Pakistan India mutual nuclear death wish - Praful Bidwai
- The News International (Pakistan)
February 07, 2002
Our mutual nuclear death wish
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
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
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
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
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