Pokharan’s 15 Years: Have the Nuclear Weapons Worsened the Security Atmosphere?

Sandeep Pandey

Eminent peace activist and Magsaysay awardee

A-893, Indira Nagar, Lucknow-226016, U.P.
0522-2347365, 09415022772

When India tested its nuclear weapons in 1998, we were told that we need not worry about our security as we had the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. Some right wing political leaders challenged Pakistan to declare a time and a place of war. Some said now India could even take on US, what to talk about Pakistan.

However, half the enthusiasm subsided with Pakistan testing its weapons even before the month got over. Theory of deterrence was floated. Since we had the nuclear weapons no enemy could attack us. We talked of building a minimum credible deterrence. But this minimum keeps going up because the enemy, in this case Pakistan, is building more and more.

First we were involved in a conventional arms race now we are also involved in a nuclear arms race with Pakistan.

However, the irony is that when Pakistan intruded in Kargil we could not use our nuclear weapons. Neither did it prevent Pakistan from entering our territory, i.e., it didn’t act as a deterrent as we were made to believe it would. In fact, famous Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy says that Pakistan could intrude because it knew that India would not engage in a full fledged war because of danger of nuclear weapons being used it. Hence the Indian nuclear weapon had an opposite effect. Instead of subduing Pakistan it emboldened it to carry out an intrusion. And when Kargil war broke out we had to go around the world to shop for the same conventional weapons that are normally used in wars. This proved that the impression created by the government the nuclear weapons would provide us security was a false one.

The Kargil war established one more fact. That nuclear weapon is not a weapon of war. It is a weapon of total destruction. And in a war in which both sides possessed it, it was a weapon of mutual destruction. Such a war has fortunately not taken place so far on earth.

Now Pakistan has employed the strategy of killing our soldiers in ones and twos, like the recent beheading of two soldiers. Sarabjit’s killing in jail is also a part of this strategy. It knows that again because of abovementioned logic we’ll not be able to respond aggressively. It is taking advantage of the presence of nuclear weapons which it knows we would not like to use to avoid retaliation. In any war between India and Pakistan, India knows that most likely Pakistan will be in a more desperate situation to use the nuclear weapon first as India has a stronger army and more conventional weapons. It’ll cause unacceptable damage to India. In such a situation the most India would be able to do is to cause unacceptable damage to Pakistan. It is ironical but actually Indian by testing nuclear weapons has lost the conventional military superiority over Pakistan. The Nuclear weapons testing by both countries has acted as an equalizer and Pakistan is in a neck-to-neck race with Indian in terms of nuclear weapons, both possessing about a hundred each presently.

In an estimate by some arms-control scientists in 2001 it has been predicted that between 1.5 to 5 lakhs people will get killed in each of the ten major cities of India and Pakistan, namely Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Delhi, Faislabad, Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Islamabad if a Hiroshima type bomb were to be dropped. Many more would get injured. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had said that in a nuclear war ‘the living would envy the dead.’ In reality the casualities would be much higher as cities have become more densely populated with high rise building and probably the size of bombs are much larger than what was used in 1945 over Hiroshima.

So, Pakistan had gained a certain advantage because of the nuclear weapons. It can continue to provoke India by organizing terrorist attacks like it did in Mumbai, beheading of soldiers, killing prisoners like Sarabjit without inviting any major retaliation from India. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are acting as a shield for them. It knows fully well that India will never engage in an all out nuclear war with it.

And now China has also adopted the same tactics. It intruded into the Indian side and made us feel helpless. For the time being the crisis has been averted but we should realize that because of the same logic as given above India now will never be able to engage in a full fledged war with China. China, incidently is much superior in terms of conventional as well as nuclear armaments than us.

It is time to reflect what have we achieved with our nuclear weapons. The security environment in South Asia has worsened. We are not safe from external or internal terrorist attacks.

15 years of pokharan



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