India-Pakistan: March 31, 2000

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US intelligence and security officials are "deeply concerned" over the possibility of nuclear war between India and Pakistan. The two nations have been and remain nearly as close to using nuclear weapons as the US and Russia were during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the only time in the Cold War when a nuclear exchange was a real possibility. The problem is not just that India and Pakistan hate each other more than the US and Russia ever did, it is that their respective nuclear arsenals are fairly small. While the US and Russia could have blasted each other back into the Dark Ages with even a partial exchange of their vast nuclear arsenals, India and Pakistan could use their entire arsenals (which are not that large) without being so badly hurt. Hundreds of thousands would die, and each side would lose most of its major military bases, but for most citizens outside of the major cities life would go on. US analysts are particularly concerned that either country could attempt a "first strike" (destroying most of the other side's nuclear weapons so that they cannot effectively hit back), knowing that the price of failure would not be nearly as steep for them as it would have been for, say, Moscow. The issue that divides India and Pakistan is, and always has been, Kashmir. When Pakistan was carved out of the British Indian Empire, the Indians insisted on keeping Kashmir as it was the richest province in the territory. Pakistan objected, and India agreed to hold a plebiscite in the territory (which has never been held). India says it is no longer required to hold the plebiscite since Pakistan was the aggressor in the 1948 war, a view Pakistan rejects. Other than a few small Arctic islands which the US State Department has repeatedly tried to cede to Russia, there is no US territory occupied by Russia and vice-versa. While the US and Russia have not fought since 1920 and were allies in 1941-45, India and Pakistan have fought a war every decade. While US and Russian leaders met every few years during the Cold War, Indian and Pakistani leaders rarely meet (and the last summit resulted in the Pakistani Army deposing their president). While India and Pakistan trace centuries of religious hatred, the US and Russia never took religion THAT seriously and had no definable religion-based quarrel. Both Pakistan and India have a history of unstable governments that make the Republican efforts to oust Clinton or Putin's forcing of Yeltsin into retirement look like a pleasant lunch. In the South Asian Nuclear Arms Race, analysts believe Pakistan is ahead. Their Chinese-built missiles are more effective and more accurate. Indian nuclear scientists are strong on theory but weak on actually fielding weapons. Indeed, the entire Indian weapons industry is marked by numerous failures such as the LCA fighter and Arjun tank. While India has developed its own weapons, mostly without help, Pakistan has had China as a full partner providing the technology and often the equipment to build nuclear-armed missiles. India and Pakistan have no "hot line" that could be used to head off an accidental confrontation.--Stephen V Cole

 

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