The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured a landslide victory in the 2019 general election in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his second tenure with full confidence and commenced the Hindutva extremist agenda in the country. The Modi government revoked the autonomous status of Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IOJ&K), enacted controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and above all, increased belligerence with nuclear-armed Pakistan. Since the 2019 Pulwama military standoff, the Modi government has been using the threat of military force usage, including the use of nuclear weapons, to elicit desirable behavior from Pakistan. Indeed, all these irrational acts of BJP government underline how fraught the situation has turned out to be during the last one-year reign of Hindu supremacists in India. These issues raised serious questions about the future of the Indian nuclear stockpile in the hands of a hyper-nationalist leadership.
The BJP campaign labeled as an aberration in the Indian politics, which acted as a catalyst in changing India's nuclear doctrine from non-deployable status to deployed nuclear assets, swapping No-Fist-Use (NFU) with First-Use (FU) nuclear policy and above all replacing nuclear deterrence with nuclear compellence strategy against Pakistan. According to an Indian scholar Rajesh Rajagopalan, “Such proposals are ideologically-driven short-cuts to demonstrate ‘resolve’ rather than a careful response to India’s strategic problems.”
Narendra Modi led BJP's racist, bigoted, communal, and warmongering statements throughout the 2019 general election were alarming. The BJP campaign labeled as an aberration in the Indian politics, which acted as a catalyst in changing India's nuclear doctrine from non-deployable status to deployed nuclear assets, swapping No-Fist-Use (NFU) with First-Use (FU) nuclear policy and above all replacing nuclear deterrence with nuclear compellence strategy against Pakistan. According to an Indian scholar Rajesh Rajagopalan, “Such proposals are ideologically-driven short-cuts to demonstrate ‘resolve’ rather than a careful response to India’s strategic problems.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the chairman of India's National Command Authority (NCA), which is the sole body to authorize the use of India's nuclear weapons in the event of a war. The problematic issue is that he is prone to use armed forces to coerce a nuclear-armed neighbor to gather and sustain the support of the nationalists and Hindu extremist forces in the Indian polity. He 'beat the nuclear drum to stir up his nationalist base' during the 2019 general election campaign. On April 14, 2019, Prime Minister Modi claimed that he had called Pakistan's 'nuclear bluff' by carrying out airstrikes within Pakistan. He said: "Pakistan has threatened us with nuclear, nuclear, nuclear" and then he asked rhetorically, "did we deflate their nuclear threat or not?" The alarming fact was that the Chairman of India's NCA declared publically Pakistan's nuclear capability bluff and ridiculed its restrained policy in the crisis to avoid the escalation of the conflict. On April 20, 2019, Premier Modi said: "Every other day, they used to say 'we have a nuclear button, we have a nuclear button.' What do we have then? Have we kept it for Diwali?" On the following day, he proudly said, "When Pakistan captured Abhinandan, I said [to Pakistan] that if anything happens to our pilot, we will not leave you." He added, "Pakistan announced they would return the pilot on the second day, else it was going to be a 'qatal ki raat' [a night of slaughter]."
The BJP leaders and RSS diehard defense analysts frequently made irresponsible nuclear statements, which demonstrated that there was a wider acceptance for such startling views in the Indian ruling elite. Shyam Saran, India’s former Foreign Secretary, raised concern about Mr. Modi’s nuclear trigger-happy destabilizing arrogance. On April 23, 2019, he wrote in his op-ed titled ‘Modi should know India’s status as a nuclear weapon state demands responsible leadership’, “Many norms have been transgressed and several thresholds crossed in the ongoing Lok Sabha election campaign, whether in the communal and sectarian polarization of Indians or the politicization of the armed forces. Now another threshold has been crossed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his most recent remarks on India’s nuclear weapons delivered in a threatening tone.” Indeed, the use of nuclear warmongering to compel a nuclear-armed adversary for mustering the political support to win the general election and to alter Pakistan's Kashmir policy was a risky phenomenon in the region. It manifested that Prime Minister Modi and his extremist cohorts were unaware of the futility or limits of nuclear compellence strategy against the nuclear-armed state.
The rise of Hindutva populism in the Indian society and the values that underpin the BJP governance viewed by political analysts are an 'end of Indian secularism' and the beginning of Hindu Rashtra. Besides, Modi's re-election for the second term exposed India's reputation as a responsible nuclear weapon state, which would act with restraint and prudence in handling nuclear weapons. The current elected government in New Delhi stridently questions two fundamental pillars of the Indian constitution, i.e., secularism and minorities’ equal existence in India, and its decision to deploy nuclear submarine Arihant at the Arabian Sea drew attention to the risky choices of the Indian right-wing extremist ruling elite that ultimately played into regional strategic instability.
The Modi government chalked out a risky ‘Nuclear Compellence Strategy’ to pursue its objectives against nuclear-armed Pakistan. “Nuclear compellence is the use of nuclear threats to persuade an adversary to carry out a favorable action.” The Modi government’s nuclear compellence strategy is the use of nuclear threats and maneuvers to persuade nuclear-armed Pakistan to carry out a favorable action in the Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir in particular and submit to its regional hegemony in general. This strategic mindset was also responsible for introducing India's surgical strike stratagem that is grounded on the concept of preemptive counterforce options against Pakistan. According to the Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces-2017 (JDIAF-2017): "India has moved to a pro-active and pragmatic philosophy to counter various conflict situations. The response to terror provocations could be in the form of a surgical strike, and these subsumed in the sub-conventional portion of the spectrum of armed conflict." The surgical strike stratagem and preemptive counterforce doctrine gives Indian armed forces the choice of time, targets, and scale to the launch, but it equally creates a risky strategic environment in which military planners feel compelled to use nuclear weapons against the adversary.
The aberration in Indian politics and change in nuclear posture caused the safety and security problem of the Indian nukes. The nukes deployment and the aggressive mindset of India’s NCA Chairman, Prime Minister Modi, and members such as Amit Anilchandra Shah, Minister of Home Affairs are alarming. On August 18, 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “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.”
The situation between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan further deteriorated on August 5, 2019, when New Delhi enacted ‘The Jammu & Kashmir Reorganizing Act, 2019’ that revoked the Articles 370 and 35A from the Constitution of India, which granted special and autonomous status to IOJ&K. The abrogation of the articles, already largely overridden in practice, was not only a breach of India’s Constitution; it was also a violation of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions, which declared Kashmir as a disputed territory. The principle of a plebiscite prescribed in Security Council resolution 47 (1948) and subsequent resolutions reflects the legal recognition of the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan appealed UNSC to implement its resolutions on the 72-year-old Kashmir dispute. India opposed the holding of the UNSC meeting to camouflage its atrocities in the IOJ&K. On August 16, 2019, the UNSC convened a consultative meeting on the subject and nullified India's claim that annexation of Kashmir was an internal matter of India. It vindicated Pakistan's position that the UNSC resolutions were intact, and thereby a holding of a free and fair plebiscite was the only approach to resolve the protracted Kashmir dispute between the two nuclear-armed states. The members of the UNSC, other countries, and the representatives of international institutions advised both India and Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint in their policies and resolve the dispute through dialogue instead of the use of the military option. However, the Modi Government closed all doors to a peaceful and negotiated resolution of the Kashmir dispute. It was neither willing for a bilateral dialogue with Pakistan, nor permitting third-party mediation. It responded negatively to President Donald Trump's statement about his eagerness to mediate or arbitrate between the nuclear-armed neighbors over the Kashmir dispute. Hence, Modi government's state-terrorism to consolidate illegal occupation and to restore the writ of New Delhi in IOJ&K has posed a grave risk to regional and global peace and stability.
India’s deployment of nuclear assets at sea and swapping of its NFU with FU nuclear policy testified the change in India's nuclear doctrine and posture. On August 16, 2019, the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reconfirmed the swapping of NFU with FU policy. He said, "Till today, our nuclear policy is 'no first use.'" He added: "What happens in future depends on the circumstances." The nuclear-capable assets’ deployment, especially in the sea, could be accurately decoded as India’s nuclear weapons deployment in the Indian Ocean. In simple terms, India shunned ‘no-first-use’ nuclear policy and ‘massive retaliation’ nuclear doctrine and adopted a strategy of nuclear war-fighting instead of nuclear deterrence.
Notwithstanding, Pakistan’s reiteration that nuclear war would be catastrophic and nuclear weapons are the weapons of deterrence and a political choice for ensuring deterrence stability in South Asia, India’s Hindu supremacist ruling elite believe in using nuclear threats to compel Pakistan to change its current Kashmir policy. The Modi government has been compelling Pakistan to forget IOJ&K and discuss the status of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan for the settlement of long-standing Kashmir dispute. It arrogantly boasted to formulate a plan to take punitive action if Pakistan refused to yield. It was not issuing a mere threat, which was sufficient for deterrence; it was pronouncing both the danger and exemplary use of force that is required for compellence. Such acts of the Indian ruling elite are enough to prove that fascist individuals have control over the Indian nuclear arsenal, which are prone to irresponsible nuclear behavior.
The aberration in Indian politics and change in nuclear posture caused the safety and security problem of the Indian nukes. The nukes deployment and the aggressive mindset of India’s NCA Chairman, Prime Minister Modi, and members such as Amit Anilchandra Shah, Minister of Home Affairs are alarming. On August 18, 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “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.” On August 30, 2019, he wrote in The New York Times: "We were not simply up against a hostile government. We were up against a ‘New India’, which is governed by leaders and a party that are the products of the Hindu supremacist mother ship, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the RSS”. Khan’s concerns had logic because religious fanatics are controlling India’s nuclear weapons.
The international community, especially the United States, led the western nations to adopt an apathetic approach towards India's hyper-nationalist ruling elite's irresponsible nuclear behavior due to India's geo-politics and geo-economic significance and estimated role in the Indo-Pacific region. Trump administration applauded India's "leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region" to balance China in the Asia-Pacific region. Besides, the United States and its allies facilitated India’s obtaining membership of important technological cartels – Missile Technology Control Regime (2016), Wassenaar Arrangement (2017) and Australia Group (2018). The sanctioning of India’s conventional and nuclear weapons qualitative and quantitative advancement has bolstered the Indian ruling elite's revisionist mindset, encouraged its hegemonic aspirations in South Asia, and increased the probability of war between India and Pakistan, which is very destabilizing for the deterrence stability and peace in South Asia.
The writer is a Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. He is a former Director of the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU. He is the author of the books Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures and Restrains Regime in South Asia and Surgical Strike Stratagem: Brinksmanship and Response.
E-mail: [email protected]
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