Indo-Pak Nuclear Confrontation: First Use Policy  & the Race towards Armageddon 

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Head in the Sand Approach

Information on the colossal destructive effects of use of nuclear weapons, based on the horrendous experiences of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has been in the public domain for well over six decades. Yet, unmindful of the existing knowledge about the devastation that a nuclear war would unleash, preparations are still on to fight and win such a war. The head in the sand approach has left administrators to continue to draw up plans to face a post nuclear war world. According to news reports that appeared on Wednesday, 23 Jan, 2013:

“The local administration in Jammu and Kashmir state issued a newspaper advertisement on Tuesday warning residents to build bomb-proof basements, collect two weeks’ worth of food and water and be prepared for a possible nuclear war, stoking fears that tensions between India and Pakistan may escalate…. The advertisements were placed in local newspapers by the state disaster response force (SDRF).”

(Aijaz HussainSahil Makkar, “Govt advertisement stokes fear of a nuclear war”, Live Mint, New Delhi, 23 Jan, 2013)

The State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) of J&K obviously must have placed the said advertisement in newspapers under instructions from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Government of India. Did the local population really carry out SDRF’s instructions? Did the SDRF make any efforts to ensure the implementation of their instructions?

[There was also this reported move to use the underground portions of the Delhi Metro as nuclear shelters. According to a one account, “The only structure in Delhi that may afford some protection from a nuclear strike is the underground section of the Delhi Metro, whose … stations have been considered by the Delhi government to serve as nuclear shelters.”(See: Brigadier Anil Chauhan, Aftermath of a Nuclear Attack: A Case Study on Post-strike Operations, Pentagon Press, Delhi, 2010, p.81) Obviously, those who proposed this outlandish plan have not bothered to take into consideration the impact of the huge firestorm / conflagration that would be triggered by a nuclear strike, which would suck out all oxygen even from deep underground shelters in the affected area.]

The NDMA’s own public position on the matter, which it has published in the “National Disaster Management Guidelines: Management of Nuclear and Radiological Emergencies”(2009), [which is endorsed by the NDMA’s National Disaster Management Plan 2016 (see p.151)] is as follows:

“Though the probability of a nuclear attack is low, there should be a plan in place to handle such an event, as it would have devastating consequences. The Standard Operating Procedures for responding to such a scenario are addressed separately in a classified document and are not a part of this document.” (

Was the SDRF of J&K actually directed to follow the instructions in NDMA’s Standard Operating Procedure, which has been concealed from the public by labeling it as a classified document? If it did, it does expose the hollowness of the said Standard Operating Procedure. In all probability, the so-called Standard Operating Procedure to face a nuclear war is being kept as a classified document precisely to prevent it from being subjected to public ridicule because it contains nothing but ludicrous plans.

What is amply evident from NDMA’s said “Guidelines” of 2009 is that:

“Unlike a nuclear emergency, the impact of a nuclear disaster is beyond the coping capability of local authorities and such a scenario calls for handling at the national level, with assistance from international agencies, if required.” (p.xxiv)

The same report further went on to admit as follows: “The existing medical facilities and medical professionals in the country are highly inadequate to handle large-scale radiation injury cases.” (Para, p.55)  There was no need for the NDMA to reinvent the wheel. As early as 1980, the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), which was initially formed by a group of concerned medical doctors from the United States and the then Soviet Union, had come to the conclusion that it was impossible to provide meaningful medical care to the surviving victims of a nuclear war. The following is the IPPNW’s considered stand in this regard:

“In the 1960s, a group of concerned physicians studied and documented the blast, heat, and radiation effects of nuclear weapons, and came to the inescapable conclusion that a meaningful medical response to nuclear war is impossible. The atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the lifelong suffering of the survivors – the result of only two, small, relatively primitive nuclear weapons – had put the medical profession on notice that it must prevent what it would be unable to cure.” (See: IPPNW, Frequently Asked Questions, Q2)

Prevention is the ONLY cure! Preparation for post nuclear war relief & rehabilitation work is nothing but an exercise in futility! As a specific study in this regard titled “Nuclear Civil Defence in South Asia: Is It Feasible?” had concluded:

“There is no doubt that these measures will not come to the rescue of many people. But there may be some fortunate ones for whom such measures may make the difference between life and death. Even for such survivors, however, there may be little solace. They may well recall Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s famous observation that after a nuclear war “the living will envy the dead.” But this is the best that civil defence can do.”

[R Rajaraman, Z Mian, A H Nayyar, “Nuclear Civil Defence in South Asia: Is It Feasible?” Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), Mumbai, 20 Nov, 2004, p.5026]

Glimpses of Sanity

Despite all the hawkish rhetoric being exchanged from time to time, the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan, for the last twenty-one years since the nuclear tests in 1998, have been consistently displaying glimpses of sanity and maturity is handling the nuclear threat. Most people in India, Pakistan and the rest of the world are blissfully unaware that India – just few months after Pokran-2 – had taken the initiative in sponsoring a resolution before the UN General Assembly (UNGA) titled “Reducing Nuclear Danger” (A/RES/53/77F), which was adopted by the UNGA on 12 Jan, 1999 with 108 countries in favour (including Pakistan), 45 against and with 17 abstentions. Subsequently, this resolution on “Reducing Nuclear Danger” has been sponsored by India and several more countries for the last twenty years and on every occasion it was adopted by the UNGA with the full support of Pakistan. In 2018, there were 21 sponsors, including India, and the resolution (A/RES/73/56) was adopted by the UNGA on 05 Dec, 2018 with 127 countries in favour (including Pakistan), 49 against and with 10 abstentions. [In 2019, the Draft Resolution on “Reducing Nuclear Danger” has been sponsored by 22 countries on 21 Oct, 2019. It is yet to be formally adopted by the UN General Assembly.]

Merely passing resolutions without follow-up actions serve no purpose at all other than serving as means to hoodwink those who repose faith in such resolutions. From the lackadaisical attitude of India and Pakistan towards the content of the resolution it becomes apparent that both of them have either been acting contrary to its letter and spirit or at least have not made any serious effort to pursue its salient objectives with any sense of commitment. The resolution has categorically stated that:

+ “…the use of nuclear weapons poses the most serious threat to humankind and to the survival of civilization,

+  any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would constitute a violation of the Charter of the United Nations,

+ the proliferation of nuclear weapons in all its aspects would seriously enhance the danger of nuclear war,

+  nuclear disarmament and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons are essential to remove the danger of nuclear war…

+ [efforts would be made] to encourage Member States to consider the convening of an international conference … to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers…” (A/RES/73/56)

Another highly appreciable step is the bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan on the “Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear installations”, which the two countries had signed on 31 Dec, 1988 and which entered into force on 27 Jan, 1991. As per the terms of that agreement, the two countries undertook to inform each other of nuclear installations and facilities to be covered under the Agreement on the first of January of every calendar year. The twenty eighth consecutive exchange of such list between the two countries took place on 01 Jan, 2019, the first one having taken place on 01 Jan, 1992.  When the governments of the two countries are fully aware of the consequences of targeting nuclear installations of each other, can they afford to remain unconcerned about the consequences of targeting each other’s human populations with nuclear weapons?

Exit the Quagmire 

One way for India and Pakistan for getting out of the present quagmire is to first bilaterally put into practice the expressed desire of the two countries to persuade all nuclear weapon states to initiate steps for reducing the nuclear danger. Nothing prevents either of them or both together to take the initiative in convening an international conference in this regard. If India and Pakistan act in a concerted manner, the resolution on “Reducing Nuclear Danger” has the potential to rouse worldwide public opinion and force the other nuclear weapon states to fall in line. Unfortunately, other than passing resolutions, not a single such initiative has been taken by either side in the last twenty one years to raise public consciousness against the dangers of nuclear war or to take any concrete step at a multi-lateral level to prevent outbreak of nuclear war. Is it not a bitter irony that it is in the shadow of this enlightened resolution on “Reducing Nuclear Danger”, to which both India and Pakistan are parties, that both countries continue to enact the whole game of nuclear brinkmanship?

It is also equally unfortunate that for the last 58 years the world’s leading peace movements are content with beating about the bush than making any attempt to initiate concrete steps to confront the nuclear threat head-on. The McCloy-Zorin Accords on General and Complete Disarmament, i.e., the Joint Statement of Agreed Principles for Disarmament Negotiations, which was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union in Belgrade on 20 Sept, 1961, had held high hopes for ending the nuclear threat and creating a peaceful world. Unfortunately, such hopes were dashed after the brutal assassination of John F. Kennedy, the then President of the United States, on 22 Nov, 1963 and the removal of Nikita Khrushchev, the then Premier of the Soviet Union, from office on 14 Oct, 1964. After sidelining the McCloy-Zorin Accords, the leading peace movements began rooting for a series of so-called “arms control” or “non-proliferation” proposals that never had any adverse impact on the interests of the nuclear weapon powers.

The latest proposal in this series is the one titled “Draft Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” that was released under the aegis of the UN in New York on 22 May, 2017. [For a detailed critique of the same, see: N.D.Jayaprakash, “Conning Humanity in the Name of Disarmament”  

(Economic & Political Weekly, Mumbai, Vol. 52, Issue No. 28, 15 Jul, 2017)] Since there were too many untenable clauses in the said “Draft Convention”, the sponsors of the proposal came up with a revised version titled “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”, which was submitted on 06 Jul, 2017 and adopted by the UNGA the very next day. [For a detailed critique of the same, see: N.D.Jayaprakash, “The Game of Disarming the Unarmed: The Other Side of ‘Solution Aversion’  (Economic & Political Weekly, Mumbai, Vol. 52, Issue No. 42-43, 28 Oct, 2017)]  In utter contrast with the spineless positions of the leading peace movements, as early as 1988, the then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, had attempted to revive the essence of the McCloy–Zorin Accords by submitting an “Action Plan for a Nuclear Weapon Free and Non-Violent World Order” before the Third UN Special Session Devoted to Disarmament on 09 Jun, 1988. The intrinsic value of Rajiv Gandhi’s “Action Plan” is detailed out in an article titled “Tackling the U.S. / North Korea Standoff: Relevance of the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan”  (Counterpunch, 28 Aug, 2018)

Grab the Offer

In the midst of the ongoing verbal duel between India and Pakistan, the Prime Minster of Pakistan, Imran Khan, on 22 Jul, 2019 had come up with an interesting proposal. According to Fox News, “Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan would be willing to give up its nuclear weapons if India was able to keep the same promise…”  (Nick Givas, Fox News, 22 Jul, 2019)  Imran Khan further added: “… nuclear war is not an option. And between Pakistan and India, the idea of nuclear war is actually self-destruction…”  Neither India nor Pakistan needs to give up nuclear weapons at this stage: all they have to do is to give a categorical undertaking that they would not use nuclear weapons against each other or at least would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Since India has already made such a commitment (and still sticks by that commitment despite certain leaders from the ruling party making utterances to the contrary from time to time), and since Pakistan has offered to give up nuclear weapons on a reciprocal basis, India should have no problem in proposing that Pakistan also gives a No-First-Use undertaking as a confidence building measure before contemplating further steps towards nuclear disarmament. In fact, Imran Khan has actually made such an offer. According to a Reuters report from Islamabad, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing members of the Sikh community in Lahore on 02 Sept, 2019 had reportedly said with specific reference to use of nuclear weapons that: “There will be no first from our side ever…. India must immediately grab the offer and take steps to formalize the reported commitment of No-First-Use (NFU) by Pakistan. The real test of the seriousness of either side regarding the reported commitment to NFU can be gauged by the manner in which the two sides decide to pursue the matter further.

While India and Pakistan are ideally placed to take concrete steps to further the cause of global nuclear disarmament, the politics of rabble-rousing that serve the ideological interests of the ruling parties on the two sides are compelling them to do nothing in this regard. Until and unless the mass of the people on both sides are made to realize the enormity and the unacceptable level of death and destruction that a nuclear war would unleash on both sides, nuclear brinkmanship and saber-rattling will continue to rule the roost. It may also be emphasized that the untenable claim that there was a “responsible” way to use nuclear weapons, as the late Manohar Parikkar seemed to suggest (TOI, Delhi, 17 Aug, 2019), is just utter nonsense. Undoubtedly, the clamor for jettisoning India’s nuclear weapon policy from No-First-Use to First-Use is wholly misconceived and misplaced. How could such a demand be made with little concern for the fate of humanity when it is well known that Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) would serve no purpose or provide any benefit to anyone? Under the circumstances, the role of concerned people in India, Pakistan and elsewhere in arousing public consciousness in the Indian sub-continent and around the world against nuclear war in vital. Actually, nothing prevents India and Pakistan from signing a no-war pact.

It is hoped that the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan would take due note of the detailed scientific analysis of the possible repercussions of a nuclear between India and Pakistan, which ten members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have published in AAAS’s journal Science Advances on 02 Oct, 2019.The article titled “Rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and India portend regional and global catastrophe” emphasizes the fact that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan will not only result in the death of about 125 million people in the Indian sub-continent but also “the environmental stresses related to climate changes caused by smoke produced from burning cities could lead to widespread starvation and ecosystem disruption far outside of the war zone itself.”

Prevent nuclear war at all costs! Let sanity prevail over nuclear madness!

N.D. Jayaprakash is Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum and Co-Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (Coalition for supporting the Cause of the Bhopal Gas Victims).