Analysis

Words and warheads: Kashmir in explosive exchange

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[FPK Photo/Bilal Ahmad.]

The two neighbours lately traded fresh nuke threats—but at what cost?

South Asia once again woke up to a ticking-bomb reality when Pakistan minister gave ‘nuclear war’ threat to New Delhi. In the wake of such attack, many in Srinagar fear, the towering peaks will be pulverised beyond recognition.

Such warnings don’t go unnoticed in the valley—where the politics-weary people have a sharp-nose-for-news.

Almost a decade back, Kashmiris were told to be prepared for a possible nuclear war by building bomb-proof basements and collecting two weeks’ worth of food and water. The warning appearing on a local daily unsettled the region.

The threat resurfaced in December 2022 when Pakistan’s Shazia Marri said that India should not forget that Pakistan has an atom bomb. “Our nuclear status is not meant to remain silent,” she said. “We will not back down if the need arises.”

Shazia’s statement came at a time when Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto was facing flak in India for attacking PM Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). On the sidelines of the United Nations Security Council session in America, Bilawal alleged that the government of India was influenced by Hitler instead of Mahatma Gandhi.

“These comments are a new low, even for Pakistan,” responded the official spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, Arindam Bagchi. “Pakistan’s foreign minister’s frustration would be better directed towards the masterminds of terrorist enterprises in his own country, who have made terrorism a part of their state policy. Pakistan needs to change its own mindset or remain a pariah.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promptly launched nationwide protests against Bhutto and burnt his effigies across India. 

“India has the capacity to deal with all these threats,” union minister Muraleedharan reacted as the ruckus rocketed. “India is not a nation that will back away from anyone’s threats. India has the capacity to deal with all these threats. No one should have any doubts about that.” 

The big-bang threat, interestingly, rose when India and Pakistan handed a list of their respective nuclear installations and facilities under a decades-old agreement. The annual exchange, in practice since 1992, came when diplomatic ties between the two nuclear-armed rivals are near non-existent.

Ruling Kashmir in parts, India and Pakistan as nuclear powers have 150 and 160 nuclear warheads respectively. They first officially tested their nuclear weapons in late nineties. 

India has traditionally been committed to a No First Use policy, which means it has promised not to be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. However, following the internationalization of the dispute in 2019 – when India revoked Article 370 granting a certain degree of autonomy to Kashmir – the rightwing government dropped hints about the policy revamp.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has never committed to the No First Use policy. And, it has been acquiring nuclear weapons at a pace faster than the 1999 projection of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, saying that the country would have between 60 to 80 nuclear warheads by 2020. If this rate continues, Pakistan could have 220 to 250 warheads by 2025. 

Although India and Pakistan announced a ceasefire along their shared Kashmir frontier in 2021, the flare-ups given the explosive border history could reignite the conflict in the future. Any further escalation of the dispute could increase concerns about the potential use of nuclear weapon.

The two nations have already fought three wars over Kashmir and have had a number of military skirmishes in recent years. Last year an Indian missile accidentally landed in Pakistan, setting off alarm bells across the world. 

Earlier, the book—Call From Chagai & Pokhran: New Nuclear Order!—was written to persuade the international community, especially the five big recognized nuclear states, to show their due concern for the Kashmir situation, which has all the potential of taking India-Pakistan hostility to the nuclear level. 

“In India-Pakistan ties, Kashmir and nuclear issues are interlinked,” the book notes. “Had there been no Kashmir dispute between the two countries, and had they been friendly, there was no need for them to go nuclear. If the international community failed to address the Kashmir issue on an urgent basis, the world may witness for the second time what havoc Nukes play with peoples’ lives.”

In the backdrop of these persistent fears, Pak minister Shazia’s statement has only prompted many to suggest a peaceful resolution as a way forward. But if the situation remains unresolved, regular citizens will be the ones paying the price. And with nuclear weapons in the picture, watchdogs warn, the consequences can be even more far-reaching.

 

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