There is going to be no nuclear war between India and Pakistan after all! At the Asia conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan in early June, the leaders and spokesmen of both India and Pakistan
declared that nuclear war was unthinkable. The Indian Defense Ministry stated "India does not believe in the use of nuclear weapons. Neither does it visualize that it will be used by any
other country." Speaking on Russia's state-run RTR television, Pakistani president Musharraf said: "Let me assure the whole world that our nuclear assets are in extremely safe hands and
there is no vulnerability of these at all."
Was there really any doubt that Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and Pakistani President Musharraf would never escalate the Indo-Pakistani crisis into a nuclear war? Such doomsday forecasts by
the US government were always based on a shallow understanding of the nature of the Indo-Pakistani and Hindu-Muslim relationships. On the other hand, warnings by the US that India and Pakistan
were on the brink of nuclear war, and the drastic step of pulling all Americans out of the region, was compounding the dangers of nuclear war. Notice that no such panic prevailed in India and
Dire predictions can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Indeed, the frequency of such American government and media claims was beginning to sound like wishful thinking. Too much Western
professional credibility was put on the line if this doomsday prediction did not occur. Thus, if nuclear war did take place, the American government and media will say: "We told you so." If
it did not, they would take credit for having averted it. But adolescent and immature nations cannot be trusted with such destructive weapons. In the new Anglo-American dominant world, this
reflects a return to Britain's "White Man's Burden" and America's "Manifest Destiny"
While the Indian government and its supporters disagreed with such dire predictions, Pakistan and its allied Kashmiri separatists supported this thesis of imminent nuclear war. Raising the
spectre of nuclear war by Kashmiri separatists is intended to bring about U.S. intervention while the world’s attention remains focused on South Asia. Meanwhile, there continues to be no basis
for a settlement on Kashmir. Pakistan will not give up its goal to make Indian-held Kashmir part of Pakistan. India insists on the territorial status quo.
American claims that a nuclear South Asia is the "most dangerous place on earth" is based on a scenario of escalation from insurgency and cross-border terrorism to conventional war
and to catastrophic nuclear war. Indian frustration with fighting an indefinite war against insurgents and terrorists operating from Pakistan and Afghanistan, may tempt New Delhi to escalate the
situation by conducting a conventional war against Pakistan to destroy the bases of the mujahideen across the border.
Following the terrorist attack on India’s Parliament in New Delhi on December 13, 2001 by the Lashkar-e-Tayeba, calls intensified among Indian politicians and the attentive public to
attack the terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. If the United States could use massive conventional force to eliminate terrorist bases in faraway Afghanistan from whence terrorist operations were
planned and conducted in the U.S., then why cannot India launch attacks on terrorist bases in Pakistan and further afield across the Hindu Kush.
India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons has not alleviated its difficulties in dealing with insurgency and cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. Nuclear weapons did not prevent a limited
conventional border war in Kashmir, as illustrated by the Indo-Pakistani war along the ceasefire line in the Kargil sector in mid 1999. India has no relative advantage in fighting a conventional
war that is confined to Kashmir. In the 1999 Kargil war, Indian forces suffered immense losses before
they eventually pushed back Pakistani forces that had seized the sector within the Indian line
However, because of the threat of Pakistani nuclear retaliation, India could not consider an all-out conventional war in 1999 that would have compelled Pakistan to defend the entire country
against India’s superior conventional forces, as it did in 1965 and 1971 when Pakistan attempted to seize Kashmir by force.
There are several reasons why Western predictions were always without much basis. Brown leaders and decision-makers are not less rational and responsible with their nuclear arsenals than their
White counterparts were during the Cold War. Recall that when China tested its first atomic bomb in 1964 there were fears that leaders of the Yellow race would be more willing to risk nuclear war
because even if China lost half its population, a viable country of 500 million people would survive still. China was then the most dangerous country in the world.
Arguments that Indians and Pakistanis do not understand the nature of nuclear weapons were equally false. The strategic communities in both countries understand the logic of nuclear weapons
very well. As regards the argument that the minds of peoples in both countries are deadened to the consequences of nuclear war, the same claim could have been made of the US and the USSR during
the Cold War. In 1986, the two superpowers possessed some 70,000 nuclear warheads (including tactical nuclear weapons). That was the equivalent of 1.5 million Hiroshima bombs, all of which were
ready to be launched in a massive strike and counterstrike. If this wasn’t sheer madness, what was?
There are several factors that mitigate an Indo-Pakistani nuclear war. The decision-makers in India and Pakistan have generally remained quite rational and responsible during crises. Past
Indo-Pakistani wars have been essentially "gentlemanly" wars. Cities and other civilian targets were never attacked; prisoners-of-war were treated humanely and returned after the
cessation of hostilities.
Second, the geographical proximity of the two countries and the inter-related nature of societies on either side in themselves constitute a deterrent. An attack by India on Pakistan may cause
radioactive fallout in India, and vice versa. Even if Pakistan were to attack distant targets in India with intermediate-range ballistic missiles, it would inflict death and destruction on
millions of Indian Muslims for whose protection Pakistan was created in 1947.