|India, Pakistan walk a fine nuclear
By Praful Bidwai
DELHI - As India and Pakistan ready their nuclear
arsenals for deployment, their leaders seem to be
slipping into denial mode, refusing to acknowledge that
they are being inexorably sucked into a dangerous, and
potentially ruinous, nuclear arms race.
has just conducted a series of three missile test
flights in the course of 11 days. Two of the tests, on
October 8 and October 14, were on a medium-range 700
kilometer missile called Shaheen-I. On October 2,
Pakistan test flew the Ghazanavi (or Hatf-III) with a
range of 290 kilometers. Both missiles are capable of
carrying nuclear warheads.
Indian officials have
shrugged off these tests as "nothing special". India's
foreign secretary, Kanwal Sibal, said there was "nothing
new" in Pakistan's short-range ballistic missile tests.
"[The Pakistanis] have conducted missile tests before."
This is extraordinary because these missiles can
reach medium-sized cities in India, to kill hundreds of
thousands of citizens. There is no conceivable defense
against them or means of preventing their entry.
Strangely, Indian Defense Minister George
Fernandes' first reaction was, "It has to be seen
whether the missile is [Pakistan's] own or provided by
North Korea or China."
Yet it is irrelevant
whether the missile technology is indigenous to Pakistan
or sold to it. It would be just as lethal - assuming it
The smugness of the Indian authorities is
astonishing and shocking. It speaks of a cavalier
disregard for security, and an obsessive wish to
accelerate the arms race with Pakistan.
Pakistani officials, they claim that the the timing of
their tests was based on the country's missile defense
needs. "The timing of the tests reflect Pakistan's
determination not to engage in a tit-for-tat syndrome to
other tests in the region," the military spokesman said.
"Pakistan will maintain the pace of its own missile
Islamabad claims the tests
demonstrated "Pakistan's technical prowess" in missile
technology. "They also reflect Pakistan's resolve and
determination to continue to consolidate its minimum
deterrence needs and national security."
However, many media reports say the tests were
aimed at showing Pakistan's "protest" and "frustration"
at India's procurement of an airborne radar system from
Israel, with Washington's approval. The Phalcon early
warning system was jointly developed by Israel and the
Last week, India signed an
agreement with Israel and Russia for the supply of the
Phalcon, to be mounted on a Russian-made Ilyushin-76
aircraft platform. The Phalcon will function as a
command and control post in the sky and allow the
detection of aircraft or missile launches deep inside
Pakistan has forcefully
protested against the sale of the Phalcon and demanded
that Washington supply it airborne radars, F-16s,
unmanned aerial vehicles or drones and Cobra helicopters
"to restore the weapons balance" in South Asia.
Pakistan Defense Secretary Hamid Nawaz Khan said
last month, "Pakistan believes that a conventional
balance [is] the key to maintaining peace between India
and Pakistan; the nuclear threshold would come down, if
this balance was disturbed."
He claimed that
"the Pentagon had agreed to help effectively check the
imbalance of power being created by India in the
Since then, Pakistani President General
Pervez Musharraf has pledged to do whatever it takes to
maintain the current "no-win situation" with New Delhi.
In an interview with the Malaysian newspaper
"New Straits Times", he said, "We will maintain that
no-win situation come what may. The world should know
and India should know. They [Israel and India] have
reached an agreement and we will counter it."
Musharraf expressed his impatience with New
Delhi's refusal to resolve the Kashmir issue through
Just last month,
Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
had a hostile exchange at the United Nations General
Assembly. Vajpayee accused Pakistan of continuing to
sponsor "cross-border terrorism" in Kashmir. Musharraf
accused India of "state terrorism" and violating
Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, meanwhile still
trying to muscle its way into the council as a permanent
It is not just Pakistan that is making
proactive moves in the missile and nuclear fields.
Last month, India announced it was proceeding to
deploy and "consolidate its nuclear deterrence". It is
raising a special artillery division to manage its
nuclear-capable missiles. The existing Agni and Prithvi
missile groups will be integrated into this division.
Equally important, Fernandes declared on October
5 that India's short and medium-range nuclear-capable
ballistic missiles were ready for deployment and that
the nuclear command chain, including alternative "nerve
centers," was in place, giving India an effective
Fernandes said, "We have
established more than one [nuclear control] nerve
center." Nuclear command shelters have also been
established. An underground shelter is now reportedly
under construction right in the heart of New Delhi,
designed to protect the cabinet and top military
commanders from a decapitating nuclear strike. By
building such a shelter, the Indian government has
acknowledged that the danger of a nuclear strike is not
hypothetical or distant; it is real.
is doing absolutely nothing to protect the capital's 15
million citizens against such a devastating attack. This
involves a bizarre and perverse notion of security - not
for the people or the nation, but for a handful of
The contradiction also
exposes an anomaly at the heart of India's nuclear
doctrine and its much-vaunted pledge of no-first-use:
India won't be the first to use nuclear weapons against
anyone. This seeks to achieve security through an
assured second-strike capability: by retaliating
But such retaliation can at best be
an act of senseless revenge, not one that protects the
lives of one's own citizens or soldiers, but instead
wreaks untold havoc on civilians in an adversary state
after hundreds of thousands of one's citizens have
India and Pakistan have now reached a
critical, perilous, turn in their nuclear journey. The
arms race between them at both the conventional and
nuclear levels is too stark and blatant to escape
notice. But their leaders deny this altogether.
On Sunday, Vajpayee said, "We are not in any
arms race with anybody. Whatever steps India has been
taking [are] for self defense." He added, chiding
Pakistan, "Those who are themselves acquiring weapons
are blaming us."
Now, any state that
participates in the arms race, either as an initiator of
new moves or reactively, can claim it is acting in "self
defense". That is the very logic of a nuclear arms race,
with escalation built into it. That does not negate the
reality of the arms race, or make it less dangerous.
(Inter Press Service)