Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  How Pokhran compromised our security

On 24 July 1965, Gen. Ayub Khan and his ambitious foreign minister Z.A. Bhutto pushed their soldiers over the Line of Control into Kashmir to create trouble. India found out and on 6 September, Lal Bahadur Shastri sent the Army’s I Corps, XI Corps and XV Corps across the international border towards Lahore, ending the war.

On 3 December 1971, Gen. Yahya Khan scrambled his F-86 Sabre, F-6, Mirage III and F-104 fighter-bombers and attacked north India.

In response Indira Gandhi ordered Indian Army’s II Corps, IV Corps and XXXIII Corps into East Pakistan. They captured 90,000 Pakistanis and ended the war.

In April 1999, Gen. Pervez Musharraf sent his mountain division, the Northern Light Infantry, to occupy Indian bunkers in Dras and Kargil. But Atal Bihari Vajpayee could not counter-attack. Instead he asked the Army to retake the peaks one by one, and at great cost. The Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, 17 Garhwal Rifles, I Bihar, 1/11 Gorkha Rifles and 70 Infantry Brigade are some of the units named by then army chief V.P. Malik in his book as heroes.

Earlier this month, Indian shelling killed a Pakistani soldier. A team of Pakistani raiders then killed two Indian soldiers, beheading one. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not counter-attack, though a couple of days later Indian artillery killed another Pakistani, settling the score.

What has happened that India cannot punish Pakistan any longer for its insolence as it could?

Something has neutralized India’s Army, and its superiority in numbers and equipment over Pakistan. This something is the weaponization of South Asia’s nuclear programmes.

Before Vajpayee’s 1998 gambit in Pokhran, both India and Pakistan had nuclear capacity, but not weapons.

Before Pokhran, Pakistan hadn’t weaponized its programme for fear of more international sanctions.

After Pokhran, its generals knew India also faced sanctions and so they went ahead, overruling prime minister Nawaz Sharif who pleaded his economy’s case.

Writer Khaled Ahmed says Pakistan has since lowered the threshold for nuclear war, challenging India with terror and making South Asia unstable. Deterrence rules don’t apply.

Deterrence on both sides should have made South Asia stable. But Pokhran has worked against us. Pakistan is willing to do mischief, confident that India can no longer escalate as it could before 1998.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not think the consequences through before acting in Pokhran. We’ve been paying for this since because we surrendered our conventional advantage.

After the Parliament attack in 2001 Vajpayee ordered the Army to the Rajasthan-Punjab border but held it there. He couldn’t send it across and by now he had realized why.

I would say Pokhran has permanently compromised India’s security. We cannot retaliate even when Pakistan accepts guilt, like in Mumbai.

Vajpayee gifted Pakistan’s generals the shield behind which to continue their mischief.

It is a shield India cannot penetrate unless it wants to gamble on nuclear war. Today President Asif Ali Zardari’s no-first use promise has been vetoed by his army and Pakistan’s generals retain their nuclear weapons as an offensive option against India. This means they will use it if they feel threatened in any manner, and not just by our nuclear weapons.

The expert consensus is that Pakistan now has more nuclear warheads than India does and a more active nuclear weapons programme than India’s.

Meanwhile Pakistan’s economy is absolutely knocked out, but you wouldn’t know this from Pakistan’s actions. It doesn’t strike the observer as being a rational state.

Pakistan’s is an army of peasant castes—I have written about this before—and seemingly cares for its honour more than it does for its family. Beheading enemy soldiers excites it. Nuclear deterrence works when both sides are motivated by self-interest. When one side thinks of an honourable apocalypse, there is something wrong in helping it get to that stage.

I don’t think the BJP considered this.

Vajpayee’s action has not given us a single benefit, only trouble.

India’s only negative foreign investment year in two decades between 1992 and 2012 was after Pokhran. Who is responsible for the Indians who remained in poverty because of this? I would say Vajpayee.

It is remarkable given their record that the BJP should act as champions of national security.

It is the BJP that set free the man who then formed Jaish-e-Mohammed, Masood Azhar. The lunatic who beheaded Daniel Pearl, Omar Saeed Sheikh, was also freed by the BJP.

This serial incompetence or disinterest in India’s security is repeated in Gujarat. Narendra Modi had no idea that his hand-picked counterterrorism chief D.G. Vanjhara was not protecting the state but hurting it. He is today in jail, charged with murder and extortion.

The facts reveal that the BJP cannot be trusted on national security or terrorism.

The price of its unthinking actions is being paid by our jawans and citizens.

Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist.

Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns

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