Tensions between India and Pakistan are heating up. Because of the forthcoming general elections, India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been engaging in rather aggressive rhetoric.
On April 21st, Modi alluded to the fact that India’s nuclear weapons are not intended for a fireworks show, insinuating his country might, at some point, use its nukes. Just a few days before, he had warned Pakistan that India owned the “mother of nuclear bombs.”
Despite Pakistan’s apparent efforts to present itself as the more rational party, by describing nuclear power as an instrument for stability rather than an impelling threat, its leaders have embittered their rhetoric, too. On April 29th, Major General Asif Ghafoor, Pakistan’s Director-General of Inter-Services Public Relations, warned New Delhi “not to test [Pakistan’s] resolve.”
But how did we reach this point again?
The latest event that shook India’s order was a terrorist attack perpetrated by Pakistani terrorists belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed group which, in February, killed forty Indian military officers in the Pulwama region. India responded with a series of airstrikes in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
In the last three decades, Pakistan has taken advantage of terrorist organizations residing in its territory to attack India, without taking responsibility for the assaults. Asif Ghafoor denied, for instance, any involvement of the Pakistani government with the latest Pulwama attacks. What’s more, because of the widespread support for the Kashmiri independence movement, Pakistan hasn’t even had to invest significant resources in its fight against India.
Even though its delivery systems are not particularly advanced, Pakistan’s nuclear forces are stronger than India’s. The same cannot be said about conventional forces. However, because of India’s nuclear inferiority, New Delhi cannot risk crossing a line that could lead Pakistan to deploy its nuclear weapons. India then finds itself in an uncomfortable position, stuck between the urge to respond to the terrorist attacks, and the risk of overstepping a fatal boundary.
Some suggest a possible solution to the problem might be India’s achievement of nuclear superiority. If India’s nuclear forces were significantly stronger than Pakistan’s, New Delhi could perhaps attempt to intervene against the Pakistani terrorist groups without fearing a nuclear repercussion.
Such argument is however fundamentally contradictory with the principles of the NPT, which the US and the vast majority of the international community supports. It is in fact in everyone’s best interest not to have either India or Pakistan build more nuclear arms. The international community should commit to engage with both countries diplomatically, and disregard any strategy that would inevitably lead to nuclear proliferation.
India has, in the past, provided some sort of reassurances to the international community. In 2005, for instance, New Delhi signed a 123 Agreement with the US to prove its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. India has also declared to adhere to a no first use policy, as well as a doctrine of minimum credible deterrent. Pakistan, on the other hand, has never proclaimed a clear nuclear doctrine and, while it has declared its nuclear forces are solely intended for deterrence purposes, it also does not maintain a no first use doctrine.
Pakistan’s deterrence capabilities have recently been increased through the introduction of Nasr, a short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile system, mostly aimed at countering India’s “Cold Start” strategy, a method for fighting under the nuclear threshold based on the rapid mobilization of military groups into Pakistani territory. On its part, though, India is equipped with a strong nuclear triad, which Pakistan doesn’t have.
Both countries have the potential to destroy the other. The constant threats spouted by both parties need to stop. Just like they need to stop talking about nuclear weapons as if they’re just another tool of state power. Despite what might be India’s assumptions, the actual deployment of nuclear weapons in the region wouldn’t just make Pakistan “weep” – it would lead to both countries’ annihilation.
Perhaps, the international community could take a more active position in the feud, besides merely calling for calm, peace and dialogue. The US, which has typically assisted in easing the tensions between the two countries, lately doesn’t seem to want to get involved. External assistance might, however, prove to be of vital importance, in a conflict which has been dragging itself for years and whose conclusion threatens to actualize the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction.