April 12, 2014
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto promises to review India’s nuclear doctrine. What does this portend?
He saw the signs of the approaching doomsday all around him: in moral degradation, in casual sex, in the rise of western power, in space travel, in our high-tech age. God, wrote Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons guru Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood in Mechanics of the Doomsday..., had not privileged man to know when it would come, but “the promised Hour is not a far off event now.” It would come as a “great blast,” perhaps “initiated by some catastrophic man-made devices, such as sudden detonation of a large number of nuclear bombs.”
Long mocked by his colleagues for his crazed beliefs — the physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy records him as saying, “djinns, being fiery creatures, ought to be tapped as a free source of energy” — and condemned to obscurity after his arrest on charges of aiding the Taliban, Mr. Mahmood may yet be remembered as a prophet.The doctrine debate
India’s next government will, without dispute, find itself dancing with the nuclear djinn Mr. Mahmood helped unleash. In its election manifesto, the Bharatiya Janata Party has promised to “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it to make it relevant to [the] challenges of current times.” Mr. Seshadri Chari, a member of the group that formulated this section of the party’s manifesto said: “why should we tie our hands into accepting a global no-first-use policy, as has been proposed by the Prime Minister recently?”
The debate will come in dangerous times. Pakistan has been growing its arsenal low-yield plutonium nuclear weapons, also called tactical or theatre nuclear weapons. Estimates suggest some 10-12 new nuclear warheads are being added to the country’s 90-110 strong arsenal, and new reactors going critical at Khushab will likely boost that number even further. New Delhi must respond — but the seeds of a nuclear apocalypse could sprout if it gets that response wrong.
Mr. Chari’s grasp of fact doesn’t give much reason to hope for much else: India’s no-first-use commitment was made by a government his party led, not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In 1998, battling to contain the international fallout from the Pokhran II nuclear tests, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee promised Parliament that “India would not be the first to use nuclear weapons.” Later, in August 1999, the National Security Advisory Board’s draft nuclear doctrine stated that India would only “retaliate with sufficient nuclear weapons to inflict destruction and punishment that the aggressor will find unacceptable if nuclear weapons are used against India and its forces.”