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Has India now called Pak’s nuclear bluff

| MANISH TEWARI
Published : Oct 1, 2016, 6:10 am IST
Updated : Oct 1, 2016, 6:10 am IST

Based on receiving specific and credible inputs that some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launchpads along the Line of Control to carry out infiltration and conduct terrorist strikes insi

Based on receiving specific and credible inputs that some terrorist teams had positioned themselves at launchpads along the Line of Control to carry out infiltration and conduct terrorist strikes inside Jammu and Kashmir and in various metros in other states, the Indian Army conducted surgical strikes at several of these launchpads to pre-empt infiltration by terrorists. The operations were focused on ensuring that these terrorists do not succeed in their design to cause destruction and endanger the lives of our citizens. During these counter-terrorist operations significant casualties were caused to terrorists and those providing support to them. The operations aimed at neutralising terrorists have since ceased. We do not have any plans for further continuation.” Thus spake Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, the director-general of military operations, on September 29.

However, much remains unclear as the operational details have been consciously left opaque. Does the open acknowledgment operation “along the LoC” as opposed to “across the LoC” represent a strategic shift Or is a tactical one-off to quench the public cries for retribution This becomes germane as many former service chiefs have now publicly stated that this is only a first in terms of its public profiling. Has the government factored in the mitigation measures in case of an escalation spiral Is the country ready to go all out if the push comes to shove Or is it just a transitory but collective physiological catharsis Would these new methods lead to a change in the behaviour of the Pakistani deep state Finally, has India called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff

Prior to the proclamation of this yet unnamed operation by the Army, Pakistan’s defence minister had threatened India in an interview on September 26. He said: “Tactical weapons, our programmes that we have developed are for our protection. We haven’t kept the devices that we have just as showpieces. But if our safety is threatened, we will annihilate them (India)”. He had made a similar comment on Geo TV on September 17, a day before the terrorist attack in Uri, stating: “We are always pressurised (sic) time and again... that we have more tactical weapons than we need if anyone steps on our soil and if someone’s designs are a threat to our security, we will not hesitate to use those weapons for our defence.”

Given that Pakistan’s armed forces are believed to be the custodians of their nuclear assets and the strategic plans division (SPD) is charged with the remit of management and administration of the country’s tactical and strategic nuclear weapons stockpile, the question still hangs — how much seriousness should be ascribed to the Pakistani defence minister’s bellicose sabre rattling

However there is alternative reality too that should not be ignored. In Pakistan, there is a National Command Authority that oversees the operations of the Pakistani Army, Air Force and Navy strategic commands. The Prime Minister of Pakistan is the chairman of this command, with the defence, foreign, interior, finance and science ministers as its members. The service brass are represented by the chairperson of the joint chiefs of staff, the three service chiefs, the commander of the marines and the director-general of the SPD who also functions as the secretary of the National Command Authority.

Sadia Tasleem of the Quaid-i-Azam University’s department of defence and strategic studies in Islamabad in her writings for the Carnagie Endowment Project entitled “Regional Voices on the Challenges of Nuclear Deterrence Stability in Southern Asia”, articulates: “Whatever the specifics of Pakistani nuclear doctrine may be, it is safe to assume the doctrine as a whole is specific to India. Therefore, it is best to consider this doctrine as it has evolved and as it exists today — primarily based on Pakistan’s perception of security threats emanating from India”. She further adds “Since the early years of its nuclear programme, Pakistan has refused to declare a no-first-use policy; the country retains the option of using nuclear weapons first in the event of a war. This policy appears to have remained constant because of the growing conventional weapons asymmetry in India’s favour. Thus, by keeping the first-use option open, Pakistan aims to deter any kind of attack against its territory. There is a broad consensus in both the academic and policy communities in favour of retaining the first-use option.”

Thus two things are exceedingly clear that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme is India-specific and that there is a broad consensus in Pakistan that the first-use option must be retained.

Since Pakistan has denied that any surgical strike had taken place there seems to be no immediate danger. Still India, erring on the side of caution, is getting its border villages evacuated as it anticipates a blowback.

However, given that if there is going to be a public pronouncement of every action along the LoC, the action-reaction scenario could quickly spin out of control.

India, therefore, needs to redouble its efforts to defang Pakistan’s nuclear programmee by exhibiting to the international community how irresponsible a nuclear weapon state Pakistan is as manifested not only in the recent statements of its defence minister but its proliferation record including, but not limited to, the A.Q. Khan nuclear Wal Mart.

Of course, it is easier said than done for Pakistan invests a lot of time, money and energy in trying to convince the world about the safety, stability and reliability of its nuclear programmme.

There are, however, big chinks in its armour and that is in the form of the wild rhetoric around the much-vaunted desire to flaunt its battlefield nuclear weapons or tactical assets that sets alarm bells ringing in responsible quarters around the world.

While it worries the United States and other responsible nuclear weapons states, it must equally worry China given that it has North Korea on its northeastern border and Pakistan on its southwestern border — both notoriously pugnacious in their nuclear brandishing.

While brinkmanship under a nuclear overhang may be a tactical response, strategic smartness ultimately entails creating an international coalition that impels Pakistan to eschew its weapons of mass destruction. Remember the missile flying time between India and Pakistan and vice versa is much less than the response time.

The writer is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari