After Pokhran-II

May 18, 2017

Concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons began to emerge after the Chinese acquisition of nuclear capabilities in the early 1960s. However, India’s so-called peaceful nuclear...

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Concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons began to emerge after the Chinese acquisition of nuclear capabilities in the early 1960s. However, India’s so-called peaceful nuclear explosion in 1974 not only heightened those concerns, but also generated grave fears regarding the spread of fissionable materials and weapons-applicable nuclear technology to other non-NPT states. This was the first time that a country chose to secretly use imported civilian nuclear technology for military purposes.

India’s 1974 test reflected a deliberate failure on the part of the Indian government to separate its military and civilian programmes. And this failure continues to be a prevalent problem to this day. During the late 1970s, several nuclear experts expressed apprehensions that India’s nuclear test could trigger a series of mini-nuclear arms races in different parts of the world. In 1976, William Epstein, a Canadian international civil servant and expert on disarmament, stated that: “For the first time in a quarter of a century of working with the problems of the arms race and arms control, I am beginning to get scared”.

India’s pursuit of nuclear capability left Pakistan with no option but to focus its meagre resources on nuclear weapons while its people continued to starve. Furthermore, Pakistan’s development of nuclear capability strengthened the military’s domestic political role, laying the ground for the existing imbalance in civil-military relations. If there is a reason why millions of children in both Pakistan and India are growing up in abject poverty, it is because the decision-making processes in both countries have been held hostage to wildly irrational patriotism and the people are too ignorant to figure out the politics of this whole situation.

In May 1998, India declared itself a nuclear weapons state by conducting five underground nuclear tests in the Pokhran Range in the Rajasthan Desert. May 11, 2017 marks the nineteenth anniversary of the 1998 Pokhran-II nuclear tests. The nuclear tests provoked widespread condemnation and renewed security concerns in the region, prompting Pakistan to carry out its own tests less than three weeks later. Unfortunately, when the whole international community was rallying around the nuclear disarmament agenda, the paranoid fears that had blinded the Indian nuclear establishment led to a dangerous nuclear arms race in the Subcontinent, which continues to the present day.

Almost two decades after the tests, nuclear experts are still discussing the motivation for India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and its regional security implications. Many Indian scholars argue that national security concerns were the primary motives underlying India’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. But there is a consensus among US strategic experts, like Scott Sagan, that domestic politics and the symbolic importance of nuclear weapons were the dominant factors driving the role of the Indian nuclear and missile establishment at that point in time. In my articles published in these pages, I have argued at length that national security concerns can hardly be a logical reason to explain India’s decision to go nuclear. This is because India’s leadership started showing its intentions to develop nuclear capability immediately after 1947 when the China factor was almost non-existent.

Since the 1998 nuclear tests, the nuclear future of South Asia has been the subject of intense debate. Nuclear advocates argue that nuclear weapons have stabilised the region by making mutual conflict between Pakistan and India “prohibitively risky”. But, given the Subcontinent’s troubled history, the proliferation of nuclear weapons has done nothing to reduce the probability of conflicts in the region. The conventional view propounded by strategic thinkers like Kenneth Waltz that war between nuclear powers is highly unlikely is not applicable in the South Asian context. The dangers of miscalculation or accident have made escalating a small conflict into a full-scale nuclear war a real possibility. Both states continue to engage in an unstoppable nuclear arms race, raising international concerns about the future of regional security. However, paranoid leaders on both sides of the border remain largely oblivious to this fact.

Over the past one-and-a-half decade, both neighbours have adopted offensive military postures, unveiling military strategies like the new Cold Start doctrine and the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Such offensive war doctrines are bringing the two nuclear-armed neighbours closer to nuclear conflict with each passing day.

There is strong evidence to suggest that India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons has not only destabilised regional security but has also created incentives for it to behave like an arrogant nuclear power.

We have to stop looking at each other like enemies. The Indian media has frequently been accused of spreading an irrational or exaggerated fear of Pakistan among gullible viewers. India’s current leadership will never be able to raise its country to the status of a prominent regional power if it continues to look at more than 200 million people living next door as its enemies. There is a growing imperative in the 21st century for deeper cooperation between Pakistan and India against common enemies: ignorance, poverty and the false delusions of grandeur. And this is the only way to ensure our survival.



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