A Greater India Dream myth exposed

For some reason, nuclear and security-related issues have remained a no go area for Pakistani researchers and academics.No wonder, we have not had any meaningful literature on India-Pakistan nuclear stand-off and its regional and global implications.

In an unlettered society where one rarely comes across people genuinely into writing or reading and where books are sold not by content but their weight as a waste paper commodity and where book stores are disappearing fast getting converted into video shops and burger stands, the arrival of every single new book by a Pakistani author is freshening expression of a resolve not to give up the book culture.

No matter how many ‘Kitab Houses’ may have become ‘Kabab Houses’ to cater to the growing  culinary appetite in our society, there is no dearth of publishing houses in Pakistan to keep apace with the undying quest for knowledge. It is an encouraging sign. Books on assorted subjects of general interest, especially literature and history have been appearing in abundance. For some reason, nuclear and security-related issues have remained a no go area for Pakistani researchers and academics. No wonder, we have not had any meaningful literature on India-Pakistan nuclear stand-off and its regional and global implications.

India ‘inducted’ the nuclear dimension into the volatile security environment of South Asia by exploding the myth of a ‘Smiling Buddha’ through its first nuclear test in 1974 which was hailed by the West as a ‘peaceful’ nuclear test.

The barrier of reticence, it seems, now stands crossed. Two recent research-based well-written and thoroughly referenced books, one on South Asian nuclear deterrence and the other on Indian nuclear deterrence, both authored by Pakistani writers of eminent credentials under the banner of Oxford University Press, make a seminal appearance on our otherwise murky scene of scholastic aridity. Both provide an insightful account of the historic as well as geo-political dynamics underpinning the nuclearization of this region.

 Professor Zafar Iqbal Cheema’s book entitled ‘Indian Nuclear Deterrence: Its Evolution, Development and Implications for South Asian

Security’ (Oxford University Press) is the first serious attempt at dissecting India’s nuclear ambitions rooted in its ‘Greater India’ dream. I am familiar with many books but this one is perhaps more comprehensive than any other book on this subject in terms of its timeframe (1947 until now) and the spectrum of issues involved ranging from the evolution and development of Indian nuclear program to its status-driven regional and global dimensions.

It exposes, with documentary and other relevant evidence from diverse sources, how for 50 years, India sought with single-minded devotion the re-enactment of the mythical Maha Bharata (Greater India) concept. It sought to dominate its periphery and the entire India Ocean, as the first step towards recognition of India’s status as a global power.

One is spontaneously reminded of Robert Oppenheimer, the arch developer of the ‘atom bomb’ who after witnessing the power of the first nuclear explosion, called Trinity Test in New Mexico was so moved as to famously acclaim that the sight made him think of the lines from the Bhagavad-Gita: ‘If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one: Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’

India ‘inducted’ the nuclear dimension into the volatile security environment of South Asia by exploding the myth of a ‘Smiling Buddha’ through its first nuclear test in 1974 which was hailed by the West as a ‘peaceful’ nuclear test but in effect it was the ‘splendor of the mighty one’ signalling to the world: ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of world.’ India demonstrated the ‘splendor of the mighty one’ again in May 1998 leaving Pakistan with no choice but to respond in kind.

It becomes clear from this book’s statistically-supported narrative that no philosophical discourse is needed to understand or agree that nuclear weapons are never meant to be used. They are only for deterrence which apparently has worked during and after the intensely bipolar Cold War era. Nuclear deterrence has also so far worked as a strategic balance between India and Pakistan, the only nuclear equation that grew up in history totally unrelated to the Cold War as an offshoot of the India-Pakistan legacy of unresolved disputes and their perennial mode of conflict and confrontation.

Cheema’s book confirms the fallacy of conventional perspectives on the development of Indian nuclear deterrence ‘that the Indian nuclear programme entailed ‘exclusively peaceful uses’ during the Nehru era and the nuclear weapons capability was initiated by Shastri government after the first Chinese nuclear test in 1964. It offers incontrovertible evidence that Dr. Homi Bhabha, the architect of Indian nuclear programme, formulated a nuclear weapons development strategy within the structural framework of the Indian civilian nuclear programme with Nehru’s approval. It thus also denotes how Indian nuclear pursuits compelled Pakistan to go nuclear in reciprocation.

On their coming to power in New Delhi, the BJP sought to resurrect the legend of greater India and lost no time to implement its militaristic and communal agenda by a series of actions that only aggravated the security environment in our region. The BJP agenda publicly announced its intentions ‘to exercise the nuclear option and induct nuclear weapons, occupy Azad Kashmir and to demolish mosques to build Hindu temples.’

I recall in April 1998, Pakistan’s prime minister addressed a letter to the G-8 heads of state and government drawing their attention to India’s threatening nuclear designs and the consequences that would ensue from its induction of nuclear weapons. India’s five nuclear tests on May 11 and 13, 1998 proved us completely right. India had unleashed on our borders blasts of every sort, namely, thermonuclear, boosted fission, tactical weapons.

We knew at that time that peace was hanging by a slender thread in South Asia. In the absence of any assurances or security guarantees, we had no choice but to take measures to protect our freedom and independence. Our tests later in the month (May 28 and 30) were an act of self-defence; they established our minimum credible deterrence and in fact restored the regional strategic balance serving the larger interest ofpeace and stability in South Asia.

Cheema’s book makes one thing clear. It was not Pakistan which ‘inducted’ nuclear weapons into the volatile security environment of South Asia. We were compelled to do so.  Since then, nuclear weapons are a reality in our region. They constitute an essential element of our security in the form of credible minimum deterrent. They also constitute a credible nuclear deterrent for India. It is this subject which Professor Cheema now focuses in some detail providing factual scholarly material to understand and evaluate the South Asian nuclear deterrence model in its conceptual and operational detail through a Pakistani lens.

The book’s central premise is that the BJP government decision to carry out nuclear tests in 1998 was not an ‘out of the box’ development and was only step prefigured in a strategic continuum commenced during Nehru’s government. It suggests that the official declaration of India as a nuclear weapons state after the 1998 tests, its subsequent nuclear weaponization programme and announcement of a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999 were in effect willful furtherance of the earlier policies representing a clear strategic continuum.

After having crossed the nuclear threshold, India has been seeking recognition by the international community as a nuclear weapon state, which it hoped, among other things, would entitle it to permanent membership of the UN Security Council and entry to the exclusive nuclear club. On our part, by demonstrating our capability, we were able to establish a strategic parity with India.

Chapters 4 and 5 are devoted to a comparative study of the nuclear policies of India and Pakistan in terms of their threat perceptions and strategic compulsions and objectives. A comparative study of their command and control systems as well other core elements of India’s deterrence especially ballistic missile capability and its ABM system, its fissile material capability, nuclear weapon technology and warhead capability makes a useful account to understand the regional nuclear scenario. What becomes further clear from this analysis is that India’s development of a nuclear triad gives it an assured second strike capability, necessitating for Pakistan not to ignore the need for a dynamic concept in its own credible minimum deterrence in the face of India’s overbearing nuclear capability.
Chapters 9 and 10 of the book offer a study of the development of nuclear deterrence and its implications for peace and security in the region. Chapter 10 specifically analyses the impact of conventional military asymmetry on strategic stability and Indian attempts of coercion and escalation dominance through threats of limited war, pre-emption and Cold Start strategy. The study, besides giving an insight into Indian nuclear command and control structure, also analyses the attempted transformation of Indian military doctrine into a strategic nuclear doctrine with global outreach.

Cheema reveals no secret by acknowledging that India justifies its sea-land and air-based nuclear capability to counter what it claims its perceived potential threat from China as well as Pakistan. But the fact of the matter is that India’s military potential has always remained Pakistan-specific, and despite Islamabad’s repeated offers of ‘mutual restraint and responsibility’ it has shown no reciprocity. Pakistan has been pursuing since 1999 its proposal for a ‘strategic restraint regime’ based on three inter-locking elements of conflict resolution, nuclear and ballistic restraint and conventional balance.

There is a lesson to be drawn from this book. Instead of unleashing a relentless nuclear arms race in our region, we in South Asia should be exploring how to harmonize our respective security doctrines. Perhaps, the best course for India in this critical period of regional turmoil fuelled by a common threat of terrorism and militancy will be to accept Pakistan’s Strategic Restraint Regime proposal and also the offer of a No War Pact, which is even broader than India’s so-called No First Use doctrine, and encompasses both conventional and nuclear fields. Instead of raising the ante at bilateral level, we should be working together and coordinating our arms control and disarmament approaches in international forums like the Conference on Disarmament (CD).

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