The third piece of proof trotted out is the views of retired Lieutenant General BS Nagal, a former strategic forces command (SFC) commander, particularly his view that a democratically-elected government cannot morally risk the decimation of the Indian people by sticking literally to the NFU pledge. It was during Nagal’s tenure at the SFC, it may be recalled, when the then NSA MK Narayanan publicly revealed that the military was not in the know of nuclear arsenal details and, by implication, that the SFC was not in the nuclear loop. It may therefore be safely deduced that the views Nagal has developed was outside the SFC ambit.
However, certain developments in the nuclear weapons sphere do indeed make possible an Indian first strike. Such as the ongoing process of canisterising Agni missiles, including presumably the 700-km range Agni I meant for the Pakistan and Tibet-Chengdu contingencies. It, in fact, provides the country not only with a capability for launch-on-warning but also for striking pre-emptively should reliable intelligence reveal an adversary’s decision to mount a surprise attack.
Nuclear missiles in hermetically sealed canisters are ready-to-fire weapons and signal an instantaneous retaliatory punch to strongly deter nuclear adventurism. Thus, all nuclear weapon states keep a part of their strategic forces in ready state, there being no guarantees that a confrontation or conflict with another nuclear power will keep to a sub-nuclear script. Having the wherewithal for pre-emptive action and launch-on-warning then is only a reasonable precaution.
Whatever their capabilities to fight nuclear wars, the chances of either India or Pakistan initiating a nuclear exchange for any reason are remote for the very good reason that western governments and analysts rarely acknowledge, because most of them are unaware or wilfully ignore the social context of India-Pakistan tensions, namely, the fact, whether anybody likes it or not, of these South Asian countries being organically linked.
Divided communities, continuing kith and kinship relations, shared religion and culture, mean that the so-called India-Pakistan “wars” are less wars, more “riots” — short periods of hostilities in geographically constrained spaces, hence the famously apt description of these by the late Major General DK Palit, originally of the Baloch Regiment, as “communal riots with tanks”.
Published in the Hindustan Times, March 31, 2017 with the title “Chances of India-Pakistan nuke war are remote” and in the newspaper’s online edition with the title “Concerns about an India-Pakistan nuclear war are highly exaggerated” at http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/concerns-about-an-india-pakistan-nuclear-war-are-highly-exaggerated/story-rnKGeo3qZ0oCpMhR1edRqL.