Since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has resorted to every threat, commencing from launching jihad and ending with the possibility of a nuclear war in South Asia, seeking to force the global community to pressure India. The world ignored his warmongering, especially his nuclear threats, despite him repeating it on multiple occasions every day during his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly session.
Evidently, these are not words which would flow from a statesman, as the Indian envoy to the UN stated in her reply to Imran’s speech, “Prime Minister Khan’s threat of unleashing nuclear devastation qualifies as brinkmanship not statesmanship.” For a world seeking peace and development, threat of a nuclear war is the last thing they desire to hear. This was evident when many global leaders sought to push a meeting between the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, and President Donald Trump, to ease the Iranian crisis.
Many believed Imran was speaking the language of his army chief and of associated Jihadists as also out of desperation, with the changed structure of J and K having impacted their plans. It was an indicator that Pakistan planned to step up terrorism in J and K and was fearful of an Indian riposte in case a terror strike led to large casualties. His intentions were understood by the US and stated by its Assistant Secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, Randall Shriver, in an address in Washington, last week.
Imran’s government had repeatedly stated that war is not an option but could be thrust upon Pakistan. Evidently, Imran had neither been briefed on the escalation matrix in international relations nor on the basic concept of war and its nuclear fallout. Hence, he displayed ignorance, immaturity and poor knowledge. Which global leader would threaten the world with a nuclear war?
Nothing could be more childish than Imran’s words at the UN: “If a conventional war starts, anything could happen. But supposing a country seven times smaller than its neighbour is faced with a choice: either you surrender, or you fight for your freedom till death. We will fight and when a nuclear-armed country fights to the end it will have consequences far beyond the borders, it will have consequences for the world.”
The facts which prove him wrong were not missed by the world. India is a mature nation, aware of realities, global complexities and international groupings. It is aware that the atmosphere of 1971 no longer exists. The world would never permit the splitting of a nation, and that too a nuclear power, as it did at that period. India too would desire a stable Pakistan. The army chief, General Bipin Rawat, had in a lecture in Maldives, last week, stated, “We have no extraterritorial ambitions and no desire to transplant our ideology on others.”
The Pak-China nexus would also never permit a war to extend till such a stage, even if India develops the conventional capability to do so. Simultaneously, there is no doubt that India would never stay silent as it had done for decades and depend on the world to pull Pakistan back from its policy of employing terror groups as an instrument of state policy. It is aware it would have to defend itself. It would act to force costs on Pakistan, which would intend to dent the image of its deep state and its standing within the nation.
India understands that the only way to make Pakistan change its outlook is to break the power and hold of its army on the nation leading to the ushering in of a genuine democracy. The deep state did manage to hide its losses in the surgical strike in 2016 and Balakote this year. It may not be able to do so again. An Indian counter-strike may enhance tensions and lead to a conflict, which may not directly be in the conventional sense but include employment of multiple force structures, beyond just conventional forces.
This would neither be aimed at compelling Pakistan to surrender nor be intended to breaking it up into smaller states. The division of Pakistan is being done internally by the highhandedness of its army alone and requires no support from outside. Hence, the Indian response would be multifarious and aimed at conveying that employment of terrorism is unacceptable. It is unlikely to create conditions for even threatening a nuclear war. Nuclear weapons are internationally monitored by satellite and other clandestine means by global powers. They cannot be activated and employed the way Imran imagines.
Imran should have attempted to understand the reasons behind possession of nuclear weapons of other nations, before making ignorant threats. North Korea’s holding of nuclear weapons is to ensure the survival of the state against any US-South Korea action against it to change the present structure. It was compelled to develop them when the concept of forced democracy was sweeping the globe to challenge USSR and Chinese models of communism. Israel is also suspected of holding nuclear weapons, though it has neither tested, accepted nor rejected its holding.
Here again, the reason for holding nuclear weapons is for survival of the state, not for an offensive against its adversaries. Nuclear weapons are instruments of war prevention, not war mongering. They would only be considered for employment at a final stage after requisite warning. This could only be when the very structure of the state is under threat. They are not weapons which are flaunted before the world as Imran has done.
While he may be playing to his home gallery, his lack of knowledge, awareness and ability to grasp statesmanship came clearly to the fore. In the end, the main aspects which Imran attempted to raise at the UNGA were also ignored. His concerns on Kashmir, vulnerability of his state and its dire economic mess were glossed over because of his threats. The result was that Imran suffered loss of face and Pakistan lowered its own international standing.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)