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Kashmir Nuclear Scare: Myth or Muscle Fatigue

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Tacstrat Analysis

Earlier this week, State Disaster Response Force officials in Indian occupied Kashmir distributed pamphlets warning citizens to make preparations for a possible nuclear attack. People were told to build bomb-proof basements and collect provisions to last them two weeks in confinement. This lengthy warning was published in the Greater Kashmir newspaper and described a possible war scene in detail. People were told to brace themselves for possible shock and to ‘expect initial disorientation as the blast wave may blow down and carry away many prominent and familiar features’. While Indian officials have called this ‘regular year-round civil defence preparedness’, and urged people not to connect it with anything else, one cannot help but speculate about the convenient timing of this ‘annual’ safety drill, which has in fact taken place for the first time.

The cross border skirmish earlier this year, has led to a staggering halt of negotiations and a perfunctory handshake on both sides that have been gritting their teeth since. The 70 year old lady’s flight into Pakistan had alarmed Indian officials who began setting up additional observation posts along the LoC. Pakistan fired across the border, and while cross border skirmishes barely make news any more, an Indian soldier with an ‘aggressive’ track record ordered a cross border attack. While the international media, as always, is wont to take an ‘unbiased’ approach to this series of attacks, several Indian newspapers have discussed the possibility and consequences of this bald provocation that led to the death of a Pakistani soldier. Two Indian soldiers were killed in a retaliatory skirmish that now appears to have escalated, as the streets of Srinagar are abuzz with rumours of a possible nuclear attack.

Indian soldiers, on many online forums, have said that even if their authorities have warned people to prepare themselves for a nuclear attack, this is purely for defensive purposes because of India’s ‘no first use’ nuclear doctrine, and Pakistan’s lack thereof.

This leads us to the question of nuclear doctrines espoused by both countries. Pakistan has stood behind its doctrine of ‘first use but last resort’, and has been severely criticised for it by western scholarship, which conveniently over looks Israel’s ‘Samson Option’. Last year President Zardari announced his inclination to sign a ‘no first use’ policy in line with India’s, while no action towards this end has been taken so far, a brief analysis of the India doctrine, which espouses the very reassuring ‘no first use’ policy, is in order.

The doctrine states that any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat (clause 2.3a). The repeated assurance of ‘retaliation only’ does not care to expand on what constitutes these measures. Clause 2.5 states that “India will not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against States which do not possess nuclear weapons, or are not aligned with nuclear weapon powers.” This clause further adds to the ambiguity ensconced in the doctrine that shrouds itself behind empty words and unspoken promises. The distinction between non-nuclear states and countries they are aligned with, in effect, places every single country on the Indian hit list. Since Germany and Japan, two non-nuclear states, are aligned with the US on many fronts (the doctrine doesn’t specify the type of alliance either), that makes them possible targets, especially if: “in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons”. Thus, if Indian soldiers (they could be infiltrators or even part of a UN deputation) are attacked with nuclear weapons in any part of the world, the ‘no first use’ policy becomes null and void. Furthermore clause 2.3a, revised in 2003 states that, “however, in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.” Thus Blanco-ing out the ‘no first use’ for all intents and purposes.

Pakistan has justified its stance of adopting the ‘aggressive’ moral ground, by saying the ‘no first use’ policy on both sides would leave the concept of nuclear deterrence redundant and invite aggression from the Indian side. Pakistan has furthermore explained how the nuclear option will be employed once all others have been exhausted. This effectively places India and Pakistan on a level playing field.

The ‘threat’ of a Pakistani attack on Srinagar is by far the least plausible of all explanations our friends across the border have been proffering. Even less true is the statement that this is a routine safety drill. At best this can be described muscle flexing and a plea for attention in the post UN-observer mission stalemate. In terms of diplomatic progress, this might set the two countries back by two years of consistent peace talks and people-to-people contact. As the initial smokescreen of mistrust rises between the two countries, the audience can not help but wait for what will unfold next.

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Indian nuclear posturing

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The Daily Mail

INDIA’S upcoming “indigenous” nuclear powered submarine Arihant, which was launched last July at Visakhapatnam, is likely to become operational by 2012. Indian defence planners are contemplating to use INS Arihant for ‘deterrent patrol’ aimed at providing the ability of a retaliatory ‘second strike’ in wake of a nuclear attack. The submarine, when on patrol, will carry its full load of nuclear-tipped missiles that can be launched from under the sea and hit targets hundreds of miles away. INS Arihant is the first of a series of three ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) that India proposes to build. Two types of N-tipped missiles are being developed for Arihant. One of them would be a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM)-K-15 Sagarika-with a range of 700 km. This has been tested several times using a pressurized canister submerged under water to mimic a submarine-style launch. A longer range 3,500 km missile is under test and one such test has already been conducted. Indian Navy is trying to flex its muscles in the Indian Ocean and is trying to emulate its mentor the US. During the Cold War “deterrent patrol” was a norm adopted by the US and the erstwhile USSR when their submarines trawled under sea for days. The two super-powers are known to have conducted more than 200 such patrols annually. It is meant to ‘deter’ an adversary from launching a first N-strike on the nation as the submarines can then launch the retaliatory strike within minutes. India claims that it is faced with a two front scenario, China and Pakistan and belligerently boasts that it can tackle both simultaneously. Whereas, neither China nor Pakistan have expressed any hostile designs towards India, yet it would like to pose such fabricated threats only to justify its uncalled for arms buildup and nuclear posturing. Recently, China has developed two SSBNs that are termed as ‘Jin-class’ in military circles and these carry 12 N-tipped missiles. The Chinese Navy has been conducting patrols in the last two years. The UK and France are the other countries that have similar capabilities. A nuclear submarine is required for such patrols due to its ability to remain submerged and undetected for longer periods.

Indian nuclear ambitions can be gauged from its Naval Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma, who in rare acknowledgement of the country’s nuclear abilities, declared: “We have a declared policy of no-first-use…But we have Arihant….. When it is commissioned and goes to sea, it will be on deterrent patrol. The triad (nuclear) would be there when Arihant is commissioned.” Referring to the nuclear triad, he stated that it would be complete only when India has strategic nuclear missiles that could be launched from land, air and sea. The N-submarine will form the third leg-often termed as the most reliable and stealthy-of nuclear triads on land, air and sea-based platforms. The Indian nuclear doctrine elucidates that the nation should possess the capability. On land, India possesses or is in the process of possessing a family of nuclear-tipped missiles, including the Agni series and Prithvi variants. In the air, the Sukhoi and the Mirage have the ability to deliver N-tipped munitions.

The fact is that despite its nuclear posturing, India’s “indigenous” projects have been having “hiccups”, The Admiral admitted to glitches in India’s Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) project saying the 40,000-tonne warship could not be launched this year but will be done in the middle of next year. On the Navy’s future acquisition and capability enhancement programs, Verma said there were 36 ships and submarines on order in various Indian shipyards and that these programs were largely on track. Indian indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas is already obsolete, even before its induction. India may be dreaming of becoming a world power and definitely behaving like a bully on the block but it has to traverse a long way before it can become one.