India’s Nuclear Weapons Exceed 200: Exacerbates Asian Nuclear Quagmire

By Khan A. Sufyan  

On May 18, 1974 India conducted its first so-called peaceful nuclear explosion and named it Smiling Buddha. Obviously Buddha would have smiled when his name fervently associated with peace and reverence was sardonically linked to a nuclear explosion. The test was conducted at a place called Pokhran which literally meant The Place of Five Mirages. After the test India vowed never to weaponise its nuclear power.

Ironically on May 11, 1998, on the Birthday of Buddha, the world was again disdainfully traumatized with another set of nuclear explosions. This time Indians called them Shakti (name of Hindu Goddess of strength). The illusion of five mirages of Pokhran was turned into reality with five nuclear explosions conducted on the 11th and 13th of May, making India the sixth nuclear weapon state. Pakistan soon followed suit.

Recently the Western press was awash with stories of doubling of Pakistani nuclear arsenal in almost four years. It was also mentioned that Pakistan now has more nuclear weapons than the Indians. After the nuclear explosions many studies were conducted to find out the number of nuclear weapons held by these two countries. In October 2001, US Defence Threat Reduction Agency, published a report titled “Minimum Nuclear deterrent postures in South Asia: An Overview” and highlighted Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons capacity from dedicated facilities.

A key conclusion of the study indicated that if the fissile material production rates remained constant, by 2010 Pakistan’s nuclear weapons equivalent quotient could grow to about 110, as was indicated in recent press reports, and India’s, from dedicated facilities only, to about 200 after discounting for testing and other uses. This study seems closer to reality as Indian nuclear programme which was initiated much earlier than Pakistan would obviously have accumulated much more fissile material. Many other renowned studies also reached similar conclusions. If the number of Indian nuclear weapons has not increased substantially, does it mean that the Indians had capped the production of fissile material? Apparently not, as no such news has emerged in recent years.

Though after 1974 nuclear explosion Indian government solemnly claimed that it will not produce nuclear weapons, enough published evidence is now available to suggest that it was not the case and she continued to expand her nuclear weapons’ capability.

One of the earliest indications of this was the commencement of construction of nuclear submarine after 1974 nuclear explosions. Nuclear warfare drills were being taught to every Indian naval officer as early as 1950s by officials from Bharat Atomic Energy Centre (BARC) at Mumbai where India converts the fissile material into nuclear weapon cores. In 1950s both China and Pakistan were not nuclear weapon states and such drill could only be practiced against a nuclear attack by the then nuclear powers.

It was to the credit of Dr Sethna, one of the architects of India’s first nuclear explosion, who as Chairman of Indian Atomic Energy Commission, in 1976 only two years after India’s first nuclear explosion created Diesel Propulsion Research Team (DPRT), at BARC. DPRT was a subterfuge for designing a nuclear propulsion plant for India’s first nuclear submarine. A team of four naval officers led by Indian Navy Captain PN Agarwala and Captain Bharat Bhusan were inducted into DPRT.

Many Indian Naval officers were trained in nuclear engineering at BARC and subsequently transferred to the DRDO led classified nuclear submarine project called Advance Technology Vehicle (ATV). This resulted in the launching of first Indian nuclear submarine INS Arihant by Indian Prime Minister’s wife Mrs. Gursharan Kaur on 22nd August, 2009 at Vishakapatnam, where Indian Prime Minister thanked Russia for the help she provided in this project.

About three years ago during a nuclear discussion session at India International Center New Delhi, former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral shared an anecdote with the audience highlighting Indian Navy’s desire to induct nuclear submarines with long range nuclear missile launch capability. I.K. Gujral while being ambassador in Moscow in 1979, on the instructions of Indian Defence Minister C. Subramaniam, Indian Defence Secretary K. Subrahmanyam and Director BARC Dr Raja Ramanna met Admiral Sergei Gorshkov and sought help for India’s quest for nuclear submarines and long range submarine launched nuclear missiles.

This led to the birth of the ATV and later the lease of Russian nuclear submarine INS Chakra to India. The nuclear reactor in INS Chakra was operated and maintained by on board Russians. The level of secrecy was such that all activities including the ATV project were kept secret even from other Indian service chiefs, and senior officers of the Indian Navy. The secret deal between India and Russia was finally revealed some years ago by the then Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov in Moscow. Russia has also signed a deal with India to lease Akula nuclear submarines on the lines of the INS Chakra, but the catch is “with full control”. Therefore, on acquisition of a fully controlled Akula, India will be in a position to launch submarine borne long range nuclear tipped ballistic missiles which are also being developed with Russian assistance. So much for giving clean chit on nuclear proliferation to India by the Americans.

Recently, in a seminar “Terrorism is a Derivative of Nuclear Deterrence” at India’s National Defence College, Indian National Security Advisor Mr. Shiv Shankar Menon justified Indian doctrine for the use of force in statecraft, citing recent changes in the world and strategic affairs. The only countries she can use such a force against are Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives etc as both China and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states. Was it direct message to Pakistan or China, underlining the inconsequentiality of their nuclear power status versus a conventionally strong India.

Certainly a very dangerous declaration, which may well lead to a nuclear clash between these three powers. Such discussions are also being conducted at various fora in India in apparent attempt to prepare the Indian public and send a veiled warning to its friends and foes alike that India would use force including its nuclear capability in attainment of its geo-political and geo-strategic objectives. If Iran also acquires nuclear weapons, the vast expanse of land from the Middle East to South Asia to South East Asia, not to mention the nuclear capable naval flotillas of UK, France and US already operating in Indian Ocean, could frighteningly saturate this area into a nuclear quagmire.

India had overwhelmingly supported the US declared Preventive War Strategy and indicated its intent to use the same to safeguard its interests. The strategy entails a pre-emptive strike against those countries or entities which are planning to attack US forces and/or interests anywhere in the world. Currently, the Indian capability falls short of their intent, particularly against China and Pakistan. However, their endeavours to acquire such a capability are in full swing, including acquisition of anti-ballistic missile defence with clandestine foreign support.

India is spending billions of dollars on modern defence acquisitions, will be in a position to acquire anti-ballistic missile capability in future with clandestine foreign support, completing nuclear triad by adding nuclear submarines and are currently in possession of over 200 nuclear weapons. This certainly is a major threat to Pakistan and this region as a whole. Shouldn’t Pakistan be worried and take measures to ensure appropriate response in order to defend itself.

External interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs in order to destabilize its polity through creation and support of secessionist elements is taking place with impunity. Pakistan’s armed forces are engaged on both eastern and western borders which some identify as a two front war environment. So-called Pakistani Taliban and secessionist Balochi elements reminds of not too distant a past – 1971 when Pakistan was split in two. One wonders as to how a nuclear Pakistan would have reacted in 1971. Is a similar thing happening to a nuclear armed Pakistan now?

Pakistan’s nuclear capability has officially been cited as India centric only. However, right from the day one it sent vibes internationally and the pressures generated on Pakistan were international in nature. How should Pakistan react if it finds incontrovertible evidence that external entities are attempting to break-up Pakistan once more. These are some very important and sensitive questions which may entail thorough deliberations and response from Pakistan.

Khan A. Sufyan has a Masters in War Studies and works as a security analyst on South Asia, and during the past few decades, has advised government, semi-government and private organizations and institutions on national and international security issues. Has participated in number of national and international seminars and presented papers on various regional and global security issues.

NOTE:This is a cross post from Eurasia Review.

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  • Khalid  On April 15, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Author’s assertions with regard to India’s linking of terrorism to nuclear context and then statement by Indian National Security Chief that India would use force in statecraft is certainly very dangerous thought. This particularly when India, Pakistan and China are nuclear powers having hundreds of nuclear weapons. Instead of enhancing peace in the region, Indian leaders and policy makers are issuing threats and that too nuclear while living in nuclear neighborhood is indeed alarming and very very frightening.

  • Nisar  On April 15, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Excellent piece. I wish our national newspapers also pick this and publish it to educate our publich what the Indians are thinking.

  • Saqib Khan  On April 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    India and Pakistan are two nuclear power neighbours and possess nuclear bombs and warheads that can destroy every city in both countries in few hours and kill millions of innocent citizens.

    But, the biggest tragedy and ignominy is that they have never even bothered to trained or prepared their people for a nuclear fall-out in the event of this horrendous scenario.

    • Tanvir Siddiqui  On April 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm

      Today every man woment and child lives under a Nuclear sword of democles, hanging by the slenderest of threads capable of being cut at any moment by accident, miscalculation or madness… but thereafter what America in particular and other Nuclear states at UN have done to make this world a Safe place to live?

  • Shokat Ghulam  On April 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Saqib and Tanvir sahibs, I am of the opinion that should, God forbid, something happen like Japan’s nuclear facility immediately after the earthquake disaster, then perhaps only the Almighty will help the Indians and the Pakistanis when the war heads and missiles and the nuclear storages go astray like a mad rabid dog. The Japanese were clever and somehow have been able to contain further damages but will the Indians and Pakistanis be able to contain the eruptions! I shudder to think further!

    • Salim Ullah  On April 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm

      Gentlemen : Allah forbids any nuclear mishap & its consequences, are loud thinking. Our government could not cope with the incident of Ojri Camp. We have been living in a war zone since 1988. Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and many more cities with barriers and hurdles presents a picture of states within state, the most urgent action the Home department needs, is to issue visa to all Pakistanis for traveling from Pindi to Islamabad & two other parts of the country. In Karachi, we need to prove our identity just to pass through a barrier lane within the same locality. If I have to cover a distance of few yards up to a school from where I live, I have to go around the block covering some one km. because of the blocked lanes.

      • Tanvir Siddiqui  On April 16, 2011 at 6:18 pm

        Salimsb: For priveleged and extra ordinaries any place in Pakistanisheaven..for commeners andordinariesanyplace isnear to hell.

  • Qasim  On April 15, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Indians are raising the stakes which is likely to be followed by enhanced defense spending by other nations in the region. The arms race in an already volatile region from the Middle East to South Asia to South East Asia is indeed a high stake game. Imagine an Indian Ocean patrolled by nuclear subs from USA, France, UK, China and India who will be given nuclear subs by the Russians. US and West propagate against Pakistan for nuclear proliferation giving clean chit to the Indians and look who is giving nuclear subs to Indians – Russia. Isn’t it a blatant proliferation and why aren’t the US and Western nations not talking against it and sanctioning the Russians.
    WOW … we are heading towards a very dangerous world and God only help us.

  • Rodolfo Guzzi  On April 16, 2011 at 4:20 am

    Beyond the Buddha mind!

  • Nasir  On April 16, 2011 at 5:42 am

    At the end of it all, it is the interest of big powers to hand out favours to different nations. The most interesting thing is that when it didn’t suit the big powers they sanctioned both India and Pakistan when they tested their nuclear capability. Now, all those who were sanctioning these two countries have taken sides and are openly proliferating in Indian favor – what an irony. Therefore, it is not that the Indians have grown big and are standing in the big league – as Nehru said in the 1930s, this is primarily because the big powers are using India for their interests. And the Indians are happily dancing to the illusions of a shimmering mirage they call Rising India.

  • Sumantra Maitra  On April 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    To be honest, I doubt the validity of the news source. Having said that, I believe the international community doesn’t have the authority, right or credibility to say anything if India stockpiles nukes. We’re surrounded by Pakistan and China, with all their missiles targeted towards us. Pakistan is getting millions of dollars from US as aid to fight Taliban, and making bombs with it. Atleast we have an official, declared, “no first use” policy. They have not even declared that.

  • Zahid  On April 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Anything which is good for the Indians, its validity is considered valid. Read the article please, the writer cites reports from US Defense Department. Yes the International community does not have the right to say anything about India OR PAKISTAN. Where are the Indian missiles pointed towards. Did Pakistan carry out the nuclear explosion first or the Indians, Indian did and Pakistanis responded. And when the Indians conducted weaponized nuclear Shakti tests, was it Pakistan’s senior political and government functionaries who threatened India – NO, it were the Indian political leadership who openly threatened Pakistan challenging it to identify the place and time for a nuclear exchange. Indian No First Use policy does not mean NO USE POLICY. And if you further read the article, the Indian National Security Chief to Prime Minister is justifying use of force for statecraft – would he use this nuclear force against nuclear neighbors China or Pakistan. He is going bonkers like you if you think that a nuclear war is fun.

  • Iltifat Lone  On April 16, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Its time that Indians should seriously evaluate that where they are heading, the super power is dragging India to a state of utopia of Asian Super power, but in case of a Nuclear Fallout, are both neighbors (Pakistan and India) educated and trained to protect against such eventuality.

  • Sholay  On April 16, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Iltifat Lone Sahib,
    Brother Ji, Pakistan has first use as a strategy and India, at least in a decleratory mode, uses second strike. Bhai Ji, kuch rahe ga to second strike kare ga na 😉

  • Zameer  On April 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    When similar news about Pakistan is printed by western press, Indians and the west go berserk. To top it all Pakistani media also join in. Such an important news this is and Pakistani press has not mentioned it. It is indeed strange.

  • Turkman Bashi  On April 18, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Agree 100 percent. Bruce Riedel in a recent Newsweek article titled ‘Pakistan Plays Hardball’ says that, “Pakistan today has the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world”. It is indeed a shame that Pakistani press does not respond when they have an excellent source as this article written by Khan Sufyan. It is indeed a major shame for our mainstream national media.

  • Raashid  On April 18, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    This is what the Indians do in response to this article.—a-rising-threat

    What do our media does in response …….. NOTHING

  • Qamar  On April 19, 2011 at 7:44 am

    In Sep 2010, Sunil Das Gupta while speaking on his new book launch ceremony, titled, “Arming Without Aiming: India’s Military Modernization”, said that, “I think it would be disastrous, if India squanders its money on that white elephant of a weapons system, the Arihant, which is a seagoing, nuclear powered, nuclear weapons delivery vessel. The book and my own view is I’m really quite skeptical about the Arihant as a practical weapon. They may make one demonstration model of it, but I doubt if they’ll go beyond that.
    The question arises, has Indian government capped the enrichment for nuclear weapon programme on American insistence and nuclear deal with America. I don’t think so. That is why Pakistan and China needs to remain cognizant of Indian chaankiyan ways.

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