Cold Start or Nuclear Winter
A Crisis of Sanity in South Asia
South Asia is no stranger to conflict, for the region has always remained unstable for most of its post-colonial history, mainly due to the two regional powers, India and Pakistan, locking horns in an endless turf battle. It is not a good time for peace advocates on either side of the border simply because the conflict dynamics have created a toxic public perception which feeds ever so politically motivated cross border fanaticism. The situation is creating a noxious impact on the collective psychology of the people in both countries as they are encouraged to perceive the other as their enemy, while those concerned citizens who are not politically affiliated nor act on the behalf of any governmental or nongovernmental agenda and who only advocate peaceful coexistence and dialogue are branded as anti-nationals or even traitors.
This description of the contemporary situation in South Asia is very important to understand because this particular public perception of the ‘evil neighbor’ is a decisive factor in creating public support for legalizing aggressive policies against their respective neighbor, which most often results in the deaths of young soldiers and civilians caught up in the crossfire. It is done in order to implement the ultra-nationalist ambitions of the political forces in power often seeking an opportunity to ‘talk in the language of bullets’ rather than making efforts to solve the root cause of the conflict through engagement and diplomacy. Having been born and raised in South Asia myself, I feel that this public hatred is not organic because, as a Pakistani, the Indian people I met have only been warm and friendly to me and vice-versa, which leads me to believe that this cross border fanaticism is manufactured by the political elements on each side of the border to augment their own delusional objectives.
One only needs to look at the native language media in both countries to truly gauge how this malicious trend has taken root in the communal psychology in South Asia and how it has been used and abused to gain public support for destructive policies which seek to destroy the regional peace and stability.
There is absolutely no denying that there are genuine causes of conflict in South Asia like the Kashmir issue and the fact that there have been numerous wars and skirmishes between India and Pakistan over the past seven decades. It is also evident that after both countries gained the declared nuclear weapons capability in 1998, they have opted for another method of fighting each other through the application of proxy warfare. This new strategy is believed to be a ‘cost effective’ and indirect engagement method which is used to achieve perceived state objectives without risking an all out conventional or a nuclear war. Henceforth the ‘concept’ of a limited war under a nuclear threshold has been created and regularly propagated on the native language populist media, seminars, conferences and private gatherings of notables.
There is a crisis of sanity in South Asia’s decision-making circles as jugglers with loud and extreme political views are finding more and more space on the highest positions and upper most echelons of power. The scholarship which once advocated peace or at least a pragmatic and sustainable détente between Islamabad and New Delhi are being relegated to the bureaucratic labyrinth which is only fit for storing fossils and not decision makers. It is not hard to find very powerful and influential pundits in South Asia to be advocating nuclear war against their neighbor on native language news media in order to ‘teach them a lesson’, and the most depressing aspect about this whole situation is that instead of being branded as nuclear extremists, these elements are gaining more and more influence in the corridors of power. The people of South Asia are only told how they can nuke the other country and live; instead of being told the truth that any such event would most certainly result in Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
Out of this purely sadistic climate of geopolitical hatred comes the idea of a ‘limited war’ under the nuclear umbrella. While the Pakistani military leadership hasn’t revealed any such doctrine officially yet the Generals in India further emboldened by a right wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi have convinced themselves that such a war is not only possible but also pragmatic from the point of view of their foreign policy goals. So earlier this year when the new Chief of the Indian Army General Bipin Rawat officially acknowledged the existence of the so called ‘Cold Start Doctrine’, the officials in Pakistan quickly promised a ‘hot finish’ response should this doctrine be deployed against Pakistan as a battlefield strategy. So let’s pause for a moment and try to digest what just happened; India thinks it can invade Pakistan without starting a full scale conventional or a nuclear war in order to capture Pakistan’s Ground Lines of Communications (GLOCs) for drawing concessions on territorial disputes while Pakistan has a declared policy that it will respond with everything it has to defend itself, including its stockpile of nuclear warheads if required. A better example of this crisis of sanity in South Asia can’t be found.
The concerned citizenry in South Asia would have a reason to overlook this show of method-less geopolitical madness only if the two regional giants were not engaged in aggressive purchases of weapons, the buildup of nuclear weapons and ever so sophisticated delivery systems to put their new battle plans into action. India with its growing economy is already the single biggest customer for sophisticated weapons in the world and is also building a nuclear city for the construction of thermonuclear weapons, while Pakistan also continues to rapidly expand its nuclear arsenal, which is expected to start a new nuclear arms race in the region if one isn’t underway already. Personally I am very concerned about this situation which in my assessment is only deteriorating rather than headed in the right direction which may lead to a prolonged mutually agreed de-escalation between the two belligerents.
The world powers like United States, China and Russia are sitting on the bench as casual observers despite the fact that they are fully aware of this rapidly deteriorating situation in South Asia. The outgoing Obama administration voiced their ‘concerns’ over this situation and admitted that according to their projections a nuclear war in South Asia could not be ruled out but it failed to take solid steps to maintain strategic stability in the region in greater international interests of peace and sustainability. I believe that Beijing, Moscow and the new administration in Washington DC needs to take a very serious look at this incredibly dangerous situation developing in South Asia. The World community must take concrete steps to build confidence as well as tactical and strategic balance power between India and Pakistan by creating environment for nuclear and conventional de-escalation of deployed forces, the administration is also encouraged to create solid mechanisms to target specific individuals in India and Pakistan who openly and barefacedly advocate nuclear war in South Asia on native language media in order to encumber the deliberate and sadistic manufacturing of hate.
The author is of the opinion that the time has come to take active measures to make it costly for individuals and organizations to advocate the use of nuclear weapons in South Asia because they are actively contributing to the self feeding cycle of cross border fanaticism. The author encourages the concerned quarters in the entire world to create specific mechanisms to monitor the native language media organizations and government officials in South Asia which are engaged in propelling the nuclear war bandwagon in the region and put financial, legal and travel sanctions in place to make it expensive for them to continue the hate manufacturing factory. The individuals and organizations engaged in this malicious activity should be publicly named and shamed, their respective Governments too should be requested to limit their activities and create legal avenues to treat them with punitive measures because the very survival of more than 1.5 billion people is at stake. In the end, I hope that this report helps people understand the simmering situation in South Asia and serious efforts are made to return some sanity to South Asia before the Cold Start leads to a nuclear winter.
By Shahid Raza