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A dangerous nuclear future due to unresolved disputes

By Rameez Raja and Ishrat Mohi-ud-Din

All over the world, people wonder how and when peace will be restored in the world, especially in South Asia, where two enemy states have a bitter relationship due to unresolved Kashmir dispute. The acquisition of nukes by India and Pakistan has invited the experts to present their opinion on the future of India-Pakistan relationship that might devastate the entire region due to intense rivalry and territorial disputes. Experts urge both nuclear states to settle the unresolved Kashmir dispute that is regarded as the core crisis between India and Pakistan. However, both nuclear states ignore the studies of peace research and worship nukes as part of the strategic studies to fulfil their national interest.

Some nuclear experts believe that wars can be avoided due to acquisition of nukes, while some pundits believe that nukes will create more instability. This study tries to answer these questions in the context of India and Pakistan which went nuclear in May 1998 and, subsequently, invited the condemnation and economic sanctions from the international community on both states. Additionally, within a short span of time, both states fought a war in 1999 at Kargil under the nuclear umbrella.

Nuclear crisis

India-Pakistan partition in 1947 did not bring stability to the region due to the unresolved Kashmir dispute. Both the states have fought three wars in the pre-nuclear period and one limited war (also called Kargil crisis in 1999) after both the states acquired nuclear weapons. After the 1971 war, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stated that at present “we cannot go to war for next 5, 10 or 15 years.” However, “if tomorrow the people of Kashmir start freedom movement. . . We will fight if we want to fight…” The Indian misrule in Kashmir culminated in 1989-90 uprisings, as admitted by Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur, and these uprisings provided impetus to Pakistan to support it. Pakistan’s disparity with India in conventional matters was diminished by its nuclear weapons acquisition. And this was the reason that Pakistan changed its behaviour towards India in the 1980s and 90s. Pakistan threatened India on several occasions to use its nukes and vice versa. Pakistan declares in its nuclear doctrine that it will use its nukes against any conventional attack by its adversary.

The pre-emptive strike crisis was the first crisis between India and Pakistan during the pre-nuclear period. The Indian Air Force conducted a feasibility study on attacking and neutralizing Pakistan’s enrichment facility at Kahuta on 27 April 1981. Moreover, the attack on Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear reactor by Israel increased the anxieties of Pakistan. The seismic activity was recorded by the Indian investigators and was assumed that it could be Pakistan’s first underground nuclear test on 15 June, 1983. In resistance, Indira Gandhi in late 1983 reportedly asked Air Marshall Dilbagh Singh (Chief of Air Staff) to ready a strike mission against the nuclear weapons-related facilities of Pakistan. However, Islamabad was alerted by the US after the US intelligence agencies discovered the Indian plan of pre-emptive strike on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in late 1983. Pakistan in return was planning to attack the Indian nuclear facilities in Trombay.

Indira Gandhi failed to target Pakistan as it was estimated that Pakistan possessed a nuclear weapon capability and can retaliate with nukes on India. Moreover, in 1984, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Dean Hinton publicly warned India against attacking Pakistan. In the same year, Israel was busy talking to India for making a plan to strike Pakistan’s uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta. In response to the Israeli presence in Kashmir in order to attack Kahuta nuclear plant in June 1991, Nawaz Sharif on 11 July, 1991 threatened to declare war on any country involved in pre-emptive strikes on nuclear sites in Pakistan.

Operation Brasstacks was another crisis where nuclear threats were exchanged between India and Pakistan in 1986-87. Pakistan’s nuclear capability was known to Indians in 1987. Dr. Abdul Qadir Khan’s interview with Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar about the acquisition of an atomic bomb sent a clear message to India not to wage war on Pakistan. Within two years after the de-escalation of the Brasstacks crisis, India and Pakistan fell again into a crisis involving Kashmir uprisings. The crisis was so severe that Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, proclaimed the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination and warned India not to wage war on Pakistan, which was capable of utilizing its nukes. Some experts stated that this was the time when India and Pakistan were on the verge of a ‘nuclear war’, which is sometimes called a nuclear crisis. According to Seymour Hersh, General Aslam Beg had given official permission to the technicians at Kahuta Research Laboratory to assemble nuclear warheads.

Nuclear tests increase instability more  

After the overt nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May 1998, Pakistan behaved more aggressively than before. After the Kargil war in 1999, Indian parliament was attacked by five militants on 13 December 2001. In response, India mobilized its army towards western borders on 18 December 2001 to launch ‘Operation Parakram’. At that time, the US was busy in conducting military operations in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s base support. The US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill intervened and the ten-month military standoff ended without any military clashes between India and Pakistan. However, it is believed that both states exchanged nuclear threats and deployed their nukes on their borders during 2001-02 military standoff.

When India realized that nukes were not working to deter Pakistan, India resorted to ‘Cold Start’, which deals with large scale mobilisation of forces in order to take advantage in the minimum possible time under the nuclear umbrella. India’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) has been challenged by many experts and in this context, Walter Ladwig III, with reference to India’s CSD, stated: “Limited war on the subcontinent poses a serious risk of escalation…. A history of misperception… India’s awkward national security decision-making system suggests that Cold Start could be risky undertaking…increase instability in South Asia.” The CSD has its limitations as Pakistan clearly declares that it will use its ‘Nasr Missile’, a tactical nuclear weapon (TNW), against India on its own soil. The limited war in the nuclear backdrop is problematic. In his Limited War in the Nuclear Age, Halperin questions the assumption that there would be no restraint in a nuclear war.

India no doubt is conventionally stronger than Pakistan but Pakistan possesses ballistic missiles which are superior to India and has surpassed India in delivery vehicles, as admitted by Rajesh Rajagopalan and Atul Mishra. The biggest mistake India made in May 1998 was its nuclear tests that provoked Pakistan to do the same. India has lost its conventional opportunity to wage war on Pakistan. The instability is bound increase more when Pakistan’s disparity with India diminishes at the conventional level or India crosses the LOC at the immediate level.

After the Uri incident and surgical strikes which Pakistan denied, Pakistan’s Defence Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif stated that TNWs will be utilized if any violation of LOC from the Indian side is discovered. It is interesting to note that without moving to a peaceful solution of unresolved dispute, both states continued their nuclear arms race. Pakistan conducted its first flight test of nuclear-capable “Ababeel” surface-to-surface ballistic missile with a range of 2, 200 kilometers on 25 January, 2017. It is reported by the Strategic Forces Command of Pakistan that the missile is a Multi Independently Targetable Re-Entry Vehicle (MIRV) ballistic missile with multiple warheads, instead of a single warhead. Pakistan claimed that this missile was in response to India’s quest for Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) that challenged the effectiveness of Pakistan’s strategic deterrence. However, India did not lose much time and tested the guided Pinaka multi-barrel launcher on the same day.

Nukes fail to settle the dispute

Nuclear weapons development in the context of India and Pakistan has a negative outcome. Nuclear weapons are not for termination of the crisis between the two states, as highlighted by many scholars like Raj Chengappa and Savita Pande. Similarly, Saira Khan writes, “nuclear weapons acquisition transforms a conflict negatively… If stability equals peace and peace equals absence of war and crisis, then nuclear weapons acquisition does not ensure peace or stability.”

Indo-Pak nuclear deterrence cannot survive for a long time as they both suffer from a trust deficit. Both states should give up their irrelevant nuclear doctrines because any misperception, miscalculation, and misunderstanding can damage the region within a short span of time as the flight time of missiles between India and Pakistan is too short.

The strategic community, politicians, diplomats, intelligence, conventional wars and nukes have failed to terminate the India-Pakistan crisis, particularly the unresolved Kashmir dispute. The stability in terms of war as argued by optimists like Kenneth Waltz and Sumit Ganguly does not prevail in the context of India and Pakistan. The unresolved dispute has given birth to a new crisis and both states are engaged in managing the crisis rather than terminating it. The unresolved dispute can easily pave the way to a dangerous nuclear crisis as both states have already exchanged nuclear threats (implied and communicated) with each other and even deployed nuclear warheads on their borders during the crisis. The continuing nuclear arms race is a sign of instability in the region.

The pessimists like Scott Sagan have explicitly claimed that “India and Pakistan face a dangerous nuclear future… Imperfect humans inside imperfect organizations… will someday fail to produce secure nuclear deterrence.” Simultaneously, S. Paul Kapur states that there is only instability/instability paradox in the context of India and Pakistan because the crisis has never been terminated and nukes are made for this. The Kargil war, Operation Parakram, Uri incident, and the surgical strikes do not signify stability after the nuclear weapons acquisition of both states. Some scholars call South Asia as a ‘sorcerer’s apprentice problem’ which has no future for peace because of unresolved Kashmir dispute.

Psychological approach to settle the dispute 

It is often believed by pessimists that nuclear deterrence is a psychological condition, simply a myth. Numerous studies which focus on the settlement of Kashmir dispute between two nuclear states lay stress on the dialogue between India and Pakistan. However, the mainstream parties in Kashmir are always ignored whenever experts in India and Pakistan talk about a meaningful dialogue for the settlement of Kashmir issue. Thus, an attempt is made to address the Kashmir issue with the help of a psychological approach.

A lot of ink has been spilled on conflicts and their resolution. A cognitive psychological approach talks about the understandings of beliefs, values, and assumptions of the three parties involved in the Jammu and Kashmir conflict. The three parties are India, Pakistan, and the genuine leadership of Jammu and Kashmir. Along with the understanding of beliefs, values and assumptions, the approach talks about communication skills, including the social perspective-taking skills, empathy, warmth, and genuineness. The cognitive psychological approach focuses on accepting each other’s similarities and differences. The parties involved in disputes should find a common ground through which a bridge could be created to understand each other. In addition, the approach talks about the national identity, socio-political history, religious assumptions, gender issues and concerns. Farah A. Ibrahim argues that in case mediators fail to satisfy the three parties for resolution of the issue, an attempt should be made to work alone with an aggrieved party in order to reach a compromise table. Psychologists believe that disputes can be solved peacefully by applying these principles. For instance, a Committee for the Psychological Study of Peace and the creation of the Psychologists for Social Responsibility made contributions for conflict transformation and world peace.

Psychologists A. Anderson and D. Christie highlight the eight issues where work should be done between the disputes parties for bringing peace. For instance, nonviolence, human rights, tolerance and solidarity, equality of women and men, sustainable development, democracy, free flow of education, and peace education. These were also set forth by the UN Culture of Peace Program. Principles like empathy, warmth, genuineness, and communication skills have already played a pivotal role in South Africa and the peace accord between Egypt and Israel. These skills were taught to the leaders that resulted in the peace accord. Carl Rogers’ intervention with several training session lessons of how to communicate using these above-mentioned principles played an important role in South Africa and Middle East.

The recruitment of educated youth in the militant ranks is a great source of alarm for mainstream political parties in the Kashmir valley. The offensive attitude of the previous PDP-BJP coalition government towards the Kashmiris has contributed to increased militancy in the valley. The innocent and custodial killings, torture, human rights violations, rape, and summary executions by the security forces have elevated militancy in the valley. That is why India has rejected the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCIR) request to monitor the Kashmir valley and the first-ever report on the Human Rights violations in Kashmir. The militants are welcomed in Kashmir as freedom fighters and enjoy a large support base among the public. The stick policy has been given more importance in Kashmir that eventually culminated in resistance against the Indian rule. Rajesh Rajagopalan argues that militancy cannot be beaten by application of force. The last and suitable solution remains a triangular dialogue between India, Pakistan, and genuine leaders of Jammu and Kashmir which psychological approach talks about.


This study did not find any stability between India and Pakistan after the acquisition of nukes in Summer 1998. Also, nukes have failed to stop a Kargil war between two belligerent states and is regarded as a setback to deterrence theory. The crises are so severe that they might turn into a deadly war between India and Pakistan. There is no improvement in the relations between the two rival states as both states are busy violating the ceasefire on the Line of Control. Settlement of Kashmir dispute through a meaningful dialogue is now an old story.  Moreover, nukes have been given first priority for security, although these evil weapons fail to provide a total security to both states. A psychological approach for the settlement of unresolved Kashmir issue might win the hearts of all the sections of people in India, Pakistan and Kashmir before any miscalculation takes place between two nuclear states. Also, the study understands that the unresolved Kashmir dispute will be solved between two neighbours in course of time and the enemy states might reduce their nuclear arsenals. Peace might eventually be restored in the region.

Rameez Raja, an ICSSR fellow, is pursuing Ph. D. at the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India. He specializes in India’s nuclear policy. His writings have previously appeared in Rising Kashmir, Café Dissensus Everyday, Kafila, South Asia Journal, Foreign Policy News, Modern Diplomacy, Pakistan Observer, Kashmir Observer, and Kashmir Monitor. Email ID:

Ishrat Mohi-Ud-Din completed her Masters in Psychology at the Department of Psychology, University of Kashmir, Kashmir.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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