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#750, 21 May 2002
 
Is Musharraf’s Nuclear Threat to India Real?
Wg.Cdr. NK Pant (Retd.)
 

In a recent interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel General Pervez Musharraf issued a chilling warning to New Delhi that he was prepared to use nuclear weapons in the event of war. This runs counter to the Indian policy of ‘no first-use’ and the government’s belief that its nuclear deterrent is capable of preventing an exchange of atomic weaponry in the sub-continent. Islamabad has matched this irresponsible statement with setting up a strategic command structure under a Lieutenant General to oversee the deployment and use of nuclear weapons against India at a time when the armed forces of the two nations are facing each other on full alert.

 

 

New Delhi , which has yet to establish a nuclear command and control organization, dismissed this statement saying it would act responsibly, and that its nuclear deterrent is credible enough to deter Pakistan from taking recourse to any nuclear adventurism. But it must be kept in mind that Pakistan ’s nuclear weaponry is under the control of military hawks unlike India where the nuclear programme is under strict civilian control. A close coterie of generals has its finger on the nuclear button, which can lead to consequences with India having to absorb a first strike in view of its ‘no first-use’ policy.

 

 

Why should Musharraf flash the nuclear sword to threaten New Delhi in such a brash manner? Is it because India-bashing is the only way by which the General’s Mohajir image can be transformed into that of a true Pakistani to move him up the popularity graph among his people?

 

 

Former Scientific Advisor to the Indian Prime Minister, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, tried to make light of Musharraf’s threat to launch a nuclear attack. Kalam believed that India was confident it could reply with four times more nukes if they were ever used against India by its hostile neighbour. Despite such confidence, General Musharraf’s nuclear threat against India needs to be taken seriously. 

 

 

The hatred against India in Pakistan ’s radical Islamic elements holds considerable sway in the army. Fears had cropped up in intelligence circles about the security of Islamabad ’s nuclear weapons’ storage sites. Experts feel that Musharraf’s writ does not extend to the entire state apparatus. For instance, the military does not enjoy enough freedom to shift nuclear weapon storage sites due to fundamentalist opposition. These extremists are patronized by the ISI, often termed a state within the state, and were in possession of this highly classified information. 

 

 

Under these circumstances, the prospect of Pakistan launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike against India , regardless of the grim retaliatory consequences is quite real. Much before Islamabad carried out its nuclear tests in 1998, its Army had integrated the weaponised atom into its war games during General Aslam Beg’s tenure as army chief. Its bomb can be delivered on the intended target by Chinese supplied M-11 missiles or F-16 fighter bombers, for which the US has recently resumed the supply of spare parts. 

 

 

This is not the first time that Pakistan has threatened India with a nuclear strike; it will therefore be prudent to reconsider our ‘no first-use’ policy, especially against Pakistan in view of its aggressive inimical posture. A fool-proof mechanism for instant retaliation must also be kept ready to retaliate against nuclear first strike.

 

 

Sadly, India has not initiated even rudimentary passive defensive measures despite the nuclear menace from the west and north having existed for several years. It should have dispersed its decision-making structures across the country, instead of concentrating them in New Delhi . Besides, the nation should have prepared a second line of leadership to ensure prompt retaliation in the aftermath of a nuclear strike. In this context, it will be worthwhile emulating the US example. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington , no one except President George Bush and his top aides knew Vice President, Dick Cheney’s whereabouts. He remained at an unknown bomb proof underground location equipped with latest communication facilities to act as a standby White House.

 

 

 

In a recent interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel General Pervez Musharraf issued a chilling warning to New Delhi that he was prepared to use nuclear weapons in the event of war. This runs counter to the Indian policy of ‘no first-use’ and the government’s belief that its nuclear deterrent is capable of preventing an exchange of atomic weaponry in the sub-continent. Islamabad has matched this irresponsible statement with setting up a strategic command structure under a Lieutenant General to oversee the deployment and use of nuclear weapons against India at a time when the armed forces of the two nations are facing each other on full alert.

 

 

New Delhi , which has yet to establish a nuclear command and control organization, dismissed this statement saying it would act responsibly, and that its nuclear deterrent is credible enough to deter Pakistan from taking recourse to any nuclear adventurism. But it must be kept in mind that Pakistan ’s nuclear weaponry is under the control of military hawks unlike India where the nuclear programme is under strict civilian control. A close coterie of generals has its finger on the nuclear button, which can lead to consequences with India having to absorb a first strike in view of its ‘no first-use’ policy.

 

 

Why should Musharraf flash the nuclear sword to threaten New Delhi in such a brash manner? Is it because India-bashing is the only way by which the General’s Mohajir image can be transformed into that of a true Pakistani to move him up the popularity graph among his people?

 

 

Former Scientific Advisor to the Indian Prime Minister, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, tried to make light of Musharraf’s threat to launch a nuclear attack. Kalam believed that India was confident it could reply with four times more nukes if they were ever used against India by its hostile neighbour. Despite such confidence, General Musharraf’s nuclear threat against India needs to be taken seriously. 

 

 

The hatred against India in Pakistan ’s radical Islamic elements holds considerable sway in the army. Fears had cropped up in intelligence circles about the security of Islamabad ’s nuclear weapons’ storage sites. Experts feel that Musharraf’s writ does not extend to the entire state apparatus. For instance, the military does not enjoy enough freedom to shift nuclear weapon storage sites due to fundamentalist opposition. These extremists are patronized by the ISI, often termed a state within the state, and were in possession of this highly classified information. 

 

 

Under these circumstances, the prospect of Pakistan launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike against India , regardless of the grim retaliatory consequences is quite real. Much before Islamabad carried out its nuclear tests in 1998, its Army had integrated the weaponised atom into its war games during General Aslam Beg’s tenure as army chief. Its bomb can be delivered on the intended target by Chinese supplied M-11 missiles or F-16 fighter bombers, for which the US has recently resumed the supply of spare parts. 

 

 

This is not the first time that Pakistan has threatened India with a nuclear strike; it will therefore be prudent to reconsider our ‘no first-use’ policy, especially against Pakistan in view of its aggressive inimical posture. A fool-proof mechanism for instant retaliation must also be kept ready to retaliate against nuclear first strike.

 

 

Sadly, India has not initiated even rudimentary passive defensive measures despite the nuclear menace from the west and north having existed for several years. It should have dispersed its decision-making structures across the country, instead of concentrating them in New Delhi . Besides, the nation should have prepared a second line of leadership to ensure prompt retaliation in the aftermath of a nuclear strike. In this context, it will be worthwhile emulating the US example. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington , no one except President George Bush and his top aides knew Vice President, Dick Cheney’s whereabouts. He remained at an unknown bomb proof underground location equipped with latest communication facilities to act as a standby White House.

 

 

 

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