By Pervez Hoodbhoy
A nuclear war is said to have no winners, but Indian Prime Minister
Atal Bihari Vajpayee seems to think otherwise. His exhortations
to Indian troops in Kashmir to prepare for sacrifices and "decisive
victory" have set off widespread alarm. It seems plausible
that India is preparing for a "limited war" to flush out
Islamic militant camps in Pakistan administered Kashmir. But with
swift reaction andcounter-reaction, it is far from clear whether
the combatcan remain confined. Meanwhile, as cross-border artilleryshelling
intensifies, five Indian naval vessels are rapidlymoving towards
the Arabian Sea. On Thursday, Pakistan's stock market suspended
trading for the day and, as fighteraircraft circle the skies over
Islamabad, foreign diplomatsstart their exodus from the capital.
Events shall take their course in the days and weeks ahead, but
there is much to reflect upon as we cross the fourth anniversary
of the Pokhran and Chaghai nuclear tests. With free debate on
sensitive issues largely proscribed in both countries - particularly
on national television - the only voices to be heard are those
of militarists and establishment strategic analysts. Not surprisingly,
nuclear affairs are now being guided by wishful, delusional, thinking.
The most frightening delusion is India's trivialization of Pakistan's
nuclear capability. This relatively new phenomenon has gained
astonishingly wide currency in Indian ruling circles. Although
Pakistan's nuclear tests had dispelled earlier scepticism, senior
Indian military and political leaders continue to express doubts
on the operational capability and usability of the Pakistani arsenal.
Still more seriously, many Indians believe that, as a client state
of the US, Pakistan's nuclear weapons are under the control of
the US. The assumption is that, in case of extreme crisis, the
US would either restrain their use by Pakistan or, if need be,
destroy them. At a recent meeting, I heard senior Indian analysts
say that they are "bored" by Pakistan's nuclear threats
and no longer believe them. Should one laugh or cry?
Wishes are being confused here with facts, and expediency with
truth. Four years ago, to their chagrin, Indian militarists realized
that they had shot themselves in the foot by forcing Pakistan's
nuclear weapons out of the closet. This had been subsequently
rationalized by claiming that a stable peace based upon a "balance
of mutual terror" was now imminent. But after the upsurge
of Kashmir militancy, denying the potency of Pakistan's nuclear
weapons has become more convenient because it clears the road
to a limited war.
One notes another massive change in the attitude of Indian militarists.
For years they had insisted that all matters, including nuclear
issues, be settled only bilaterally. Suggestions that nuclear
weapons in the possession of India and Pakistan were more dangerous
than those possessed by the West, Russia, and China had been angrily
rejected. How dare anyone suggest that India and Pakistan are
in any way less responsible, reasonable, and rational?
Bilateralism has now bit the dust. Having cut off direct communications
with each other, both adversaries have thrust disaster prevention
into the hands of diplomats and third-tier leaders of western
countries. A continuous stream of officials from America and Britain
has passed, or is due to pass, through Islamabad and Delhi. These
include Christina Rocca, Chris Patten, Jack Straw, and Richard
Armitage The subcontinent's fate now hangs in their hands.
Pakistani nuclear misperceptions and miscalculations have been
no less severe than India's.
Pushed into the nuclear arena first by India's tests in 1974,
and then again in 1998, Pakistan soon became addicted to nuclear
weapons. Countering India's nukes became secondary. Instead, Pakistani
nukes became tools for achieving foreign policy objectives. They
created euphoric hyper-confidence and a spirit of machoism that
led to breath-taking adventurism in Kashmir. The subsequent Kargil
war of 1999 will be recorded by historians as the first actually
caused by nuclear weapons. Believing that a nuclear shield made
Indian retaliation impossible, Pakistan coyly disclaimed any connection
with the attackers who were extracting heavy Indian casualties
from their high mountain posts in Kargil.
These illusions were soon to be dispelled. As India counter-attacked,
a deeply worried Nawaz Sharif flew to Washington on 4 July 1999,
where he was bluntly told to withdraw Pakistani forces or be prepared
for full-scale war with India. In an article published last month,
Bruce Reidel, Special Assistant to President Clinton, writes that
he was present in person when Clinton informed Nawaz Sharif that
the Pakistan Army had mobilized its nuclear-tipped missile fleet.
Unnerved by this revelation and the closeness to disaster, Nawaz
Sharif agreed to immediate withdrawal, shedding all earlier pretensions
that Pakistan had no control over the attackers.
Other pretensions continued. Today, in spite of General Musharraf's
soothing statements, there is little doubt that militant camps
shelter under Pakistan's nuclear umbrella. Having operated openly
for over a decade in full public view, and with obvious state
backing, only magic - or massive military action - can eliminate
them. Whatever Pakistanis might choose to think, the rest of the
world remains incredulous of the continuing official Pakistani
position that it provides "only diplomatic and moral support"
to the people of Kashmir. Earlier denials of military involvement
in Kargil, or of providing military support to the Taliban regime,
have hugely diminished Pakistan's international credibility.
It is now a matter of survival for Pakistan to visibly demonstrate
that it has severed all links with the militant groups it had
formerly supported, to be firm about providing "only diplomatic
and moral support", and to implement what General Musharraf
promised in his Jan 12 speech. To run with the hares and hunt
with the hounds - and imagine that the world will not know - has
become impossible. War is around the corner.
Difficult though this course of action is, it is also essential
if the people of Kashmir are to be spared from the brutal rapaciousness
of Indian occupying forces. Although our generals have yet to
swallow this bitter pill, the fact is that Kashmir cannot be liberated
by force. The "bleed India" policy, an apparently cheap
option for Pakistan, was vociferously advocated for over a decade.
This has totally collapsed - Pakistan has bled no less than India.
Even more important than the fate of a few million Kashmiris
is that of India's huge Muslim minority, which equals or exceeds
the population of Pakistan. Without Pakistan's decisive action
on cross-border insurgency, the Muslims of India will become the
target of state-sponsored pogroms and ethnic cleansing. The massacres
of Gujarat provide a chilling preview of what may lie ahead at
the hands of a fundamentalist Hindu government.
Terrible dangers lie ahead. Lacking any desire for political
settlement or accommodation, or even a strategy for achieving
victory, jihadists in Kashmir now operate as a third force independent
of the Pakistani state. Their goal is to provoke full-scale war
between India and Pakistan, destabilize Musharraf, and settle
scores with America. Hence the possibility that they will soon
commit some huge atrocity - such as a mass murder of Indian civilians
- which would turn India into a mad bull dashing blindly into
a nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Many observers have noted that the Srinagar, Delhi, and Jammu
attacks on Indian civilians coincided with the visits of high
officials from Western countries. Could the forthcoming visit
by Richard Armitage provide a trigger for the next atrocity and
a nuclear war?
Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University,