“Buddha is smiling”1 is what D. P Dhar, Indira Gandhi’s principal advisor and close friend, told Indira Gandhi over an executive secured phone line connection to the South Block right after the nuclear explosion. May 24th, 1974, was an auspicious date to many. As the multitudes in India began contemplating on the issue of regional power, millions of Buddhists around the world celebrated Buddha’s birth. As the news made headline after headline, citizens of Earth pondered on why a country like India would want weapons of mass destruction and what they would do with them, raising confused and angry reactions and many questions.
And to what extent would this affect peace in the Indian subcontinent in the pre-1990 years? And yet, it was in the stinging, cold irony of D. P Dahr’s three, rather powerful, words that the world found an answer: the Buddha did not smile; the Buddha frowned. The Indian nuclear program began with Jawaharlal Nehru indicating his views on the prospect of India acquiring nuclear weapons on June 26th, 1946: “As long as the world is constituted as it is, every country will have to devise and use the latest scientific devices for its protection… I hope Indian scientists will use the atomic force for constructive purposes.
But if India is threatened, she will inevitably try to defend herself by all means at her disposal” [Ramana]. Three major events had a colossal effect on the progress of the Indian nuclear program. The first event was the completion of a reprocessing plant called the CIRUS, in 1956 in Trombay. The second event was the death of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964 who, although was for the nuclear program, opposed the weaponization of any nuclear capability without nuclear provocation (the point is that there was no provocation of any sort at that time).
The third event was the Chinese nuclear test, which occurred just two years after the Indo-Sino war in 1962, lost by India. [Ramana]. The Chinese nuclear test brought a new argument into the pro-bomb lobby. They argued that, although India was a peaceful country, if there was any nuclear provocation, it would have to defend itself by, as Nehru said, “all means at Her disposal”. The pro-bomb lobby argued that the Chinese nuclear test was a pure and blatant nuclear provocation; thus, the race for the bomb accelerated.
The highlight of the pre-1990 Indian nuclear weapons program was the test on May 24th, 1974, also known as India’s ‘Peaceful Nuclear Explosion’ (PNE) [Ramana]. From there, the Indian nuclear weapons program focused on developing an effective delivery system. The Pakistani nuclear program is not much different although it started a little later than the Indian nuclear program. The program accelerated extremely after the 1974 India PNE. In 1965, a Pakistani nuclear research reactor started at Parr called Rawalpindi. In the early 1980s, Pakistan supposedly obtained an already tested atomic bomb design from China.
In 1987, US spy satellites picked up images of a second Pakistani uranium enrichment plant (the first being at Kahuta). The actually testing of the bomb was on 28 May 1998 more than ten years after all the facilities for producing nuclear weapons were acquired [Pakistan Defence. com Nuclear Chronology. ]. The eventual outcome of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests was based upon each other. It was, without a doubt, a sub continental nuclear arms race with India and Pakistan both racing for nuclear capability and the supposed security that it would give them.
The race was based upon bitter rivalry that, in turn, was based upon the acquisition of both regional military dominance and security [Chengappa: 322]. The bomb attacked not only regional stability but also the prospect of an Indo-Pak utopia where mutual understanding and trust would be the basis of a bilateral, transparent relationship. Kenneth N. Waltz [Waltz, Sagan: 24-25], although a “nuclear optimist” argues that for a stable nuclear deterrence state of being there “must be no preventative war while the state is developing its capability” [Gagni?? ].
If this condition is not met, other parties involved in the preventative war may take the want for nuclear weapons as a threat. The risk of an arms race, for conventional or nuclear purposes, turns into a possibility. The condition is clearly not met in the Indian subcontinent as before the nuclear attacks there had been three major outbursts of tension2, the latest of these being barely three years before the bomb (1974) was tested. Furthermore, regional stability faced the toughest test of all as both countries came to a complete standstill as far as bilateral communication was concerned.
Differences in opinions and mutual misperceptions often led to expensive and rather precarious situations. The Bomb almost killed Indo-Pak dialogue, as, from a Pakistani point of view; the only response to the violent question of the Bomb was a violent answer. The Pakistani want for the Bomb grew intense and India noticed, frowning like the Buddha. And the world got no better example of all the frowning and dialogue-less commotion in the sub-continent than the Brasstacks incident, which occurred roughly within the time span of November 1986 to January 1987.
The Brasstacks incidents began when India conducted a massive military exercise by massing up its troops close to the Pakistani border. Due to the lack of dialogue between India and Pakistani at that time, Pakistan took this as a threat. Pakistan also began massing up its troops along the border as well. In turn, India took this as a threat and set its armed forces on a high state of alert. Finally, in January 1987, after three months of a dangerous confrontation, India agreed to initiate dialogue and revealed that it was actually conducting a military exercise and both countries pulled back their troops.
But although the Brasstacks incident ended peacefully this time, the past reminded them that in the future, occurrences like this might not end as smoothly without bilateral dialogue. Nuclear optimists use the deterrence theory to support their optimism. In fact, most of the arguments that nuclear optimists put forth are dependent on the validity of the deterrence theory. The deterrence theory, in essence, states that political leaders will not risk using their nuclear weapons if there is even the slightest likelihood of a retaliatory strike.
Thus, nuclear optimists argue that stability can be achieved through this ‘standstill’ on the use of nuclear weapons. The deterrence theory puts the basis of its argument on the prospect of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction, a frightful reality that, unfortunately, strives not on the ideal of turning the other cheek, but on the ideal of the threat of striking the other cheek. However, the dangers of reckless rhetoric far outweighed the promises of stability that the Bomb brought turning the deterrence theory, in application to the subcontinent, into a mere dream.
Due to the lack of proper communication between the military heads in both countries, rhetorical damage wounded understanding and was usually taken as a threat. For example, in the early 1980s, when the Pakistani nuclear program came to India’s knowledge, India, supposedly, considered systematic air strikes at the Kahuta uranium enrichment facility in Pakistan [Gagni?? ]. By the time this information had made it to the press, Pakistan had already begun preparing a retaliatory strike. This was a narrow escape although it did not involve much rhetoric as bilateral dialogue began only in the later stages.
If India and Pakistan had both rhetorically implied that they were moving their armies for offensive purposes, nuclear pessimists point out is that it would have been an explosive situation. If one combined this with reckless rhetoric, the results would be highly threatened parties, and eventually, actions as reckless as the rhetoric that caused them. Both India and Pakistan have made it clear that they will use their nuclear capability as weapons and have made effective strides towards inducting delivery systems for their weapons. In 1990, P. K.
Iyengar made it indirectly clear that India could and would use their nuclear weapons as a retaliatory measure in the event that they were attacked: “In how much time we make it will depend on how much time we get” [Albright and Hibbs]. The statement also hinted at India’s defense preparedness, which in turn could have been viewed as a dangerous threat to the Pakistanis. Pakistan, on the other hand, fared much worse, as far as rhetoric is concerned, by not even subscribing to the no-first strike policy, which states that nuclear weapons were to be used only to the defensive degree.
Dr. A. Q. Khan, the head of the Pakistani uranium enrichment program in Kahuta, said in 1984, “Pakistan had the capability to build and use nuclear weapons and would use them if their existence was threatened” [Gagni?? ]. The fact that Pakistan defined the “threat to its existence” as any intrusion into its land further increased the dangers of reckless rhetoric from the Indian side as, as concerning the Pakistani definition of any “threat to its existence”, anything that implied an offensive war started by India would be taken as threat.
Moreover, because India enjoyed the conventional military advantage, Pakistan was bound to lose a war without nuclear weapons, a fact proven by the 1999 Kargil war. Nuclear weapons made their way to the first-option arena in the powerful Pakistani military circles. Furthermore, the creation, maintenance and protection of nuclear weapons led to the immediate need for internal security or a Command and Control infrastructure, something only achieved completely in 20013. This means that for 27 years, India did not have a method of safe and ‘deploy-only-by-authorization’ nuclear control.
Nuclear risk reduction measures (NRRMs) were completely ignored as the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs were essentially a race against time for international pressure, and domestic insecurities could have easily change the course of the nuclear program. Perhaps, the greatest factor that kept India and Pakistan from agreeing on NRRMs was the immense secrecy of the two nuclear programs; no agreements were made in over 15 years about the risk of accidents because the meeting of Indian and Pakistani officials would reveal too many secrets of both parties.
Another important factor that was the cause of over 15 years with the lack of appropriate nuclear security was the fact that both India and Pakistan were not appropriately in a state of mind for fruitful dialogue. India made it known that without an end to militancy in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) there would be no Indo-Pak dialogue. This resulted in long years of silence between the two countries and continued border tensions. It was only 17 years after the May 24 1974 nuclear test that India and Pakistan made its first NRRMs agreement [Gagni?? . This not only shows the precarious nature of the pre-1991 nuclear days but the immense lack of security that India and Pakistan forfeited. The US termed the Pakistani nuclear program as “The Islamic Bomb” as to them the fact that Pakistan is a Muslim country and that religious radicalism is a dangerous adversary to nuclear security greatly heightened Washington’s (and Delhi’s) fears of a Pakistani nuclear attack initiated outside the governmental system for there was no authorization system set up at that time [Hoodbhoy]4.
The fears were more deeply rooted in Islamabad for it was made clear to them that India would strike back. It was this insecurity and fear in both parties that made nuclear weapons in India impact peace, as we know it, in the sub-continent. The point is that nuclear weapons may exhibit more power than is needed, and through hatred, more than humanity, as far as the Indian sub-continent is concerned, can handle. Nuclear weapons, no matter how powerful or how secure, will always have a delicate spot, an Achilles heel: a weakness, which lies in their sole purpose and reason for existence.
All it would take is the simple pressing of a button, a command, and the sub-continent will plunge into the darkness of a nuclear winter5. Yet, sometimes, it seems as if we are already experiencing that winter for our cold hearts and cold minds cannot foresee the dangers that a nuclearized sub-continent may bring. So then… Pigs can fly. The Moon is cheese. And the Buddha smiled. For the reality of the nuclear dimension in South Asia is much too delicate to work around or to ignore.
We do not have the humanity in us to witness the Buddha weeping. So: to what extent did the 1974 Indian nuclear tests affect peace in the subcontinent? To the extent that humanity in the Subcontinent may never live a day without living in fear. To the extent that every thing a politician in India or Pakistan says is at risk of being misinterpreted. To the extent that the generations that live here in and will live here in the Subcontinent will face the reality of nuclear weapons. For the Buddha did not smile. The Buddha frowned.