Written by: Khan A. Sufyan

On May 18, 1974 India conducted its first so-called peaceful nuclear explosion and named it Smiling Buddha. Obviously Buddha would have smiled when his name fervently associated with peace and reverence was sardonically linked to a nuclear explosion. The test was conducted at a place called Pokhran which literally meant The Place of Five Mirages. After the test India vowed never to weaponise its nuclear power.

Ironically on May 11, 1998, on the Birthday of Buddha, the world was again disdainfully traumatized with another set of nuclear explosions. This time Indians called them Shakti (name of Hindu Goddess of strength). The illusion of five mirages of Pokhran was turned into reality with five nuclear explosions conducted on the 11th and 13th of May, making India the sixth nuclear weapon state. Pakistan soon followed suit.

Recently the Western press was awash with stories of doubling of Pakistani nuclear arsenal in almost four years. It was also mentioned that Pakistan now has more nuclear weapons than the Indians. After the nuclear explosions many studies were conducted to find out the number of nuclear weapons held by these two countries. In October 2001, US Defence Threat Reduction Agency, published a report titled “Minimum Nuclear deterrent postures in South Asia: An Overview” and highlighted Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons capacity from dedicated facilities.

A key conclusion of the study indicated that if the fissile material production rates remained constant, by 2010 Pakistan’s nuclear weapons equivalent quotient could grow to about 110, as was indicated in recent press reports, and India’s, from dedicated facilities only, to about 200 after discounting for testing and other uses. This study seems closer to reality as Indian nuclear programme which was initiated much earlier than Pakistan would obviously have accumulated much more fissile material. Many other renowned studies also reached similar conclusions. If the number of Indian nuclear weapons has not increased substantially, does it mean that the Indians had capped the production of fissile material? Apparently not, as no such news has emerged in recent years.

Though after 1974 nuclear explosion Indian government solemnly claimed that it will not produce nuclear weapons, enough published evidence is now available to suggest that it was not the case and she continued to expand her nuclear weapons’ capability.

One of the earliest indications of this was the commencement of construction of nuclear submarine after 1974 nuclear explosions. Nuclear warfare drills were being taught to every Indian naval officer as early as 1950s by officials from Bharat Atomic Energy Centre (BARC) at Mumbai where India converts the fissile material into nuclear weapon cores. In 1950s both China and Pakistan were not nuclear weapon states and such drill could only be practiced against a nuclear attack by the then nuclear powers.

It was to the credit of Dr Sethna, one of the architects of India’s first nuclear explosion, who as Chairman of Indian Atomic Energy Commission, in 1976 only two years after India’s first nuclear explosion created Diesel Propulsion Research Team (DPRT), at BARC. DPRT was a subterfuge for designing a nuclear propulsion plant for India’s first nuclear submarine. A team of four naval officers led by Indian Navy Captain PN Agarwala and Captain Bharat Bhusan were inducted into DPRT.

Many Indian Naval officers were trained in nuclear engineering at BARC and subsequently transferred to the DRDO led classified nuclear submarine project called Advance Technology Vehicle (ATV). This resulted in the launching of first Indian nuclear submarine INS Arihant by Indian Prime Minister’s wife Mrs. Gursharan Kaur on 22nd August, 2009 at Vishakapatnam, where Indian Prime Minister thanked Russia for the help she provided in this project.

About three years ago during a nuclear discussion session at India International Center New Delhi, former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral shared an anecdote with the audience highlighting Indian Navy’s desire to induct nuclear submarines with long range nuclear missile launch capability. I.K. Gujral while being ambassador in Moscow in 1979, on the instructions of Indian Defence Minister C. Subramaniam, Indian Defence Secretary K. Subrahmanyam and Director BARC Dr Raja Ramanna met Admiral Sergei Gorshkov and sought help for India’s quest for nuclear submarines and long range submarine launched nuclear missiles.

This led to the birth of the ATV and later the lease of Russian nuclear submarine INS Chakra to India. The nuclear reactor in INS Chakra was operated and maintained by on board Russians. The level of secrecy was such that all activities including the ATV project were kept secret even from other Indian service chiefs, and senior officers of the Indian Navy. The secret deal between India and Russia was finally revealed some years ago by the then Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov in Moscow. Russia has also signed a deal with India to lease Akula nuclear submarines on the lines of the INS Chakra, but the catch is “with full control”. Therefore, on acquisition of a fully controlled Akula, India will be in a position to launch submarine borne long range nuclear tipped ballistic missiles which are also being developed with Russian assistance. So much for giving clean chit on nuclear proliferation to India by the Americans.

Recently, in a seminar “Terrorism is a Derivative of Nuclear Deterrence” at India’s National Defence College, Indian National Security Advisor Mr. Shiv Shankar Menon justified Indian doctrine for the use of force in statecraft, citing recent changes in the world and strategic affairs. The only countries she can use such a force against are Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives etc as both China and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states. Was it direct message to Pakistan or China, underlining the inconsequentiality of their nuclear power status versus a conventionally strong India.

Certainly a very dangerous declaration, which may well lead to a nuclear clash between these three powers. Such discussions are also being conducted at various fora in India in apparent attempt to prepare the Indian public and send a veiled warning to its friends and foes alike that India would use force including its nuclear capability in attainment of its geo-political and geo-strategic objectives. If Iran also acquires nuclear weapons, the vast expanse of land from the Middle East to South Asia to South East Asia, not to mention the nuclear capable naval flotillas of UK, France and US already operating in Indian Ocean, could frighteningly saturate this area into a nuclear quagmire.

India had overwhelmingly supported the US declared Preventive War Strategy and indicated its intent to use the same to safeguard its interests. The strategy entails a pre-emptive strike against those countries or entities which are planning to attack US forces and/or interests anywhere in the world. Currently, the Indian capability falls short of their intent, particularly against China and Pakistan. However, their endeavours to acquire such a capability are in full swing, including acquisition of anti-ballistic missile defence with clandestine foreign support.

India is spending billions of dollars on modern defence acquisitions, will be in a position to acquire anti-ballistic missile capability in future with clandestine foreign support, completing nuclear triad by adding nuclear submarines and are currently in possession of over 200 nuclear weapons. This certainly is a major threat to Pakistan and this region as a whole. Shouldn’t Pakistan be worried and take measures to ensure appropriate response in order to defend itself.

External interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs in order to destabilize its polity through creation and support of secessionist elements is taking place with impunity. Pakistan’s armed forces are engaged on both eastern and western borders which some identify as a two front war environment. So-called Pakistani Taliban and secessionist Balochi elements reminds of not too distant a past – 1971 when Pakistan was split in two. One wonders as to how a nuclear Pakistan would have reacted in 1971. Is a similar thing happening to a nuclear armed Pakistan now?

Pakistan’s nuclear capability has officially been cited as India centric only. However, right from the day one it sent vibes internationally and the pressures generated on Pakistan were international in nature. How should Pakistan react if it finds incontrovertible evidence that external entities are attempting to break-up Pakistan once more. These are some very important and sensitive questions which may entail thorough deliberations and response from Pakistan.

Link: India's Nuclear Weapons Exceed 200: Exacerbates Asian Nuclear Quagmire - Analysis