It’s time to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff

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Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the current Chief of Pakistan Army

There is an old saying that ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’ and Islamabad’s situation after New Delhi’s abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir, is despairing, to say the least. For Prime Minister Imran Khan, who after his recent US visit thought that with President Donald Trump’s mediation offer on Kashmir, he had “returned with the World Cup,” this sudden development was even more embarrassing. 

On the domestic front, Khan was so badly ridiculed for government’s inaction on Article 370 abrogation issue in their Senate that in a fit of sheer exasperation he blurted, “What can I do? Do you want me to attack India?” But that’s not all. A few days back, a video surfaced in which opposition leader and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto can be heard mocking Khan by saying, “Earlier, Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir was on how we will take Srinagar. Now, under Imran Khan’s government, we have been forced to think on how we will save Muzaffarabad!”

As far as the international arena is concerned, Islamabad’s high decibel pitch against abrogation of Article 370 ended in an inaudible whimper after it failed to gather global support against this move which Khan described as an “illegal” and “unilateral” step. What made matters even worse was that the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) meet on Kashmir which Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had hailed as “Pakistan’s big success at diplomatic front” and which according to him “had landed India in utmost panic,” didn’t even result in a communiqué or statement being issued on what transpired during this ‘closed door’ meeting.  

With the UNSC refusing to comment on the recent developments in Kashmir, Islamabad’s allegation that abrogation of Article 370 was in violation of UNSC resolutions on Kashmir fell flat. Pushed into a corner by its own diplomatic intransigence, the only recourse left for Rawalpindi that actually formulates Pakistan’s Kashmir policy was to start beating the war drum with military precision. The first thing Khan did (or, rather was instructed to do by Pakistan Army), was to play ‘victim’ by claiming that he had definite information that India would orchestrate a ‘Pulwama-type false flag operation’ in Kashmir to give it an excuse to carry out a pre-meditated attack in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Though this plot seems to have been lifted straight out of a John le Carré novel, yet there were chances that it could still have gained some sort of acceptability had it not been for two major blunders that Pakistan made. The first was that during his maiden US visit, Khan had himself dubbed the Pulwama car-bomb suicide attack as an “indigenous thing” and went on to justify his allegation by saying “A Kashmiri boy was radicalised after the brutalities of the Indian security forces and he carried out the attack.” But just within two months, he suddenly made a U-turn and started accusing New Delhi of orchestrating this attack and tried to raise a “false flag operation” bogey without even furnishing any evidence to substantiate his allegation.

The second (and bigger) blunder was made by Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa himself, when just a day after New Delhi abrogated Article 370, he declared that “Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end. We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil our obligations.” What does the commitment of an army chief to “go to any extent to fulfil our obligations” imply needs no elaboration and so, if the international community chose not to side with Pakistan on the Article 370 issue, Khan and Gen. Bajwa have only themselves to blame. But instead of learning a lesson, losing the diplomatic battle seems to have sent the Generals who dictate Pakistan’s Kashmir policy into an overdrive and perhaps this is the reason why they directed Khan to start beating war drums by claiming that India was looking for an excuse to attack PoK.

Islamabad tried to raise international concern by saying that it would give a befitting reply to any Indian “misadventure” and this could lead to an all-out war. However, its ploy failed because the world is well aware that India being in an extremely favourable diplomatic position wouldn’t be so imprudent as to start a war and thereby lose international goodwill and be branded an aggressor. But, since it’s their Generals and not diplomats or civil servants who devise Islamabad’s Kashmir related policies, instead of looking at other diplomatic alternatives, Rawalpindi upped the ante by bringing in the nuclear exchange dimension in an extremely amateurish manner.

When Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke about a possible review of New Delhi’s ‘no first use’ nuclear policy, we heard Khan expressing concern and saying “…the world must also seriously consider the safety and security of India’s nuclear arsenal in the control of the fascist, racist Hindu supremacist Modi government. This is an issue that impacts not just the region but the world.” He even went a step further and presented the doomsday scenario by saying, “If the world does nothing to stop the Indian assault on Kashmir and its people, there will be consequences for the whole world as two nuclear-armed states get ever closer to a direct military confrontation.” However, this isn’t a mere apprehension – it’s an unconcealed and direct statement of intent confirming Pakistan’s willingness to exercise the military option and New Delhi needs to highlight this open display of Pakistan’s belligerent attitude at all international forums.

However, little did those who came up with this idea of nuclear blackmail realise that by not issuing any nuclear threat in 1999 even when the Pakistan Army violated international conventions and committed a blatant act of unprovoked aggression by the occupying Indian territory in Kargil, New Delhi has already made place for itself in the exclusive club of responsible nuclear powers. On the other hand, White House National Security Council member Bruce Riedel who was privy to top-secret briefings given by CIA to the US President had confirmed that on July 4, 1999, the CIA had “very compelling” evidence that “Pakistan was preparing its nuclear weapons for deployment and possible use.”

When even this ploy didn’t work, the Kashmir policy makers in Pakistan decided to test-fire the Ghaznavi missile, which is capable of carrying nuclear warheads and has a range of 290 km. Coming at a time when Indo-Pak relations have reached its nadir, this missile launch doesn’t inspire much confidence in Islamabad’s claim of being a responsible nuclear state as it’s evident that it has done this to provoke New Delhi into following suite so as to add weight to Khan’s allegations that India’s nuclear arsenal is in the hands of what he considers as the “fascist, racist Hindu supremacist Modi government” which is a global threat. But since New Delhi has wisely opted not to fall into this trap, Rawalpindi’s nuclear bluff has finally been called.

Therefore, instead of worrying about India behaving in a reckless manner and nuking Pakistan, the international community should be more concerned about Pakistan Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed’s unambiguous statement that “Kashmir issue if not resolved could become a ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan” as it reinforces what Khan has said and also decodes Gen Bajwa’s pledge that Pakistan army will go to “any extent” for the sake of Kashmir.

So, it’s high time that the international community called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.

An important issue that Islamabad failed to take note of is that while India has a ‘no first use policy’ in place and reconsidering the same is mere loud-thinking, its own nuclear doctrine doesn’t have any such stipulation. So, would it be incorrect if the international community retorts to Khan’s tirade on the possibility of a pre-emptive Indian nuclear strike by saying, “look who’s talking?”

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