of a nuclear weapon by Pakistan against Indian forces. When crossing the nuclear threshold it is immaterial whether a tactical or a strategic nuke is used. Pakistan knows what India’s response would be in case it initiates a nuclear strike. The Pakistani military is not naïve to do so and trigger a nuclear war of mutual destruction especially considering Pakistan’s geography which has placed it adjacent to India.

The fact is that military on both the sides of the border would hardly exercise the nuclear option for this very reason. Sure the window for conventional war in nuclear backdrop remains, but that does not imply nukes would be used. To quote Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS), “they (nuclear weapons) are not weapons for use. Those who think that nuclear weapons are merely many times more destructive weapons are wrong; they are on a different plane altogether”.

At the same time nuclear saber-rattling by Pakistan will continue. It is now known that Musharraf wanted to deploy the Ghauri nuclear missiles to reinforce the massive Kargil intrusions in 1999 but “air went out of his balloon when the top general in-charge of the missile program told him the missile had a faulty guidance system”. According to Bruce Riedel, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) warned President Clinton “that Pakistan was preparing its nuclear weapons for deployment and possible use.” But that being the height of saber-rattling, Musharraf surely knew there was no hole to hide from the inevitable Indian riposte.

For that matter, conventional war does not resolve the issue of terrorism, which US-NATO should know best. Interestingly in their book ‘Nuclear Express’, Thomas C. Reed and Danny B Stillman (former was secretary of United States Air Force and latter Director, Los Alamos Technical Intelligence Division) bring out that during the regime of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese were of the view that use nuclear weapons against the west by radical and rogue countries would be good for China provided the trail is not traced back to it. And hence, the covert nuclearization of Pakistan and North Korea was pursued.

The western propaganda of India-Pakistan nuclear war was given fresh fillip during 2015. George Perkovich and Ashley Tellis, both from Carnegie Endowment presented the doom’s day scenario to a US Senate panel in February 2015, arguing that Pakistan might use nuclear weapons against India if the latter launched a large-scale military assault in retaliation for a major terror attack from across the border. Yes, Ashley Tellis also urged the US to use its influence in preventing a terrorist attack, but there is little evidence that the US is taking such advice seriously.

Next came an article titled ‘Fast, Radioactive, and Out of Control’ by Adrian Levy, R and Jeffrey Smith written for the Washington based Centre for Public Integrity, alleging that India was building a secret nuclear city 160 miles to the south of Challakere, near Mysore – an allegation denied by India. Obviously this was a subtle move to sow a fresh idea through third party when CIA has the wherewithal to ascertain the ground truth. US think-tanks have stepped up efforts with categorical assessments that the next India-Pakistan war will be the last war in South Asia.

The west knows very well that India has nuclear China and Pakistan as its neighbours and while China is racing along the thermonuclear path, Pakistan is increasingly getting radicalized, waging proxy wars in India and Afghanistan and rapidly increasing her nuclear arsenal. Yet, the west appears to be hyphenating Indian nuclear capability only with Pakistan, discounting the China threat. In August 2011 Pervez Hoodbhoy, Professor of Nuclear and High Energy Physics, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad said, “an extremist takeover of Pakistan is probably no further than five to ten years away….. The common belief in Pakistan is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and that madrassas are the only institutions serving as jihad factories. This is a serious misconception. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. …… The mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan’s demise as a nation state.”

Whatever be the case, that the US that could make Pakistan join the Global War on Terror (GWOT) under the threat of being “bombed into stone age” is not putting any pressure on Pakistan to stop terrorism anymore. As Pakistan is an important element to America’s ‘great game’ in South Asia to counter Chinese and Russian influence, the US sees itself benefitting more by doing precious little in the context of a nation-state that has the potential of going rogue.

The West has never ever appreciated the manner in which India assisted East Pakistan, liberated Bangladesh and how soon Indian forces vacated the territory of the newly formed Bangladesh. But much more importantly, the western thinktanks are not even discussing the most probable use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan – through its proxies. Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) terrorism is a reality – a fact that got demonstrated with the 1995 Sarin Gas attacks on Tokyo Subway, Anthrax attacks in the US in 2001, prolific use in Syria and the like. So why not low-yield nukes? Should that be orchestrated inside India, the West would solemnly sermonize India to show restraint. A Russian view is that nuclear war may occur in South Asia if the US so wants. There is merit in that too because the holocaust would reverse Beijing’s push to the Persian Gulf by a couple of years.

*Lt. Gen. Prakash Katoch (Retd) is a Council Member of United Services Institution of India, New Delhi. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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