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How to counter Pakistan's nuclear sabre-rattling

By Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)
September 18, 2019 19:31 IST
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'India should pledge that it will only target those provinces of Pakistan where nuclear weapons are located,' says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

IMAGE: Pakistan rolls out its long-range ballistic missile Shaheen III. Photograph: @AsimBajwaISPR/Twitter

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it is an often used but frequently forgotten adage in India.

The roots of the peculiar Pakistani mindset and mentality have to be understood in the historical context to make sense of the present.

The roots of Pakistan go back to October 1, 1906 when the Aga Khan led a delegation of Muslim notables to British Viceroy Lord Minto. The background to this was the proposed reforms and measure of self-government that the British proposed to grant Indians.


Popularly known as the Morley-Minto reforms, it created separate electorates for Muslims and even agreed with the Muslim delegation that they needed 'special' rights in view of their historical domination.

The Muslim delegation argued that though they were 13% of the population, they must have 50% representation. The British denied territorial representation and instead decided on communal representation.

These trends from the early 20th century persist even in the 21st century. Pakistan relies on communal nationalism and denies territorial loyalties. Despite the loss of Bangladesh in 1971 over this very principle, nothing has been learnt.

What was a demand for equal share in power during British rule has become a quest for parity with India in the post-Independence era. The post-Independence internal politics of India, with its emphasis on communal vote banks, assiduously cultivated the notion of 'special rights' for the minorities.

The 2014 election in India demolished the carefully constructed concept of 'special rights and privileges'. The 2019 election reinforced these trends and the majority began to assert itself for equal rights for all.

The abolition of special rights for Kashmir granted in Article 370 carried forward this measure of equality for all and appeasement of none.

The Indian action of August 5, 2019 in Kashmir came as a jolt to the long held Pakistani myth of racial superiority and martial prowess.

The psychological shock to Pakistan in a sense was even greater than the trauma of the 1971 defeat. The separation of Bangladesh was rationalised as inevitable due to geography and there was not much love lost for the dark, short Bengali.

Kashmir, on the other hand, was seen as a legitimate part of Pakistan and without which Pakistan was incomplete. In Pakistani minds, Kashmir's annexation was part of the unfinished business of Partition.

Given Indian military superiority, Pakistan knows it cannot succeed using military means. It has painful memories of the failed attempts of 1947-1948, 1965 and the last one in 1999. Pakistan has placed all its hope on international intervention to roll back Indian measures.

Pakistan has failed to gather support even from its Muslim friends as geo-politics favours India that is seen as a future ally and economic powerhouse.

Pakistan's reputation as the harbourer of Osama bin Laden and its support to jihadist elements all over the world have muted the concerns of most nations.

Pakistan is hamstrung in using its usual tactic of terrorist proxies as its position comes up for review in the Financial Action Task Force meeting in October. Blacklisting by this group would lead to total economic ruin for Pakistan.

All the above constraints have led Pakistan to a single-point agenda -- rattle its nuclear sabre.

Over the last week or so every Pakistani official of any importance has been warning the world that unless the international community intervenes, nuclear war between India and Pakistan may take place.

This is a clear case of nuclear blackmail but given its history, international opinion is concerned about this threat.

India already has a clear policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. India has also given a solemn commitment to not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapons State. We need to reiterate this pledge and enhance it.

India should add a pledge that it will only target those provinces of Pakistan where nuclear weapons are located. Thus, if Sind, Baluchistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces do not have nuclear weapons, Indian nuclear retaliation will not target these areas.

The Pakistani army has long sought 'depth' in Afghanistan. We must make it clear to the Taliban that in case they do not permit Pakistan to locate its strategic weapons in Taliban controlled territory, they will also receive a pledge of 'non-targeting' by India.

These promises by our leadership can certainly reduce tension with a majority of provinces in Pakistan and also convince the rest of the world that we indeed have peaceful intentions.

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Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)
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