From the brink of nuclear war

India and Pakistan have returned from the brink of a nuclear war twice after a recent tense stand-off. The war could have started after the two powers used airpower against each other. India’s second thought averted it for the second time when it avoided a planned attack on Pakistan from its Rajasthan airbase with the backing of Israel.

According to experts, India and Pakistan possess two of the fastest growing nuclear arsenals in the world. Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists estimates that India possesses some 140 nuclear weapons, while Pakistan has around 150. Of particular concern is Pakistan’s growing inventory of smaller, tactical nuclear weapons. According to Kristensen, these weapons are part of an effort “to create a full-spectrum deterrent that is designed not only to respond to nuclear attacks, but also to counter an Indian conventional incursion onto Pakistani territory.”

Reports in Pakistani newspapers, quoting an unnamed government source, say India had planned a “dangerous attack” on Pakistan from its Rajasthan airbase. However, timely intelligence and backdoor contacts made it clear to India that a befitting response would be given if it were to go ahead with the planned attack, which would possibly take the countries to a “point of no return.” It is feared the next possible escalation by India would not be in terms of ground, air or missiles, but more likely in the form of a hybrid conflict in the nature of militant attacks, economic measures, etc, against Pakistan.

World renowned journalist, Robert Fisk, has also confirmed the nexus of India and Israel against Pakistan. In an article in the Independent, he wrote, “For months, Israel has been assiduously lining itself up alongside India’s nationalist BJP government in an unspoken — and politically dangerous — “anti-Islamist” coalition, an unofficial, unacknowledged alliance, while India itself has now become the largest weapons market for the Israeli arms trade. Not by chance, therefore, has the Indian press just trumpeted the fact that Israeli-made Rafael Spice-2000 “smart bombs” were used by the Indian air force in its strike against Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) “terrorists” inside Pakistan.”

India was Israel’s largest arms client in 2017, paying £530 million for Israeli air defence, radar systems and ammunition, including air-to-ground missiles — most of them tested during Israel’s military offensives against Palestinians and targets in Syria. “Israel itself is trying to explain away its continued sales of tanks, weapons and boats to the Myanmar military dictatorship — while western nations impose sanctions on the government which has attempted to destroy its minority and largely Muslim Rohingya people. But Israel’s arms trade with India is legal, above-board and much advertised by both sides. The Israelis have filmed joint exercises between their own “special commando” units and those sent by India to be trained in the Negev desert, again with all the expertise supposedly learned by Israel in Gaza and other civilian-thronged battlefronts. Several Indian commentators, however, have warned that rightwing Zionism and rightwing nationalism under Modi should not become the foundation stone of the relationship between the two countries, both of which — in rather different ways — fought the British empire,” he observed.

It is believed the US and some countries in the Gulf intervened to ease tensions between Pakistan and India. According to the American media the US used its allies across the world, particularly those in the Gulf, to help defuse tensions. “We instructed numerous embassies, including in the Gulf, to weigh in on both sides,” a senior administration official told VOA on condition of anonymity. “I think the Saudis were particularly helpful,” the official added, as Pakistani officials acknowledged the role of Middle Eastern countries in resolving the crisis. Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Hussain Chaudhry told the Saudi-based Arab News that the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates played a “commendable” role during the crisis, adding that other Muslim countries had also been a “great help.” Multiple other countries and international organizations, including the United Nations and the European Union, also worked to calm the situation after India and Pakistan appeared to be inching toward a military conflict.

According to the BBC, India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hoped to win two dozen more seats in the election after the airstrikes in Pakistan. “A prominent leader of the BJP, BS Yeddyurappa, said the armed aerial hostilities between India and Pakistan would help his party win some two dozen seats in the upcoming general election. The remark by Yeddyurappa, former chief minister of Karnataka, was remarkable in its candour. Not surprisingly, it was immediately seized upon by opposition parties. They said it was a brazen admission of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party was mining the tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals ahead of general elections,” it said in a report. Security experts say it was the first time in history that a nuclear weapons state conducted airstrikes against another nuclear weapons power, which could easily spiral into a full-blown war, with serious consequences on both sides. Mirage 2000 jets used by the Indian Air Force in the raid deliver some of India’s airborne nuclear weapons. Pakistan responded to India’s air-assault with artillery strikes and conducted airstrikes of its own. Pakistan shot down two Indian jets and captured one of the pilots, while India claimed to have downed a Pakistani jet. Fortunately, the capture of the Indian pilot was a positive turn in the crisis, providing a human face to the standoff and ultimately leading to his release by Pakistan as a peace gesture that helped defuse tensions. Experts say Pakistan will have to remain in a state of preparedness continuously to foil Indian designs.