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How India, Pakistan can avoid nuclear war

I was in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 when this great city was attacked by 10 Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists for three days, killing 166 people and leaving hundreds injured. I was also a witness to the huge protest rally that took place three days later outside the Taj Hotel. In my own estimate, over 20,000 people from all walks of life converged there to vent their anger, particularly on Indian politicians and Pakistan.

Never in my whole life I had seen or experienced such anger and rage. I, a 22-year-old young man then, screamed so much that for the next three days I could not speak.

I do not wish to repeat here the slogans I raised along with others, lest I should somehow upset my Pakistani friends. But ‘khoon ka badla khoon’ (blood for blood) was one of them. I am glad that night I found an outlet to express my bottled up emotions else it would have come out in some different form which might have been physical and violent in nature.

I am sure Pakistanis must have felt the same horror and pain when the army school was brutally attacked in Peshawar by terrorists, killing over 130 children. I am not here to make comparisons or to judge which attack was more barbaric just because they can’t (and must not) be compared. In both the places, innocent human beings were butchered for no fault of their own. So many lives were destroyed because some people, somewhere wanted to settle scores and quench their insatiable thirst for blood.

What would happen if there was another 26/11 type attack launched from the soil of Pakistan? We really do not have any answers. In my opinion, such things must not be repeated in the future, but these instances do not take shape as per my desires; and terrorists and their masters would not take my permission before doing any such thing. I as a common man empathize with the people of Pakistan who themselves have lost over 50,000 lives in terrorism-related violence in the past 14 years.

Therefore, all we can do is speculate and guess as to what might happen in the case of another 26/11 attack. The government of India, both under Congress and BJP, has time and again reiterated such an attack would have severe consequences for Pakistan. We are living in dangerous times and the Indo-Pak conflict becomes all the more dangerous considering that both the countries possess nuclear weapons.

In the wake of another 26/11 type attack, India’s so-called Cold Start doctrine could be put to use. Under this doctrine, Army would launch a retaliatory conventional strike against Pakistan inflicting significant harm on the Pakistan Army before any international community could intercede, but not in a way that Pakistan would be provoked to make a nuclear attack.

To counter this Cold Start strategy, Pakistan has come up with tactical nuclear weapons that it says could be used on the advancing Indian troops, thus igniting a ‘limited nuclear war’. Strategic nuclear weapons generally have significantly larger yields, starting from 100 kilotons to up to destructive yields in the low megaton range.

The problem with such an assumption is that things can go out of control, for India doesn’t have tactical nuclear weapons. Many theorists would say that the logic of nuclear warfare means a “limited” nuclear strike is, in fact, likely to trigger a larger nuclear war — a doomsday scenario in which major Indian, Pakistani cities would be the targets for attacks many times more powerful than the bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

India has time and again said the response to such an attack on its troops by tactical nuclear weapons would be massive. Considering that both India and Pakistan have over 100 nuclear weapons each, such a nuclear exchange could prove to be cataclysmic not only for these two poor countries, but also for the world.

In order to ascertain the environmental effects of a “small” nuclear war, a study was conducted in 2008 and that was later updated in 2014. It described what would happen if 100 Hiroshima-strength bombs were detonated in a hypothetical conflict between India and Pakistan.

The explosions, the study found, would push a layer of hot, black smoke into the atmosphere, where it would envelop the Earth in about 10 days. The study predicted that this smoke would block sunlight, heat the atmosphere, and erode the ozone for many years, producing what the researchers call without hyperbole “a decade without summer.”

The combined cooling and enhanced UV would put significant pressures on global food supplies. As rains dried and crops failed worldwide, the resulting global nuclear famine would kill around 1 billion people.

We, Indians and Pakistanis, who have so much in common, should not go down this path of mutually assured destruction. It is a pity that a people who lived together for hundreds of years once are today on the verge of annihilating each other. It’s time we reflected on the blunders committed in the past (Partition is one of them) and sincerely tried to resolve our issues sans violence, for it’s never too late to make a new beginning.

The new generation should shake hands.

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