India’s veiled nuclear threat

India’s defence minister’s statement reflects a paradigm shift in India’s nuclear policy.  It appears India has already perfected its delivery systems, and RADAR jamming capability. It launched Mars and Moon missions with dual objectives. Indian air-force chief claims `IAF can locate, fix targets, including nuclear weapons, in Pakistan’ (India Today October 2017).Washington Post (January 22, 2013) reported that the police in occupied Kashmir published a notice in the Greater Kashmir (now under black out), advising people about nuclear-war survival tips.  The tips included constructing well-stocked bunkers in basements or front yards.  And having stock of food and batteries or candles to last at least two weeks. Indian army independent surgical fighting units carried out `war games’ in May 2019,  as announced by army chief Bipen Rawat (January10, 2019) The units are self-contained,  backed up with air force and navy support. Earlier, India claimed to have carried out surgical strikes earlier on September 29, 2016. The strikes are celebrated as a national event.

Fluid nuclear posture: In historical perspective, India’s nuclear posture has always been in flux. During the 1950s, India showed strident opposition to nuclear weapons while stressing need for harnessing atomic energy for peaceful purposes.  Indian approach was Janus-faced. It expressed fervent interest in nuclear energy, but repugnance towards nuclear weaponry of all kinds. The purpose of this attitude was to stage a highly moralistic brand of politics.

During the 1960s, India’s attitude subtly mutated. The uncompromising opposition to nuclear weaponry caved in to accommodate nuclear weapons as an instrument of `high politics’. The volte-face was attributed to India’s concern about China’s nuclear prowess. The real stimulus was perhaps India’s defeat in the Sino-Indian border war of 1962.

While India had decided to go covertly nuclear, it avoided public disclosure of its nuclearisation policy.  To sustain this posture, India maintained a large strategic establishment to produce fissile materials, design nuclear weaponry, and develop various delivery systems.

The basis of India’s policy was realisation that it may maintain disproportionate superiority against Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, but not against China’s. So, it reluctantly adopted a nuclear doctrine that supported nuclear weapons as a political instrument, rather than as a military tool.  This policy appears to have been influenced by strategic analyst Jasjit Singh’s research.  He surveyed scores of incidents involving threat of nuclear weapons. His inference was that `nuclear weapons played an important political role, rather than a military one’.  Another analyst, K. Subrahmaniam, also, concluded that `the main purpose of a third-world arsenal is deterrence against blackmail’, rather than blackmailing one’s neighbours (as India happened to do).

India’s defence minister’s statement reflects that paradigm shift in India’s nuclear has already fructified. It has perfected its delivery systems, and RADAR jamming capability.

India’s abandoned `no first-use’ policy enabled it to progress from a nuclear pariah for most of the Cold War, within a decade of Pokhran 2, to a responsible nuclear power. It is now immune to Missile Technology Control regime and the Wassenaar Arrangement.

Capability: According to the 2015 SIPRI Yearbook, the Indian arsenal comprises 90 to 110 warheads. The ranges of such estimates are generally dependent on analyses of India’s stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium, estimated at 0.54 ± 0.18 tons. Although India also stockpiledroughly 2.4 ± 0.9 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU.

The plutonium for India’s nuclear arsenal is obtained from two  research reactors: the 40 MWtCIRUS and the 100 MWt Dhruva, which began operations in 1963 and 1988, respectively. Depending on the capacity  factor and operating availability, the CIRUS reactor was estimated to  produce 4 to 7 kg of weapons-grade plutonium annually; the corresponding  figure for the Dhruva reactor is 11 to 18 kg. The CIRUS reactor was decommissioned in 2010 under the separation plan of the U.S.-India nuclear  cooperation agreement. The irradiated fuel from the reactors is  reprocessed at the Plutonium Reprocessing Plant in Trombay, which has a  capacity of roughly 50 tons of spent nuclear fuel per year. India is  building six fast breeder reactors, which will increase plutonium  production capacity available for weapons-use. The first prototype fast- breeder reactor at Kudankulam did not meet its September 2015 deadline to  start commercial operation due to technological issues.

Why Pakistan went nuclear? Through Dr. A.Q. Khan’s efforts, it took Pakistan only ten years to reach the point where it could produce a nuclear weapon, despite the withdrawal of nuclear assistance from Western countries’. International Institute of Strategic Studies dossier titled ‘Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan, A. Q. Khan and the Rise of Proliferation Networks’ mapped Dr. Qadeer’s activities. It admitted Pakistan went nuclear because of Indian threats, It willy-nilly acknowledged dangerous implications of the US India 123 agreement (Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006) for Pakistan. Extract: ‘Fears that the India-US nuclear cooperation agreement will free up Indian domestic uranium for additional weapons purposes gives Pakistan an additional motivation to continue to produce weapons-grade fissile material of its own. Pakistan has resisted any nonproliferation regimes that it believes would give a ‘perpetual edge’ to India. This is one reason Pakistan has been the country most resistant to negotiating a fissile material cut-off treaty’.

Aside from its Pakistan-bashing title, the dossier observes ‘Pakistan was not the only country to evade nuclear export controls to further a covert nuclear weapons programme (page 7). ‘Almost all of the countries that have pursued nuclear weapons programmes obtained at least some of the necessary technologies, tools and materials from suppliers in other countries. Even the United States (which detonated the first nuclear weapon in 1945) utilised refugees and other European scientists for the Manhattan Project and the subsequent development of its nascent nuclear arsenal. The Soviet Union (which first tested an atomic bomb in 1949) acquired its technological foundations through espionage. The United Kingdom (1952) received a technological boost through its involvement in the Manhattan Project. France (1960) discovered the secret solvent for plutonium reprocessing by combing through open-source US literature. China (1964) received extensive technical assistance from the USSR’.

Kashmir nuclear tinderbox: Talks on Kashmir are stalled. Instead of discussing the Kashmir dispute. India threatened to carry out surgical strikes at about 25 targets deep within Azad Kashmir. Later it carried out an air strike at Balakot. In an editorial, Hindustan Times dated January 28, commented that army-chief’s statements `provided Pakistan with an excuse to build short range, nuclear-capable missiles, like Nasr, to target Indian formations undertaking conventional strikes’. `Pakistan is now flaunting Nasr’. Besides Nasr, Pakistan now has 52 Chinese Sh-15 Howitzer Guns (American equivalent M-777). These guns could fire nuclear tactical-nuclear-weapon projectiles up to distance of 53 kilometers. India is unmindful of possibility that his strikes could lead to a nuclear confrontation.

Most people wish Indo- Pak nuclear confrontation were a myth rather than a reality. But, John Thomson, in his article ‘Kashmir: the most dangerous place in the world’ thinks otherwise (Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Bushra Asif and Cyrus Samii (eds), ‘Kashmir: New Voices, New Approaches’). He has given cogent arguments to prove that the Kashmir issue could once again spark another Indo-Pak military confrontation with concomitant risks of a nuclear war.Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has, inter alia, pointed out that ‘avoiding nuclear war in South Asia will require political breakthroughs in India-Pakistan’.

We know how the Bay of Pigs missile crisis pulled down nuclear threshold. It’s time the world community took notice of belligerent statements from Pkistan’s next-door neighbour, toujours at daggers drawn.

Amjed Jaaved
Amjed Jaaved
Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.