Who is our atom bomb aimed at? We have only two enemies: China and Pakistan. Our bomb is aimed at them. India’s nuclear doctrine specifies no first use. This means we will not use the bomb unless our enemy first uses it on us. This reveals two things: 1) We have no offensive intention; 2) But we are concerned that China and Pakistan might.
How valid is that concern? Let us look at what these states want from us.
We were defeated by China in a short border war fought in 1962. China is stronger than us, and it controls the land that it wanted before the war. It withdrew from the parts it did not want. The position is to China’s advantage, and it does not need anything from India except for us to formally convert the Line of Actual Control into the border.
Though India’s leaders have known this for 25 years, no government can agree to this. This is because it is difficult to sell Indians a new map of India with bits of Bharat Mata’s anatomy lopped off. The textbook narrative of the war against China is irrational and emotional in India. However, India’s governments have been mature and pragmatic on this matter. Their view has been to accept the defeat and to move on. Conflict is always avoided when the stronger side (China) enforces the status quo, and the weaker side (India) does not attempt to change it.
Monster: The nuclear warhead-capable Agni-II missile has a range of 2,500km. HC Tiwari/Hindustan Times
China’s nuclear doctrine also specifies no first use, and no use against non-nuclear powers. Our atom bomb is useless against China.
What about Pakistan? Pakistanis believe we are in illegitimate possession of Muslim land (Kashmir). India is the stronger power and favours the status quo. The Kashmir solution India wants is to convert the Line of Control into the border. However, despite being militarily defeated by us, and losing half their country, Pakistan’s leaders have not accepted the status quo. This is because Pakistanis will not let them lose focus on Kashmir. Pakistan’s craving to defeat India keeps its army dominant even in periods of democracy. Pakistan is unstable because it keeps trying to compel the stronger power, though it has no capacity to do so. We cannot force it to change this behaviour, because we can no longer defeat Pakistan militarily as we could in 1971. But we must be aware of it.
Also Read Aakar Patel’s earlier columns
Pakistan has only one enemy, and its atom bomb is aimed at us. Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine warns that it could strike India first. This is because it recognizes that the conventional force of India is superior. Therefore Pakistan will use the atom bomb against India if it feels threatened. This has created an umbrella under which it can do mischief, because India is wary of the consequences of war.
India was unable to punish Pakistan after Hafiz Saeed’s boys killed 173 in the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Why? Because the Indian government knows that all military action carries the seed of a potential nuclear exchange.
We have put ourselves in this position. Here’s how. China tested in 1964, and became the fifth power to legally possess atom bombs. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968, but Indira Gandhi kept India out of it and went rogue, testing a bomb in 1974, hypocritically calling it a “peaceful nuclear explosion”. Pakistan, which had just been cut in half by India, was compelled to follow under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Pakistan’s programme became capable at some point during the Afghan war in the 1980s, as America looked away. Under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India admitted that the “peaceful” bit was really a lie, and we weaponized our programme in 1998. Again, Nawaz Sharif was compelled to follow, at great loss to the economy, as capital fled Pakistan.
Two nuclear states should quickly reach a state of non-conflict because of the danger to their populations. But India and Pakistan are special. Months after weaponizing its programme, Pakistan confidently launched war in Kargil. The world was scared, but we went at each other as if nothing had changed.
When George Fernandes was defence minister, he was asked whether Vajpayee’s adventure at Pokhran might not result in atomic exchange with Pakistan. Fernandes accepted that Pakistan might take a couple of Indian cities out, but he was confident that after that they “would be destroyed. Completely destroyed”. Many Indians think nuclear war is like a football game: Pakistan scores two, we hit four, and we “win”. Many Pakistanis also think in this fatalistic way, and they are generals serving in the army.
Introducing atom bombs to the subcontinent has made India weaker, and Pakistan unhinged.
India’s focus after its stupidity at Pokhran has been on the economy. Our concern is how to get back to 9% growth and remain there for 20 years. But Pakistan’s economy is in a death spiral. Its GDP grew 2% last year (its population grew 2.14%). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says India can only prosper if Pakistan is stable. We can wish it, but what can we do to make it happen?
We should de-weaponize the subcontinent. We should give up our atom bomb, and open up all our nuclear sites to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection. We should induce Pakistan to do the same, by signing a no-war pact with them. This means we will need to swallow our hurt every time attacks like the one on Parliament and in Mumbai happen. And they will happen because Lashkar-e-Taiba is more powerful than President Asif Ali Zardari’s government. But we can do little about them even now, other than to be vigilant and attempt prevention.
The threat to India is not from such attacks, but from the possibility that an unhinged Pakistan damages us through a nuclear exchange. We should absolutely and totally eliminate that possibility. Under our deal with the US, we have to open up 14 of 22 nuclear plants to the IAEA anyway. We should complete this, and end our military nuclear programme, which is not only useless, as we have seen, but actually damaging. This will also make our nuclear sites, which haven’t been properly inspected in 35 years, safer. Indians have no culture of safety (the slab of Kaiga’s reactor dome fell during construction) and India has the worst rail and road safety record on the planet. There’s no reason to believe that the government runs our nuclear programme any more efficiently than it does the railways. Additional benefits will come from this move. Pakistan’s proliferation will end, and it might be able to refocus on its economy.
India will also save the money we are spending on atom bombs and delivery devices such as fancy missiles and fighter planes. Strategic experts say we can have the bomb without sacrificing benefits, but this isn’t true. The reason hundreds of millions of Indian children will sleep hungry and die illiterate is that the state has no money. But India and Pakistan nurture their nuclear weapons of vanity. Beggars flashing trinkets.
Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.
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