NEW DELHI — It seems sad rather than tragic that warring India and Pakistan have not learned lessons that history taught us after such pain and suffering. In the summer of 1998, India exploded nuclear bombs. Pakistan did the same within days to begin what is clearly a disturbing sign in the subcontinent: a destructive arms race.

What comes as an even greater worry is an American intelligence agency report which says that Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal is vastly superior to New Delhi’s.

Quoting intelligence sources and diplomats, NBC News said that Pakistan had five times the nuclear warhe ads that India possessed. Also, the smaller country had a far more accurate and effective delivery system. It is now believed that it has between 25 and 100 nuclear weapons, a figure that was once attributed to the bigger neighbor, which probably has just 15.

This, of course, negates the longtime assumption that New Delhi has a clear edge in South Asia’s strategic balance.

Indian analysts argue that the country’s scientific community — particularly in the Department of Atomic Energy and the Defense Research and Development Organization — has been blind and arrogant to a fault. It has always maintained that Pakistan can never match India’s “home-grown prowess.”

Islamabad has proved to be smarter, and has acquired nuclear arms from whoever was willing to sell them, instead of trying to make them in its own backyard as New Delhi did.

With a deployed nuclear and missile force already in position (reportedly got from China and North Korea), Pakistan appears to be miles ahead of India, which is still trying to create an effective strike force.

This was obviously the reason why Islamabad was able to carry out tests in 1998 just days after New Delhi conducted its own, much to the surprise of the U.S., where President Bill Clinton’s first reaction was “how?”

Clearly, Pakistan must have had ready-to-use weapons even then or earlier, when India was designing and building its stockpile.

The analysts aver that officials in New Delhi may disagree with the estimates provided by the American report, but the fact that India is weaker than Islamabad in this particular sphere can no longer be fudged.

A few facts support this. India’s Prithvi missile was never meant for nuclear delivery, and the later Agnihas had just a single test run. Even Russia had to go through 11 tests before being satisfied with its latest Topol-M ballistic missile.

Another dark area as far as New Delhi is concerned is its inability to devise a precise command and control system which is of vital importance in any nuclear warfare. Islamabad has set up a National Command Authority to be chaired by the head of the government.

All this can well lead to some sort of obsessive desire on India’s part to try and sneak ahead of Pakistan by manufacturing or buying more bombs, perhaps much to the detriment of peace that has eluded the two neighbors ever since they became independent nations some 50-odd years ago.

A nuclear arms race, apart from hitting the economies of both countries (which can put to better use the money spent on this deadly activity), can result in a sense of uneasy suspense. It is, of course, quite another thing when the buttons are pressed.

Washington is concerned about a possible “hair-trigger” event. In the event of a nuclear exchange 150 million Indians and Pakistanis can die — three times the number of people who perished in World War II.

Experts aver that New Delhi and Islamabad were on the verge of far bigger things during the recent Kargil war along the Kashmir border. There was general scare about the way the two powers went in for a tit-for-tat confrontation. America’s intervention at the right point saved the day. Perhaps.

But, it must be realized that a nuclear war today can seldom be a contained kind of conflict, and if the mushroom clouds escape into the atmosphere, death and disease will plague even those who might in no way be connected with the immature quarrels of India and Pakistan.

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