Syeda Saiqa Bukhari
INDIA and Pakistan share a long history of hostility which has long cast a dark shadow on regional peace, security and economic cooperation. Both countries have fought three major wars and have been involved in a number of clashes with each other. In the recent crisis of February 2019, this historical animosity again prevailed when both countries came dangerously close to a full-fledged war. During the crisis, Indian fighter aircraft violated Pakistan’s air space greatly intensifying tension between the two nuclear armed rivals. Pakistan responded rationally and purportedly shot down two Indian jets while capturing Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan, who was later released by Pakistan as a peace gesture. Through this gesture, Pakistan conveyed to the international community that it has always remained in favour of peacefully settling its outstanding issues with India at the negotiating table instead of at the battle field. However, the Indian leadership wanted to achieve short term political gain by creating war hysteria against Pakistan in order to manipulate public opinion in its favour during the then looming elections. This, for instance, was clearly evident in the BJP’s re-election strategy led by Mr Modi which in turn proved highly effective in the recent Indian election. Throughout its history, the BJP has always won elections on two grounds. It does this by either exploiting the Hindu religion for political purposes, or by adopting an aggressive posture against Pakistan to divert public attention away from internal matters towards external security. In the 2019 elections, PM Modi used the same tactics to win the hearts of Indian voters.
In order to cover up the flaws in its conventional capabilities, India also tested a number of missiles to boost its war-fighting capabilities. PM Modi effectively used these tests to raise public sentiments in his favour by combining these missile tests with aggressive statements against Pakistan. This was done to show the world in general and the Indian public in particular that India was ready to respond to any misadventure from Pakistan with its nuclear arsenal. After being humiliated in the Balakot crisis, India conducted a successful test of its indigenously developed long-range subsonic stealth cruise missile ‘Nirbhay’, which is capable of reaching its target with a speed of Mach 0.7 while flying at an altitude of 100 meters. In the post Balakot environment this test further intensified the crisis as the timing of nuclear missile test was highly crucial in view of the 2019 India’s general election. Furthermore, Mr Modi has also directly politicized nuclear weapons during his election campaign. Such a discourse on nuclear arsenals shows a highly irresponsible attitude from the Indian leadership about its understanding on nuclear deterrence which is solely meant to deter adversaries from considering a first strike rather than indulging in careless escalation. This was evident in PM Modi’s statements in which he publicly acknowledged that the Indian state possessed thermonuclear weapons and threatened to use them against Pakistan. All despite the fact that geographical proximity and wind direction between India and Pakistan are crucial factors that cannot be overlooked if India really does intend to use its thermonuclear weapons instead of merely politicizing them.
Hence, the recent tests of sophisticated missiles and aggressive statements by the Indian leadership can be understood as serving only as an instrument to achieve political gain which clearly shows the irresponsible behavior and lack of realization about the sensitivity of its aggressive posturing against Pakistan. It is the responsibility of a nuclear weapon state to behave wisely in a crisis-situation with an adversary state. But contrary to conventional logic, Mr Modi brought the Indian nuclear arsenal out of the domain of strategic stability to be used instead as a cheap tool for his electoral politics, ultimately serving as a deceive factor in his re-election campaign. Moreover, it was quite unfortunate that the international community kept silent and did not condemn Mr Modi’s nuclear sabre-rattling at all. In all, India’s irresponsible attitude throughout the Pulwama/Balakot crisis and through its nuclear sabre-rattling clearly shows its dual standards when it comes to declaring itself as a responsible nuclear weapon state. When in fact, the Indian leadership has remained deeply involved in negative signalling against Pakistan for simply political objectives. In the whole process of achieving his political goals, Mr Modi brought the nuclear weapons debate onto the public sphere through his electoral politics without realising the outcome this could have on the entire South Asian region. This negative attitude in the long-term gravely threatens regional strategic and deterrence stability.
—The Author is a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad.