Pakistan was forced to riposte in late May to India’s nuclear tests by detonating five nuclear devices. Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif had waited, hoping the west would punish India for sparking an Asian arms race. Instead, the west and Japan merely slapped India’s wrists. Sharif finally bowed to fierce public pressure.
Though dramatic, the tests merely revealed the poorly kept secret that both old enemies, who have fought three wars since 1947, were nuclear capable. Far more important, India’s nuclear tests, and ongoing development of intermediate, intercontinental and sea-launched missiles, were clear signals of Delhi’s determination to become a great power, and dominant force in South Asia, Central Asia. and the Indian Ocean.
The high-caste Hindu Brahmins who hold much of the real power in India have long cherished ambitions to restore their nation’s glory and might. Indian civilization dates back over 4,000 years, rivaling that of China or Egypt. For many nationalist Hindus, the very existence of Muslim Pakistan is a daily reminder of past humiliations at the hands of Muslim Mogul conquerors, as well as the sole impediment to Indian hegemony over the Asian subcontinent, the world’s most populous region.
Intoxicated by nuclear `Viagra,’ India’s new coalition government, led by the extreme nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), seems determined to press ahead with India’s great power aspirations, heedless of the dangers such recklessness causes. Key tenets of BJP’s fundamentalism are: creation of Bharat Hind, or Great India; society and government run according to Hindu beliefs; suppression of Muslims, Sikhs, and other religions; crushing the Kashmiri and Sikh independence movements; development of nuclear weapons; and projection of Indian strategic power.
By igniting a nuclear arms race, India has sharply escalated tensions across Asia. This, in turn, will surely reopen old disputes that have quieted down in recent years. In short, India’s foolish nuclear swaggering has placed it, and South Asia, in peril.
China’s contested Himalayan border with India remains the world’s biggest territorial dispute. British imperialists poorly defined long sectors of the mountainous frontier between India and Tibet in the eastern Himalayans, and northern Kashmir, bequeathing India and China a permanent border dispute. India claims the Chinese-held strategic region of Aksai Chin, and challenges China’s rule over Tibet. China contests Indian annexation of parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh(Little Tibet), and two-thirds of Kashmir.
These are no mere academic disputes. In 1962, India and China went to war in the eastern Himalayas. The Chinese routed the Indian Army and came within striking range of Calcutta. For Beijing, which has labored to lower tensions with India, India’s nuclear tests are a slap in the face — and a direct challenge. India’s Defense Minister pointedly named China as India’s number one threat, and the reason for developing intermediate range missiles. He and other Hindu strategists have been warning about `strategic encirclement’ of India by China and Pakistan, a laughable claim by a nation of nearly one billion, with powerful armed forces of 1.1 million, and nuclear weapons.
India, which harbors the Dalai Lama, has long debated challenging Chinese rule in Tibet by stirring up local resistance. Meanwhile, Delhi is also issuing alarms over growing Chinese influence in Burma. One day India and China will go to war over that mineral-rich nation. Delhi accuses China of backing secessionist movements in Indian-ruled Assam, Nagaland and Manipur.
Development by India of new, nuclear-armed IRBM’s threatens not only the Tibet plateau, but many of China’s central industrial cities, including Wuhan, Chengdu and Chungching. China will inevitably respond by beefing up its strategic and conventional forces in Tibet, and by increasing military aid to close ally, Pakistan.
BJP leaders have constantly vowed to `crush Pakistan.’ As BJP threats reached fever pitch at the end of May, Indian forces heavily shelled Pakistani positions in Kashmir and made veiled warnings of attacks on Pakistani nuclear reactors. War between the two bitter foes, whose forces skirmish daily in Kashmir, could begin any time. Rand Corp. estimates a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would kill 2 million people immediately, and 100 million thereafter. Pakistan, with 130 million people, would be totally eradicated. A third of India’s 970 million inhabitants, and north India’s major cities, would be destroyed.
Pakistan, with 137 million people, is no match for seven-times-larger India. Though Indian forces deployed on Pakistan’s long border only slightly outnumber Pakistan’s crack 520,00-man army, India has a 2:1 advantage in artillery, armor and aircraft. Pakistan’s population is clustered along the narrow, almost indefensible Indus River Valley. Surprise thrusts by special Indian armored strike forces could cut Pakistan into sections. Pakistan’s industrial base in much smaller than India’s, and cannot sustain more than a week or two of intensive combat. A major Indian assault at Punjab and Karachi could will provoke a desperate nuclear response by outgunned Pakistan.
Frighteningly, both Pakistan’s and India’s ready nuclear arsenals are at hair- trigger readiness because of their dangerously vulnerability to surprise attack, making a launch on warning mandatory. A miscalculation or false report could easily trigger a nuclear exchange.
India is also set on expanding influence north, and south. Delhi aspires to dominate Central Asia’s mineral, gas and oil wealth. India is, for example, arming and financing factions in the Afghan civil war. India’s powerful intelligence service, RAW, is active in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Khirgizstan.
India’s threats against Pakistan, machinations in Central Asia, and secret military cooperation with Israel over nuclear arms and counter- insurgency, have deeply alarmed Iran, a traditional rival of India. Tehran’s decade-old quest for nuclear weapons and missiles is being driven by perceived threats of attack by Israel, and, now, India.
Governments in Delhi have long claimed the entire Indian Ocean, and much of its littoral, as India’s natural sphere of influence. Ever since the late Indira Gandhi proclaimed the Indian Ocean as `a Hindu lake,’ Indian strategists have maintained all the waters between East Africa and Australia rightfully belong to India, a claim rejected by the US and Britain.
Delhi is reinforcing such claims by beefing up its navy, which includes long- range bombers, 2 carriers, 19 submarines, one nuclear-powered submarine, a planned strategic missile-firing submarine, and 26 modern surface combatants. Indian naval strategists believe a clash between the US 7th Fleet and Indian naval forces in the Indian Ocean or Arabian Sea is inevitable. The Indian Navy is armed and trained, with Russian assistance, to fight US carrier battle groups. One day India will compete with the US for Mideast oil.
India’s 980,000-man army and 778 combat plane air force is being modernized with new Russian and European equipment. In addition, India fields well over 600,000 paramilitary troops, notorious for brutality and thuggery, to suppress independence movements in Kashmir, Punjab and the eastern hill regions.
Delhi claims it wants only peace and good relations in West Asia. But it’s clear an aggressive, muscular India is prepared to challenge the Asian status quo. Doing so will put India on a converging collision course with the US and China, raising the threat of a major Indian- Chinese war early in the 21st century. India’s Home Minister, L.K. Advani, said recently, `we mean business.’ Indians believe the world is at long last taking them seriously.
Eric Margolis, a contributing foreign editor for the Toronto Sun Media Corp., also writes for the New York Times and Toyko’s Mainichi Shimbum, and frequently appears on CBC’s TV Ontario.