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Pakistan India mutual nuclear death wish - Praful Bidwai

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    The News International (Pakistan) February 07, 2002 Our mutual nuclear death wish Praful Bidwai The writer is one of India s most widely published columnists.
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 6, 2002
      The News International (Pakistan)
      February 07, 2002

      Our mutual nuclear death wish

      Praful Bidwai

      The writer is one of India's most widely published columnists.
      Formerly a Senior Fellow of the Nehru

      Memorial Museum and Library, he is a winner of the Sean MacBride
      Prize for 2000 of the International Peace Bureau

      Have India and Pakistan moved somewhat closer to fulfilling their
      mutual nuclear death wish, which they so stridently expressed through
      the May 1998 blasts? Four developments, all within the past
      fortnight, suggest they might have done so -- even as one million of
      their soldiers confront each other at the border.

      The first, and most significant, event was the January 25 test-flight
      of India's new, improved short-range (700 km) Agni ballistic missile.
      The second was New Delhi's summary rejection, that same day, of
      General Pervez Musharraf's offer to work for de-nuclearising South

      The third was the reported authorisation granted by the Vajpayee
      Cabinet to the Indian armed forces to use the shorter-range (150-250
      km) Prithvi missile in the battlefield -- bang in the middle of the
      present crisis. Finally, India is proceeding to acquire at least two
      nuclear-powered submarines and two long-range nuclear-capable bombers
      for its navy from Russia.

      Each of these moves, and the likely tit-for-tat response from
      Pakistan, will narrow the gap that has so far existed between the
      manufacture of nuclear weapons, on the one hand, and their induction
      into the armed forces, and deployment, on the other. Once nuclear
      weapons are deployed, it will become that much more difficult to move
      towards nuclear arms reduction and elimination.

      In the short run too, India's moves will prove reckless, provocative
      and adventurist.

      The latest missile, christened Agni-I, belongs to a new genre. Unlike
      its predecessor, Agni-II (range, 1,500-2,500 km), or the Agni-III
      missile "under development" (range, 3,000 km-plus), the new weapon is
      both road- and rail-mobile. It is much lighter, and it is claimed,
      more accurate. Unlike its past avatars, the new version has a
      specific target: Pakistan.

      In the 1990s, India's Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme
      concentrated on extending the range of the "technology demonstrator"
      missile tested first in 1989 (range, 1200 km). Then, operational
      deployability and accuracy were no high priority. India was/is aiming
      to reach Mainland China, particularly its industrialised southern

      The new Agni is Pakistan-specific. It uses an all-solid fuel. This
      offers a major advantage over the liquid fuel used in the second
      stage of the Agni-II, which is corrosive and requires a prolonged
      filling process.

      Agni-II too can be used against targets in Pakistan, including
      installations at distances such as 400 to 700 km. But that missile
      has two stages. It discards its booster stage in mid-flight once the
      solid fuel is exhausted. This means either dropping the booster on
      Indian soil (with damaging consequences), or taking a much longer
      path over the Arabian Sea, and then homing in on Pakistani targets --
      an expensive and unreliable proposition.

      The new single-stage Agni-I covers 700 km in 10 minutes.

      India will have to conduct many more flight-tests before Agni-I is
      ready for production. No Indian missile has been through more than
      four tests -- in comparison with the 10 or more that missiles
      developed in the West or Russia are usually put through.

      Quite clearly, then, India's strategic planners are thinking in
      specific operational terms, not in terms of demonstrating a certain
      technological capability or making a long-term threat. Once missiles
      enter the operational spectrum of strategic calculations, their
      deployment can be upgraded to full alert.

      Musharraf's offer to de-nuclearise South Asia and sign a no-war pact
      with India came two days before the Agni test-flight. New Delhi
      rebuffed what it saw as his peace-and-reconciliation "offensive",
      which has unfolded especially after January 12.

      India summarily rejected both proposals with characteristic
      sanctimoniousness. It reiterated its stand that "nuclear weapons
      should be banished from the entire globe. De-nuclearisation of India
      and Pakistan will have no meaning." It also said there is "nothing
      new" in Musharraf's no-war proposal.

      This is the second time Musharraf has offered to rid South Asia of
      nuclear weapons. The first was his September 2000 address to the UN
      General Assembly, proposing a nuclear weapons-free zone in South Asia.

      As in the 1970s or 1990s, India is taking the pro-active first steps
      in further nuclearising this region. Within this pattern, Pakistan
      reacts, and faithfully replicates Indian moves. However, independent
      experts believe that it is more advanced than India in fitting
      warheads to missiles, especially in its short-range Hatf series.

      A new report by the US Central Intelligence Agency submitted to
      Congress concludes that both Pakistan and India

      "continue to acquire nuclear technology".

      It says Pakistan has been procuring dual-use (civil and military)
      equipment and material from various sources--principally

      Western Europe.

      According to the report: "With Chinese assistance, Pakistan is moving
      toward serial production of solid-propellant (short-range missiles)
      such as the Shaheen-I and Haider-I.... Successful development of the
      two-stage Shaheen-II will require continued Chinese assistance ..."

      This action-reaction spiral spells both a nuclear and a missile arms
      race in South Asia.

      India's authorisation for the Prithvi's use (reported in "The
      Pioneer") signifies devolution of a critical decision-making power to
      the armed services, as distinct from the apex political leadership.
      The authorisation says the missile must be only be used as the "last
      resort" and with the "utmost restraint".

      The Prithvi is nuclear-capable. Although the authorisation is
      (presumably) limited to its use with conventional-explosive warheads,
      that status can easily change. In practice, adversaries have no sure
      way of telling if an incoming missile carries nuclear or conventional
      explosives in its nose-cone. In extreme circumstances, they are
      liable to retaliate -- with nuclear weapons, if they believe they are
      under nuclear attack.

      Missile flight-time between some Indian and Pakistan cities is as
      short as three minutes -- too meagre to determine whether an incoming
      warhead is nuclear or conventional.

      Yet, New Delhi is taking such extremely high-risk decisions without a
      clear evaluation of its security environment, and without adequate
      safeguards. It has considerably hardened its nuclear posture in
      recent months as it determinedly proceeds towards full nuclear

      A major step in the process will be the leasing of two Shchuka-B
      (Bars)-class multiple-role Russian nuclear-propelled submarines
      capable of launching ballistic missiles. The deal is likely to be
      signed this week. Nuclear-powered submarines can stay under water for
      up to a year and hence carry a huge element of surprise --a major

      The move is significant because India's own "Advanced Technology
      Vessel" nuclear submarine project has repeatedly failed

      to deliver results. In 1988 too, India had leased a Soviet nuclear
      submarine for three years.

      These developments further heighten South Asia's unique nuclear
      danger. As I argued, with co-author Achin Vanaik, in South Asia on a
      Short Fuse (OUP, Karachi, 2001), India and Pakistan have at best
      "ramshackle deterrence", a terrible safety culture and an ignominious
      record of mishaps in their military systems. They are disastrously
      and dangerously wrong to ape the P-5 and seek security through
      nuclear weapons.

      The nuclear danger will increase with actual deployment. That is why
      the peace movement and concerned citizens must maintain the firebreak
      between the manufacture and deployment of nuclear weapons.

      Post-deployment, both states, in particular India, are liable to make
      rollback conditional upon other moves, e.g. nuclear-arms reductions
      by the Great Powers. This can only make a South Asian nuclear war
      likelier. We must pull the "world's most dangerous place" back from
      the brink.
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