by Praful Bidwai
(IPS) NEW DELHI --
India and Pakistan ready their nuclear arsenals for deployment, their leaders seem to be slipping into denial mode, refusing to acknowledge that they are in a potentially ruinous nuclear arms race.
Pakistan has just conducted a series of three missile test-flights in the course of merely 11 days. Two of the tests -- on Oct. 8 and Oct. 14 -- were on a medium-range 700 kilometer missile called Shaheen-I. On Oct. 2, it test flew the Ghazanavi (or Hatf-III) with a range of 290 km. They are both capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Indian officials have shrugged off these tests as "nothing special." India's foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said there was "nothing new" in Pakistan's short-range ballistic missile tests. "They have conducted missile tests before."
This is an extraordinary display of calmness because these missiles can reach medium-sized cities in India and kill hundreds of thousands of citizens. There is no conceivable defense against them or means of preventing their entry.
Strangely, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes' first reaction was: "It has to be seen whether the missile is their Pakistan's own or provided by North Korea or China."
Yet it is irrelevant whether the missile technology was indigenous to Pakistan or sold to it. It would be just as lethal -- assuming it works.
The Indian authorities' smugness is shocking. It speaks of a cavalier disregard for security and an obsessive wish to accelerate the arms race.
Such denial only means that India and Pakistan leaders are sleepwalking as they escalate their mutual rivalry and armed preparations -- with potentially horrendous consequences for the 1.4 billion people of South Asia, indeed for the whole world.
Pakistani officials claim that their tests' timing was based on the country's missile defense needs. "The timings of the tests reflect Pakistan's determination not to engage in a tit-for-tat syndrome to other tests in the region," the military spokesman said. "Pakistan will maintain the pace of its own missile development program."
Islamabad says the tests demonstrated "Pakistan's technical prowess" in missile technology. "They also reflect Pakistan's resolve and determination to continue to consolidate its minimum deterrence needs and national security."
However, many media reports say the tests were aimed at showing Pakistan's "protest" and "frustration" at India's procurement of an airborne radar system from Israel, with Washington's approval. The Phalcon early warning system was jointly developed by Israel and the United States.
On Friday last week, India signed an agreement with Israel and Russia for the supply of the Phalcon, to be mounted on a Russian-made Ilyushin-76 aircraft platform. The Phalcon will function as a command and control post in the sky and allow the detection of aircraft or missile launches deep inside Pakistan territory.
Pakistan has forcefully protested against the sale of the Phalcon and demanded that Washington supply to it airborne radars, F-16s, unmanned aerial vehicles or drones and Cobra helicopters "to restore the weapons balance" in South Asia.
Pakistan Defense Secretary Hamid Nawaz Khan said last month: "Pakistan believes that a conventional balance is the key to maintaining peace between India and Pakistan; the nuclear threshold would come down, if this balance was disturbed."
He claimed that "the Pentagon had agreed to help effectively check the imbalance of power being created by India in the region."
Since then, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has pledged to do whatever it takes to maintain the current "no-win situation" with New Delhi.
In an interview with the Malaysian newspaper 'New Straits Times' he said, "We will maintain that no-win situation come what may. That the world should know and India should know. They have reached an agreement and we will counter it."
Musharraf expressed his impatience with New Delhi's refusal to resolve the Kashmir issue through bilateral negotiations.
Just last month, Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a hostile exchange at the UN General Assembly.
Vajpayee accused Pakistan of continuing to sponsor "cross-border terrorism" in Kashmir. Musharraf accused India of "state terrorism" and violating Security Council resolutions on Kashmir and still trying to muscle its way into the council as a permanent member.
It is not just Pakistan that is making proactive moves in the missile and nuclear fields.
Last month, India announced it was proceeding to deploy and "consolidate its nuclear deterrence." It is raising a special artillery division to manage its nuclear-capable missiles. The existing Agni and Prithvi missile groups will be integrated into this division.
Equally important, Fernandes declared on Oct. 5 that India's short and medium-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles were ready for deployment and that the nuclear command chain, including alternative "nerve centers," was in place, giving India an effective retaliatory capability.
Fernandes said: "We have established more than one nuclear control nerve center." Nuclear command shelters have also been established. An underground shelter is now reportedly under construction right in the heart of New Delhi, designed to protect the Cabinet and top military commanders from a decapitating nuclear strike. By building such a shelter, the Indian government has acknowledged that the danger of a nuclear strike is not hypothetical or distant; it is real.
However, it is doing absolutely nothing to protect the capitol's 15 million citizens against such a devastating attack. This involves a bizarre and perverse notion of security -- not for the people or the nation, but for a handful of powerful individuals.
The contradiction also exposes an anomaly at the heart of India's nuclear doctrine and its much-vaunted pledge of No-First-Use: India won't be the first to use nuclear weapons against anyone. This seeks to achieve security through an assured second-strike capability: by retaliating massively.
But such retaliation can at best be an act of senseless revenge, not one that protects the lives of one's own citizens or soldiers, but wreaks untold havoc upon civilians in an adversary state after hundreds of thousands of one's citizens have perished.
India and Pakistan have now reached a critical, perilous, turn in their nuclear journey. The arms race between them at both the conventional and nuclear levels is too stark and blatant to escape notice. But their leaders deny this altogether.
Just on Sunday, Vajpayee said: "We are not in any arms race with anybody. Whatever steps India has been taking are for self-defense." He added, chiding Pakistan, "Those who are themselves acquiring weapons are blaming us."
Now any state that participates in the arms race, either as an initiator of new moves or reactively, can claim it is acting in "self-defense." That is the very logic of a nuclear arms race, with escalation built into it. That does not negate the reality of the arms race, or make it less dangerous.
October 16, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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