Tension between India and Pakistan has upped another level following aggressive statements from Indian army chief Gen Bipin Rawat and Pakistan’s defence minister Khwaja Asif, last week, laying out a direct nuclear confrontation. The stark threat came after General Rawat suggested he was willing to carry out a military operation inside Pakistan if given the task. “If we will have to really confront the Pakistanis, and a task is given to us, we are not going to say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons. We will call the (nuclear) bluff of Pakistan”, Gen said.
Khwaja Asif, in response, sounded even more hawkish virtually inviting India for nuclear war. “Very irresponsible statement by Indian Army Chief, not befitting his office; Amounts to invitation for a nuclear encounter. If that is what they desire, they are welcome to test our resolve. We have a credible nuclear capability, exclusively mean for threat from east”, Pakistan defence minister said in a series of tweets. With threats and counter threats, and that too from higher seats of power, danger of a general conflict between India and Pakistan is growing menacingly. It, in fact, underlines the dire state of Indo-Pak relations.
With unending incidents of bloody skirmishes along the line of control and allegations and counter allegations of supporting terrorism within the two countries, the opportunities of immediate positive change are menacingly diminishing. Pakistan is slated for general election in July this year which, in effect, would mean no substantiate initiative to address relation with New Delhi until, at least, the end of the year. By then, India will be preparing for its own general election in 2019. If the last Indian general election is any indication of what the next campaign season could bring, BJP hardliners and sundry other politicians may explicitly base their election campaigns on anti-Pakistan rhetoric, meaning, thereby, that there will no improvement in the relations between the two countries, at least, for two years.
In such a climate of internal compulsions, the option of war could not be ruled out. The Indo-Pak border and the LOC are the only place in the world where two nuclear-armed states face off every day. And the risk of nuclear conflict has only continued to rise in the past few years, to the point that it is now a very real possibility. With a very proactive government in place in New Delhi and irritations coming from Islamabad, a slight provocation is enough to push the two countries in war. India’s proactive military strategy has made Islamabad feel increasingly threatened and it is now relying more on its nuclear arsenal as a counter, elevating the stakes for conflict in the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan knows for its best that it is no match to India in conventional war.
India’s supremacy in conventional war has been proved in three wars the two countries fought since 1947. In 1971, Pakistan lost more than half of its territory due Indian military intervention in its internal strife in its eastern part, now Bangladesh. Today, the disputed Line of Control that divides the disputed Kashmir region remains a particularly tense flashpoint. To offset India’s conventional superiority, it is anybody’s guess that Pakistan would have to use nuclear weapons. It is for this fact that Pakistan has not renounced the first use of nuclear weapons.
Provocations coming from Delhi and statements pouring out of Islamabad at official and political level are huge indicators that Pakistan would have to use nuclear weapons first in order to defend against a conventional attack from India. That has made Pakistan to accelerate its nuclear weapons programme. The recent reports have said that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is the fastest growing in the world. It is concentrating on short-range, low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. As the reports suggest Pakistan will have enough fissile material by 2020 to build more than 200 nuclear warheads. There may be little the US or the world can do to forestall this conflict looming dangerously over the horizon.