ISLAMABAD: India and Pakistan are once again on the verge of a full-scale war. It is an unimaginable scenario as the two South Asian neighbors possess high-tech nuclear arms. They have fought three wars over Kashmir, which they both claim in full, but rule in part. Any escalation of military conflict between the two countries has a dangerous risk of a nuclear confrontation. New Delhi justifies its airstrike inside Pakistan by saying that it targeted a militant camp run by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant group, international media reported on Friday.
The group claimed responsibility for the February 14 suicide bombing in Kashmir’s Pulwama district, which killed more than 40 Indian troops. JeM, which allegedly has links to al-Qaeda, regularly targets government installations in Indian-Held Kashmir. So India claims its military operation was actually an act in self-defense.
Pakistan, on its part, denies any involvement in the Pulwama bombing. Prime Minister Imran Khan told New Delhi that his government was ready to take action against JeM if it provided concrete evidence about its involvement in the deadly attack. Islamabad also denies backing any Islamist group in Kashmir or anywhere else in the region.
Pakistan has limited means to respond to India bombing. A day after India’s military action, Pakistan said its aircraft launched strikes across the de-facto border from within Pakistani airspace. Islamabad also claimed that it shot down two Indian jets near the Kashmir border. The escalation, many fear, has increased the risk of a full-fledged military confrontation between the two nuclear-armed countries.
The biggest worry for the international community at the moment is that this could lead to a nuclear confrontation. Although, both countries have played down the risk of a nuclear war, regional and international players remain watchful.
“All wars are miscalculated, and no one knows where they lead to,” Pakistani PM Khan said in his address to the nation on Wednesday following Pakistan’s retaliatory strikes against India. “World War I was supposed to end in weeks, it took years. Similarly, the US never expected the war on terrorism to last 17 years,” he added.
“I ask India: with the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford such a miscalculation? If this escalates, things will no longer be in my control or in Narendra Modi’s,” the prime minister continued.
Nuclear capabilities: Both India and Pakistan have ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. According to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), India possesses nine types of operational missiles, including the Agni-3 that can reach targets up to 5,000 kilometers. Pakistan’s missiles can also reach any part of India, CSIS said.
Both countries also have smaller nuclear warheads that can be attached to short-range missiles (50-100 kilometers). According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Pakistan is estimated to have around 140 to 150 nuclear warheads, compared to India’s 130-140 warheads.
Climate scientists simulated the effects of limited regional nuclear war between the two countries and found that nuclear explosions could start firestorms that send millions of tons of smoke into the atmosphere. That could cripple the ozone layer, cause global cooling, and trigger food shortages.
The newest simulations showed that the effects could be “about five times worse than what we’ve previously calculated,” one researcher said. Climate scientists warn that if either country launches just a portion of its nuclear weapons, the situation might escalate into a global environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.
“This is the premier nuclear flashpoint in the world,” Ben Rhodes, a political commentator, said on Wednesday’s episode of the “Pod Save the World” podcast.
For that reason, climate scientists have modeled how an exchange of nuclear weapons between the two countries — what is technically called a limited regional nuclear war — might affect the world.
Though the explosions would be local, the ramifications would be global, that research concluded. The ozone layer could be crippled and Earth’s climate may cool for years, triggering crop and fishery losses that would result in what the researchers called a “global nuclear famine.”
“The danger of nuclear winter has been under-understood — poorly understood — by both policymakers and the public,” Michael Mills, a researcher at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, said. “It has reached a point where we found that nuclear weapons are largely unusable because of the global impacts.”
Analysts agree that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme is driven by its perception of the threat posed by India. “Pakistani officials state that their nuclear weapons are ‘India-specific,’ and as India’s military power grows —with its much larger economy, it is able to invest more in modern military capability —Islamabad believes it needs more nuclear weapons to maintain deterrence with India,” Toby Dalton, a co-director of the Nuclear Policy Programme at the Carnegie Endowment, told DW in a previous interview.Gregory Koblentz, an Associate Professor at George Mason University and author of a 2015 Carnegie report “A normal nuclear Pakistan,” says that the Pakistani military has adopted a strategy of “full spectrum deterrence” so it can “continue to engage in asymmetric warfare against India and deter even limited Indian conventional military retaliation with the threat of tactical nuclear weapons.”
This inequality between Indian and Pakistani military strengths could pose a huge risk, experts say.
Michael Kugelman from the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars is of the view that because Pakistan’s conventional military capacity is much inferior to that of India, the possibility of a nuclear conflict thus increases. “Pakistan’s retaliatory action in the present scenario could be met with a destructive Indian response. If that happens, we have to start worrying about a nuclear scenario,” Kugelman said.
But Talat Masood, a former Pakistani army general and defense analyst told DW that he does not think the latest Kashmir conflict could escalate into a nuclear conflict. “Yes, there are fears because the tension is rising and no talks are being held. Pakistan has offered talks but India will not hold such talks because of the [upcoming] elections there,” Masood said.