From Kashmir to Eternity - June 8, 2002
Caution: The following piece contains some disturbing material, which may be deemed unsuitable for the apprehensive reader.
Are we about to turn on our TV sets this summer and find 24-hour news coverage of the first post-World War II application of nuclear weaponry? As horrible as this picture is to contemplate, the chance for its transition to reality is greater than at any other time in the history of nuclear proliferation.
Nuclear weapons, which in the past have helped to deter war, may soon be used to wage one. A tripwire sits precariously between India and Pakistan, and the hazard potential is unprecedented. These two countries, which have a border and an ugly history of fighting in common, have each acquired nuclear capability.
During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviets engaged in a sport of deterrence called mutual assured destruction. It was a zero-sum game. The understanding was that, in the event of an actual conflict, use of nuclear weapons would result in the annihilation of both parties. The strategy worked to keep the unthinkable from ever taking place.
But the rulebook of deterrence requires that each participant possess a certain level of weapons. The recipient of a nuclear strike must have the capability to retaliate with sufficient force to keep the opponent in check.
In the case of India and Pakistan, because of the lack of retaliatory weaponry on either side, a first strike pre-empts nuclear payback, leaving only one side standing.
With a factor like this in play, the motivation to initiate a nuclear attack greatly increases, especially if the other side's "body language" is signaling that it is poised to attack.
An additional component that contributes to instability in the region is imbalance in the size of conventional forces. India has the clear advantage with 1.1 million soldiers to Pakistan's 550,000. India also has 3,400 tanks to Pakistan's 2,300, and 738 combat aircraft to Pakistan's 353. Because of this disparity, Pakistan has been reluctant to eliminate its first-strike nuclear prerogative.
India's military is seeking final authorization to conduct a mid-June invasion of the Pakistani side of Kashmir. The objective would be to destroy Islamic militant camps before the arrival of heavy monsoon rains in July.
India's military believes that it now has the necessary political backing to launch a limited war similar to the ones that the U.S. and Israel have waged. But the weighty question is can an action against Pakistan remain contained?
Terrorists may be playing a significant role in the current nuclear crisis. Posters written in the Pakistani language of Urdu, which advocate jihad against the West, have been placed in Pakistan. Pakistan provides cover for al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Kashmir terrorist factions. The nation is teeming with Saudi-financed madrassas that regularly seek out fresh terrorist troops. Refugee camps, too, are used as breeding grounds for new recruits.
The ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency, has been described as a "state within a state" and remains notoriously unaccountable. It has channeled money and weapons to the Taliban.
Al-Qaeda has been recruiting and training along the border in Pakistan and in the disputed Kashmir region. Cross-border incursions by terrorists are on the rise, and Indian intelligence claims al-Qaeda-trained terrorists are among those killed by border troops. Additionally, al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan (at least five of them) were devoted to the training of Kashmiri militants before the U.S. and allies dismantled them.
Bin Laden's followers would, of course, welcome any damage to the democratic process in India. They would also love to punish the government of Pakistan for joining the U.S. war against the Taliban. Most significantly, they would take pleasure in fueling the nuclear fire and pushing the two nations closer to conflagration. This is an ingredient that Osama bin Laden needs to complete his apocalyptic vision the vision of a world at war.
Many Americans are deluded into thinking that the nuclear risk is "over there somewhere." But the facts tell a different story.
Government sources estimate the casualties of a nuclear exchange to be as high as 12 million people. That's within the first hour of a blast.
It is doubtful that fallout from such an exchange would stay put in South Asia. It is far more likely to travel to other parts of world, wreaking its havoc globally on life, health, economics, environment, and on and on.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. envoys must make it clear to the nations of India and Pakistan that the United States and its allies will not allow the use of nuclear weapons, nor will we tolerate any actions that encourage such use.
Both countries must be convinced that the U.S. is willing and able to back up demands with whatever means necessary to provide a disincentive.