Thursday, December 15, 2011

India's Nuclear Weapons Program: India As A Nuclear Power: 1998-2001

The immediate aftermath of the nuclear tests conducted by India, and then by Pakistan was not an encouraging one. In the two weeks since the conclusion of testing the Indian government has been a source of both conciliatory and potentially threatening remarks. While repeated statements have been made, most notably by Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Mr. Brajesh Mishra on 22 May, and PM Vajpayee himself on 26 May, that India has declared a unilateral moratorium on testing, and that the weapons are not intended for aggressive purposes. India has also offered to open talks with Pakistan to discuss issues of contention and a possible nuclear weapon "no first use" agreement.

On Monday 18 May, just one week after the first test, Home Minister L.K. Advani issued sharp warnings to Pakistan about interfering in Indian-controlled Kashmir. PM Sharif responded the next day with an accusation that India had threatened to attack the territory under Pakistan's control. Although sporadic exchanges of gunfire have occurred over the years along the Line-Of-Control (LoC) that intersects Kashmir and separates the Indian and Pakistani armies, in the days following Advani's warnings there was a pronounced escalation of small arms and artillery fire on a daily basis. On 22 May B. Mishra stated "Let it not be forgotten that PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir), including the so-called northern areas, is an integral part of India. After all the unanimous resolution of the Indian Parliament in February 1994 to this effect is absolutely clear."
Pakistan just as firmly believes that Indian controlled Kashmir is an integral part of Pakistan. Two of the three Indo-Pakistani wars have been fought over this same territory. The increasingly aggressive Indian posture, coupled with the current outbreak of armed conflict on the LoC, raised a very real possibility of war returning to the region after a 17 year absence.

Over the next year however this threat seemingly receded. On 20 February 1999 Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee made history when he crossed over the Pakistani border by bus to meet Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif at Lahore, raising hopes that with the nuclear arsenals now out of their closets the two powers would back away from confrontational approaches. On 21 February 1999 the two prime ministers signed the "Lahore Declaration", committing the two nations to peacefully resolving their differences.
Development continued on India's nuclear delivery systems - on 11 April 1999 India conducted a successful 14 minute test flight of the 2,500 kilometer Agni-II missile. "The entire process of achieving a minimum deterrent has been completed," Vajpayee announced following the test. "We are satisfied that we are now fully capable of defending our borders," he added. Pakistan responded with an eight-minute test flight of the Ghauri II three days later.

The promise of the Lahore Declaration proved to be stillborn. On 5 May 1999 two Indian army patrols in the snowy Yaldor area in Kargil, a border region next to Kashmir, were surprised to encounter a group of armed men, apparently from Pakistani Kashmir (known in India as "Pakistan-occupied Kashmir" or POK; in Pakistan they are called the Northern Areas or NA). This was the first contact with an infiltration operation from Pakistan to seize the mountain peaks inside India as an escalation of the long-standing Kashmir conflict, which would be become known as the Kargil War.

The "line of control", or LoC, between India and Pakistan runs across some of the harshest, most rugged, and highest territory in the world and consequently much of it consists of "unheld areas", territory so inhospitable that both sides abandon it during the brutal winters. It was because India had suspended patrol operations in the winter that made it possible for infiltrators to set up camp without being detected. The patrols that encountered them were the first of the season. Such areas had been opportunities for adventurousness in the past, as when the Siachen glacier was suddenly occupied by armed forces many years ago - becoming the highest and coldest battlefield on Earth. But this was the first time Pakistan had ever tried to exploit this particular region.It appears the infiltration operation was already underway during the signing of the Lahore Declaration.

The larger of the two patrol parties went to check on the strangers, and found itself in an ambush and lost four soldiers. Firing continued for nearly a week before aerial surveillance on 12 May revealed to the army realized that the incursion was far more serious than it had assumed. Around 500 heavily armed guerillas had occupied at least 35 well-fortified positions atop the ridges facing Dras, Kargil, Batalik and the Mushko valley. Cover fire was being provided by the Pakistani artillery, which had begun a systematic bombardment of National Highway 1A that connects Leh to Srinagar in the Dras-Kargil region.
Within days the Indian army moved nearly 30,000 troops into the Kargil-Dras area along with special forces dropped on the high ridges by helicopter, and the battle was on in earnest; "Operation Vijay" (victory) to recapture the heights was launched in late May. Pakistan initially claimed not to be involved with the infiltration effort, a remarkable attempt at dissociation considering that the infiltrators were very well equipped and supplied, came from territory controlled by the Pakistani military, and were clearly in direct contact with the Pakistanis from which they were receiving direct artillery fire support. Eventually the continued direct involvement of regular Pakistani forces made the pretense an embarrassment for Pakistan, which dropped the attempt at evasion.

Over the next several weeks India outmaneuvered Pakistan both on the battlefield and in international diplomacy. Heavy Pakistani fire directed by the infiltrators from their commanding positions made the situation very difficult for India, but Pakistani positions on the Indian side were progressively captured or cut off from support as the superior weight of Indian forces made itself felt. By promising not to cross the LoC itself, India garnered nearly universal international support - and especially active Amercian support - for its position, while at the same time by mobilizing its forces along the entire Pakistani border it signalled that India was prepared to escalate and use its full military strength if necessary to prevent a Pakistani victory.
The objective of this operation seems to have been to try to obtain a limited gain on the ground - revising the LoC several kilometers in Pakistan's favor. The LoC has after all always been defined in de facto terms - it has no recognized status, it simply marks the effective zones of control of the two nations. The operation was calculated to circumvent India's military superiority - by picking the most difficult terrain possible for India's operations, and achieving the initial gain through stealth alone. Pakistan evidently hoped that international pressure would halt the conflict before India succeeded in driving the guerillas back.

By mid June the tide was turning, and by mid July the Kargil incursion had turned into a rout for Pakistan, both militarily and diplomatically. Pakistani forces retreated behind the LoC, and Pakistan suffered another severe blow to its international credibility, and in turn boosted India's prestige. After the end of the war Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asserted that the operation had been instigated without his knowledge - a claim, which whether true or not, was unfortunately all too plausible in Pakistan, with its tradition of the military operating free from civilian control.

The total depth of penetration across the LoC was no more than eight or nine kilometres at most. As intended by Pakistan, the operations for retaking the occupied areas were very difficult for India and this short, sharp war resulted in 474 killed and 1109 wounded on the Indian side (as of July 26, 1999).

A crucial but at the time unreported consequence of the Kargil War, tied in with the Indian mobilization along the Pakistani border, was the apparent deployment of at least five nuclear armed missiles. "Four nuclear armed Prithvis and one Agni were deployed for retaliatory strikes" according to Dr. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj, author of The Armageddon Factor (Indian Express, 18 June 2000). This would have been a preproduction model of the Agni-II, the first deployable Agni version.

Sharif's demurral became even more plausible three months later when a showdown occurred between PM Sharif and army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf on 13 October 1999. Acting while Musharraf was out of the country, Sharif fired him, but hours later Musharraf returned and overthrew Sharif in a coup (later to put Sharif on trial for his life).

Following the aggressive, destabilizing, and ill-conceived military operation of Kargil, the military coup in Pakistan did absolutely nothing to reassure India or the world regarding Pakistan's soundness and circumspection. The result was naturally even deeper isolation for Pakistan, on top of the sanctions that followed the 1998 tests, and the Kargil adventure.

Overt hostilities along the border continued to persist after the conclusion of the Kargil War. On 10 August 1999 an Indian fighter jet shot down a slow-moving Pakistani reconnaissance plane, killing all 16 aboard. The Indians said the plane had strayed across the border, though most of the wreckage landed in Pakistan.
On 17 August 1999, India took the major - though belated step - toward formalizing its declared status as a nuclear power by issuing a six-page document detailing a proposed doctrine governing its nuclear arsenal, entitled the "Draft Report of National Security Advisory Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine". The report, which was prepared by a government-appointed advisory board, was made public Tuesday by National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra.

The essential points of this doctrine were that India asserted a right to possess nuclear weapons, and would pursue a policy of credible "minimum" nuclear deterrence and use nuclear weapons only to retaliate against a first strike. According to the draft, "Any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor."

"India's peacetime posture aims at convincing any potential aggressor that any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat," the draft said. It further stated that India would not use nuclear weapons against a state that does not have them or is not aligned with a nuclear-armed power, and that nuclear weapons would be tightly controlled and launched only with the authorization of the prime minister, or a designated successor.

The draft said the size, components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces would be decided in light of the strategic environment, economic imperatives and the needs of national security. But it took an expansive view of the concept of "minimum deterrence", recommending an arsenal that is able to deliver a nuclear blast from "a triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets," one that can respond to an attack "in the shortest possible time" and employs a space-based early warning system. To raise the threshold for the outbreak of military conflict, India also would maintain highly effective conventional warfare capabilities, the draft document said.

The draft did not mention the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) but it criticized the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, saying it legitimized the possession of nuclear weapons by states that already had them.

The official U.S. State Department reaction given by Spokesman James P. Rubin was that India was "moving in the wrong direction" by trying to create a credible nuclear deterrence. Rubin said "We think it would be unwise to move in the direction of developing a nuclear deterrent and encouraging the other country to develop a nuclear deterrent and thereby creating an action-reaction cycle that will increase the risks to both countries."

China also condemned the document; and Pakistan, which 15 months ago matched India's nuclear tests with its own, said it would soon be matching India's doctrine with a published doctrine of its own.
Unlike from the U.S., the initial reaction from Europe was cautious. France welcomed the draft doctrine as a logical consequence of the decision to develop nuclear weapons.
The situation was cogently summarized by Tanvir Ahmad Khan in the Pakistani newspaper The Dawn on 24 August 1999:
The present draft is a landmark for three major reasons.
  • First, it gathers together in a forceful single document elements that had surfaced disparately and with a certain air of tentativeness since the tests.
  • Secondly, it relegates to history half-way concepts like existential deterrence and recessed deterrence that had been debated in both India and Pakistan. In doing so, it delivers a mighty blow to efforts aiming at freezing Indian and Pakistani capability at a non-weaponized level.
  • Third, the nuclear doctrine as set forth in the text has hardly any meaning unless the weapons are manufactured and actually deployed in large numbers, and a sizable reserve of warheads and delivery vehicles is permanently maintained.
Tanvir Khan also observed that "the draft published at the moment does not add any transparency to the Indian targeting policy. Nor does it specify Pakistan or China as the principal zones of targeting." He also made some interesting assertions about Indian strategic literature:
Some analysts define the objective as the destruction of Pakistan as a social and economic entity. The targets considered in the relevant Indian literature include six to ten Pakistani metropolitan centres, four hydroelectric and thermal power stations, flooding of Punjab, obliteration of Pakistani railway system with attacks on Gujrat, Bahawalpur, Hyderabad and Dera Ghazi Khan , and disruption of all sea communications with nuclear attacks on Karachi and Gwadar. It has been calculated that a total of seventeen nuclear strikes will achieve all the objectives. If Pakistan also draws up a similar list of countervalue targets, breakdown of deterrence and the ensuing nuclear exchange would mark the end of a civilization.
Although a the time of its announcement, it was expected that the government in place following the elections in the autumn of 1999 would enact the draft doctrine formally, by early 2001 no action had been taken and the draft remained a proposal without official weight, except to the extent it reflected the thinking of Indian government officialdom.

In May 2000 the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) which has been set up on 15 November 1983 by order of the President of India to exercise regulatory and safety functions for atomic energy in India was split off from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). According too an unnamed senior official of the Dept. of Atomic Energy (DAE) quoted by Aviation Week & Space Technology (19 June 2000), this split indicated that nuclear warheads for India's armed forces had entered series production. The separation "means the weaponization program at BARC is completed," explained the official. "It is a clear assertion that BARC does not want the AERB to look into its weaponization program." Instead, BARC will have an internal safety committee, which was set up by BARC Director, Anil Kakodkar. The order for the split issued by Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman, Rajgopalan Chidambaram stated, "The regulatory and safety mechanism of BARC and its functions, hitherto exercised by the AERB, will henceforth be exercised through an internal safety committee structure to be constituted by the BARC director.... This is being done so as to ensure safety of the strategic nuclear program." Chidambaram added that the regulatory body is "always transparent" and has frequent interactions with the public. He said that BARC's internal committee will ensure compliance "wherever applicable" with the principles of good safety management as given in safety standards developed by the AERB. Despite the assertion of 'transparency' Chidambaram, speaking to a UNI reporter declined to give any details of the new committee saying that it was of strategic importance and details could not be revealed.
The DAE official said, "Most weapon laboratories have their internal checks systems, the Lawrence Livermore [Laboratories] in the U.S. being an example." However, he omitted to mention that in the U.S. the Department of Energy maintains independent oversight with the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board (DNFSB) which even includes reviewers outside of the DOE.
Further insight on the significance of this split was added in a Times of India article on 15 June 2000. S. Rajagopal, an expert on nuclear affairs and a professor of the Bangalore-based National Institute of Advanced Studies, observed that this decision effectively reclassified BARC as a nuclear weapons laboratory. "This in turn will eliminate the need to place it under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards programme," he said.
Chidambaram's eight years in office as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission ended on 30 November 2000 when he was replaced by Dr. Anil Kakodkar today took charge as AEC Chairman, and as Secretary to the Government of India, Department of Atomic Energy in a brief ceremony held at Anushakti Bhavan, CSM Marg, Mumbai. Kakodkar This continued the tradition since Vikram Sarabhai's death in 1971 of having the top official in Atomic Energy be a leader of India's nuclear weapon program. As BARC director, Kakodkar had been the principal scientist involved in the May 1998 nuclear tests.

Courtesy: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org

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