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Deterrence And Human Security
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, Feb 27, 2003
 

The BBC film called the Situation Room was shown in Lahore last week under the auspices of the Daily Times. In a chillingly realistic way it showed how the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan can spin out of control and the two countries can quickly get into a nuclear war situation.

Regardless of the film, if we examine the structure of the Pakistan-India situation it is clear that the people of the two countries are living in the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Moreover the situation is likely to bring us repeatedly to a point where the nuclear button could be pressed by one, then the other side. Consider the elements: (i) There is continuing tension between military forces along the ceasefire line due to the unresolved Kashmir dispute. (ii) A number of armed militant groups, are conducting what they see as a war of liberation in Kashmir. Pakistan's government claims that such groups are not under its control, while Pakistan continues to be accused by India of conducting "cross border terrorism". (iii) When a high profile terrorist attack occurs in India, Pakistan is held responsible and India threatens war. (This is illustrated by the events following the unfortunate terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, and the mobilisation of Indian forces in a war like deployment on the India-Pakistan border). (iv) Given the imbalance in terms of conventional military capability between the two countries, during an Indian invasion of Pakistani territory in case the territorial gains of Indian forces reach an unspecified critical level, Pakistan will use nuclear weapons to defend itself. The declared Indian nuclear doctrine involves in response an all out nuclear attack on Pakistan. As the Indian Defence Minister has recently clarified, such a nuclear retaliation will occur even if Pakistan drops a nuclear bomb on Indian forces in Pakistani territory.

These elements of the Pakistan-India problematique, could spark a military confrontation between the two states at any time. Moreover there is a grave danger that given the relative lack of geographic depth in the Pakistan case, a conventional war could very quickly reach the nuclear threshold. Therefore wars between Pakistan and India can now neither be localized nor conventional. That this prospect is terribly real was illustrated on at least three occasions: (i) First, India's Operation Brass tacks in 1986. This military exercise which was seen by Pakistan as a prelude to an Indian invasion, led to a threat of nuclear war by the then Pakistani Foreign Minister, Mr. Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, given explicitly to his old college mate Mr. I.K. Gujral, the Indian Foreign Minister during a meeting in Delhi. (ii) The second illustration is the Kargil conflict in 1999. It quickly escalated to a mobilization of military forces along the international border, and the danger of an all out war became so grave, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to rush to Washington to get President Clinton's support to avoid it. (iii) After the attack by armed militants on the Indian Parliament, India mobilized its military forces along the international border with Pakistan and tension rose to a point where Pakistan threatened "unconventional" military retaliation if war broke out.

Thus India and Pakistan continue to function in the context of confrontation and a tension that repeatedly reaches the nuclear threshold: Thereby increasing the probability of a nuclear holocaust in the Subcontinent. At the same time there is also a high probability of an accidental nuclear war. This arises out of three factors: (i) The close proximity of India and Pakistan which makes the flying time of missiles less than five minutes. (ii) Imperfect technologies and information systems about each other's intentions increases the risk of misinterpreting radar and electronic data about each other's activities. Even in the case of the Soviet Union and U.S. during the cold war there were scores of false alarms when the U.S. nuclear establishment incorrectly estimated that Soviet missiles had been launched against the U.S. (On one occasion a flight of geese across the Pacific sparked a nuclear alert). On these occasions timely corrective measures were taken to avoid an accidental war because the minimum flying time of missiles between the Soviet Union and USA was about twenty-five minutes. The luxury of time does not exist in the India Pakistan context, and the command and control systems available to the U.S. cannot be expected to be matched by the relatively cash strapped Sub-continental neighbours. (iii) The continued tension between India and Pakistan because of the Kashmir dispute increases the propensity for miscalculation or misinterpretation of electronic data, thereby further increasing the risk of accidental nuclear war.

Under these circumstances the facts of geography, limitations in technology, and orientations in politics and psyche create a unique configuration for a nuclear catastrophe. Therefore nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan do not constitute "deterrence". They are there to be used. Thus both states by possessing them may have undermined their security. This is simply because in a situation configured for war between two states, the greater the destructive power of weapons that both can unleash, the greater the destruction of both states.

While the possession of nuclear weapons as a means of achieving state security in India and Pakistan is questionable, it is certain that the insecurity of citizens has been considerably enhanced. Citizens in South Asia today face an unacceptably high risk of death in a nuclear war unleashed either by accident or by design. Even if there is no nuclear war the resource cost of maintaining a dubious balance in nuclear capability will accentuate hunger, disease and the deprivation of basic services to the people. It will accentuate social polarization and internal conflict.

In what way for example did the possession of nuclear weapons by India increase the security of its Muslim citizens who were raped and murdered in the Gujerat pogrom? In what way did the possession of nuclear weapons by Pakistan provide security to the scores of its Christian citizens who were murdered in their churches, or the hundreds of Muslims machine gunned in their mosques? How can the possession of nuclear weapons provide security to the hundreds of millions of citizens in India and Pakistan who face hunger and disease; and the millions of children who get stunted in body and mind due to mal nutrition and illiteracy?

When Mr. Fernandes, the Indian Defence Minister announces that India can survive a nuclear war but Pakistan cannot, he forgets that we are all in the same boat. The majesty of the mountains in the north, the rivers that are coursing through our fertile valleys and the oceans that are lapping at our shores, constitute an integrated and fragile ecology that is our common heritage. It will perish together with its inhabitants in a nuclear war. Mr. Fernandes and the Sub-continental ruling elite may survive in nuclear shelters but when they emerge on the morning after, they will never again see the radiance of a smiling child, nor hear the birds sing, nor see a dew drenched leaf glowing in the sun.

It is time now to think of the security of citizens in South Asia through peace, disarmament and development. It is time for the leaders of India and Pakistan to realize that nuclear weapons will not provide deterrence. Nor help improve the relative position of either protagonist. On the contrary, nuclear weapons and continued confrontation in the Sub-continental context, will hasten the complete destruction of their states, societies and environment.

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