‘Empty threats are often worse than saying nothing at all. It’s like leading from behind. Eventually, no one thinks you’re leading at all. And after a while no one is listening.’-Kathleen Troia McFarland
Pakistani PM, Imran Khan, should have known better than rattling his sabre, or speaking on possible radicalization of persons, not citizens of his country, during his address at the UN General Assembly on 24 September. He postulated that if conventional war starts between India and Pakistan the latter will have no choice but to put up a fight to the last and when two nuclear armed nations fight it would have
catastrophic consequences for the world (Nuclear Armageddon). He urged the UN to take note and de-escalate the grim situation. Pakistan’s nuclear brinkmanship seems designed to persuade the rest of the world to pressure India into resolving the India-Pakistan disputes on Pakistan’s terms to prevent nuclear conflict and proliferation.
In any case PM Imran Khan’s threat was in line with Pakistan’s, India-specific, ‘First Use Doctrine’ which he erroneously believes has been an effective deterrent in prevention of a conventional conflict with India, which now enjoys overwhelming conventional superiority.
Was this sabre rattling an empty threat? George P Shultz, former US Secretary of State, in his essay on ‘The Danger of Empty Threats’ said ‘Sometimes the arts of strength are subtle and require not charging ahead but holding back…….. Add patience to your strength, and a good deal may come along……Think strategically. Don’t be dominated by the tactical issues of the day’. This sane advice in the conduct of diplomacy seems to have been ignored by the Pak PM. He dwelt on a lurking threat, not only to the sub-continent, but to the entire world. He appeared incapable to fathom or unmindful of the havoc that would be wrought, in case of a nuclear exchange.
India had always espoused ‘No First Use’ nuclear doctrine. A nuclear attack on India would invite instant and massive retaliation. There may have been a rethink on this policy when the Defence Minister, Shri Rajnath Singh indicated, during a visit to Pokhran in August 19, that no policy was embedded in stone, but could be modified to deal with current realities. In 2014 the BJP Manifesto had promised that the Government would study the nuclear doctrine in detail and ‘revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times’. This ambivalence has the advantage of keeping the adversary guessing.
Pak PM Imran Khan does not seem to realize that India has strategic depth which Pakistan lacks. A nuclear exchange, even with short range nuclear weapons with low yield, would totally devastate not only Pakistan but counties to its West and North. Portions of North and Western India would also be affected. The remaining portions would escape, major damage, in the short term.
It has been estimated that in the event of nuclear war between India and Pakistan 50-125 million people would be killed, in less than a week -- more than the death toll (70-85 million) who perished during World War II, in six years. The nuclear fallout would release millions of tonnes of radioactive soot and ash into the atmosphere that would rise to the upper atmosphere and spread around the world, within weeks. It would lead to a global climate catastrophy. The changes in weather would seriously affect agriculture, resulting in famine and more deaths.
The world will certainly never permit this nuclear blackmail and PM Imran Khan may have done disservice to his country as it would invite restrictions and international safeguards which may be imposed to restrict this nuclear adventurism. Another unwelcome aspect of his speech was his reference to possible radicalization of Indian Muslims. This is way of the mark. India’s Muslims may be at the bottom of the social and economic ladder but they are Indians and not ‘Mohajirs’ as Muslims, who migrated to Pakistan, are still contemptuously referred to. A large segment of Indian Muslims made the deliberate choice of staying back in the land of their birth. In my book ‘The Sarkari Mussalman’ I have dwelt on this aspect thus: ‘Partition was another trauma my family faced. Those members who owed loyalty to the ‘Muslim League’ migrated to Pakistan. My immediate family, who had full faith in the inclusive nature and large heartedness of Indian society, decided to brave it out in India’. India was born a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-denominational society that embraces diversity. It has been a model of inclusiveness.
The dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971, formed on a religious identity, and prosperity of the Indian nation, in the past two decades, has deepened the sense of Indian identity among Muslims. Indian Muslims are lucky to be in a democracy, and ‘have a voice’ though unfortunately this has been somewhat eroded with Muslim representation in Parliament at its lowest since 1957. Very few Indian Muslims, outside Kashmir, have been involved in acts of terror. The Al Qaeda and Islamic State terror networks did not succeed in recruiting any sizeable number of Muslims Indians, possibly in the region of 100.
Indian Muslims have remained moderate in the face of recent political marginalization, religious violence, social insults, and the stagnation in poverty even as other communities have done better. Education, which has caught the attention of the community, will pull them out of the morass. PM Imran Khan has attempted a very thinly veiled effort to widen the religious fault lines in India. This will not succeed. There will certainly be no radicalization of Indian Muslims. The majority community in India has an important role to play by giving them a fair deal.
PM Imran Khan, of Pakistan would do great service to his country by leading from the front, abjuring the path of confrontation with India, discarding the policy of inflicting ‘a thousand cuts’ and keeping a firm control over his nuclear arsenal. He needs to work
towards restoration of democracy and betterment of the lives of his people, to pull them back from radicalization, which has unfortunately taken deep roots. He should not speak on behalf Indian Muslims as that only makes them suspect in the eyes of their countrymen. They are quite capable of fighting their own battles.