More than eleven years back, some eminent scholars from the subcontinent, American and European Universities had gathered in the Gold Room of Rayburn House, Capitol Hill, Washington to debate and discuss a way forward on Jammu and Kashmir problem for ensuring peace in South Asia. The Meeting had been organized by an American Lawyers Association and a group of Kashmir Diaspora. Those from India, who among others partook in the deliberations included Praful Bidwai, an eminent political analyst and known for his writings on nuclear weapons disarmament and peace and Dr. Ved Pratap Vaidik, author and writer then Chairman Council for Indian Foreign Policy known for his book ‘Indian Foreign Policy: New Pointers’. Those from American and European academia who participated in deliberations included Prof. Robert G. Wirsing, of Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Honolulu Studies, Hawaii and Dr. Rodney W Jones of Policy Architects. There was no major academic contribution to the conference from Pakistan except presentation by Dr. Attiya Inayatullah. (Living Uncertainties). A major concern, which nightmarishly haunted the deliberation was the nuclearization of India and Pakistan, the emergence of Kashmir as nuclear flashpoint and threat of a nuclear war in the region.
Seeing India and Pakistan caught up in a ‘security trap’ and pleading for a dialogue between India and Pakistan, Bidwai told the conference ‘unless the dialogue leads to concrete results, the countries will ‘fail to achieve minimal peace or stability.’ On the suggestion of Bidwai, the conference in its resolution called upon ‘India and Pakistan to negotiate a treaty to create a nuclear weapons-free zone in all of Jammu and Kashmir.’
India and Pakistan relations have remained on a shot fuse for past seventy years is something that is internationally known. And the bitterness in their relations have the potential of flaring up into skirmishes on the Line of Control and the Working Boundary, and the two countries for their failure to address the outstanding disputes have fought four wars is also known globally. Nevertheless, the world for the first time during the Kargil War became conscious, the deterioration in the relations between the two countries could cause nuclear war in the region. It was not just a surmise or a wild speculation but something that seemed to happen. Barkha Dutt, who covered Kargil war in her book titled “This Unquiet Land: Stories from India’s Fault lines”, says ‘that India had not ruled out the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Pakistan during the Kargil crisis.’ “During an interview to the NDTV, Brajesh Misra revealed that a letter given to President Clinton by PM Vajpayee had hinted that India was contemplating using the nuclear weapons if Pakistan did not pull out the fighters from Kargil”.
It was but for the intervention of the President, Bill Clinton, who believed that ‘nuclear arsenals made India and Pakistan less secure and had created a dangerous situation in the sub-continent’ that war ended in Kargil and a nuclear war was prevented in the region. Had the two countries not been restrained, the people of the Jammu and Kashmir would have been the worst hit- perhaps converted into a graveyard. Nonetheless, for the State surrounded by three nuclear countries, India, Pakistan, and China with bags full of unresolved disputes and hostile to each other threats of nuclear war in the region have become the cause of worry for the people in the state- thus voice raised for declaring it a nuclear-free zone.
As very rightly pointed out by the Laura Schuurmans, in her book ‘Kashmir: Paradise on Earth or a Nuclear Flashpoint’, “Nuclearization of South Asia has been one of the most dangerous developments in its history since wars have been fought over Kashmir between India-Pakistan and India-China.” In fact, the state in the entire region is most vulnerable. The debate over declaring the State across the divide as a nuclear-free zone once caught public imagination in Kashmir after the Khundru ammunition depot disaster that had brought a lot of destruction. (GK 23 Oct v2007). Nevertheless, the worry about nuclearization of India and Pakistan and its direct bearing on Jammu and Kashmir has been never before so intense with people in general and the civil society in particular as it has been during the past one week after India and Pakistan military leadership exchanged hot words- that subtly signaled exchange of nukes in the region.
On January 12, 2018, Chief of the Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat at a press conference in New Delhi said, “We will call the (nuclear) bluff of Pakistan. If we will have to really confront the Pakistanis, and a task is given to us, we are not going to say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons. We will have to call their nuclear bluff.” On 13, January 2018, Major General Asif Ghafoor Director General of the Inter-Service Public Relations, media wing of Pakistan armed forces responding to the statement of General Rawat said that ‘his country has a credible nuclear capability, meant for threat from the east and it believe it’s a weapon of deterrence, not a choice. It is the only thing stopping India as there is no space for war between two nuclear states.
Interestingly, after Pakistan army’s statement Pakistan Foreign Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif also chose to join the debate on the Twitter. He described Army Chief’s statement as ‘an invitation for nuclear war.’ For understanding, the increasing hostility between the two countries and looming threat of nuclear conflagration in the region it would be to good quote the full-text of the reaction of Pakistan Foreign Minister on the microblog:
“Very irresponsible statement by Indian Army Chief, not befitting his office. Amounts to an invitation for the nuclear encounter. If that is what they desire, they are welcome to test our resolve. The general’s doubt would swiftly be removed, inshallah.”
Sadly, enough the exchange of warring words between the two countries has once again intensified hostility between them and multiplication of the ceasefire violations across the line dividing the State- and huge human loss military and civilian. Seventy years history testifies neither wars nor skirmishes along the LoC have helped in the resolution of the outstanding disputes between the two countries and the only way forward is an uninterruptable composite dialogue between the key South-Asian players.