The NBC Bombshell

New Delhi The Pioneer 23 June 2000 p 9
by Anil Narendra, Editor of Vir Arjun:

The US television network, NBC, recently made a startling disclosure: That Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is bigger than India's and that Pakistan has better and more advanced missile delivery systems than India. The impression in this country all this while has been that India was far ahead of its traditional rival in the field of nuclear technology and arsenal both in terms of quantity as well as quality. After all, India exploded its first nuclear device in 1974 whereas Pakistan did so in May 1998. In other words, India had a headstart of more than 24 years over Pakistan.

Quoting US intelligence officials, NBC reported that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was vastly superior to that of India's with up to "five times the nuclear warheads" and far more accurate and effective delivery systems. The original US estimate was that Pakistan had 10 to 15 nuclear weapons while India had 25 to 100. But they now say that they may have overstated India's "homegrown" arsenal and that the bigger number (25 to 100) better applies to Pakistan. What several of the officials, unidentified mostly, told the network is that the crucial element is delivery of nuclear payloads in which Islamabad is said to be far ahead of New Delhi, especially in ballistic missiles.

One voice of authority quoted in the report was that of Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni of the US Central Command, who said: "Don t assume that the Pakistan's nuclear capability is inferior to India s," he said.

A recent US Defence Department analysis of India's capability and readiness, quoted by the network, says India may have a "handful of nuclear bombs" may be about five and the delivery systems needed to launch them is "seriously lagging". The document also suggests that India has no nuclear capable missiles and fewer aircraft to deliver nuclear payloads than Pakistan. Pakistan is now estimated to possess 30 nuclear-capable missiles the Chinese made M-11 short-range missiles and its Pakistani variant, the Tarnuk, as well as the North Korean Nodong intermediate range missiles, called the Ghauri

In reaction to the NBC revelation a foreign office spokesman of Pakistan said the report "will encourage India to defy efforts to prevent a nuclear build up". India's reaction to the report was nonchalant: Foreign Office spokesman Raminder Singh Jassal, said, "India's nuclear program is based on our requirement to have minimum nuclear deterrent and is not country specific."

Why then did NBC break this story which, it now appears, has no takers in both India and Pakistan? A report or assessment of this nature can only be made by a US Government security or a strategic assessment agency, and not some private corporation. Was the information leaked to the TV channel? If it is indeed a leak and happens to be a correct assessment then one motive behind the report could be to focus on the dangerous fallout of a nuclear and missile race in South Asia. Perhaps this report is to warn the two countries of their respective nuclear strength as both the sides go by guesswork in the absence of precise and definite information. Or are the Americans trying to warn India about Pakistan? Or is the US trying to rattle India at a time when it is caught in the Kashmir tangle? Or is it a ploy to pressurize India into signing the CTBT?

The US is actively involved in the ongoing dialogue between the leaders of the All India Hurriyat Conference and the Government of India.

Does the US Administration, through this leak, intend to send a signal to India, that it must settle the Kashmir issue now, and that if it is under the impression that it is the pre-eminent power in the region then it is wrong?

If there is truth in this report, it should not strain our credulity.

Remember Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's resolve: We are prepared to eat grass, but we will make the bomb. Pakistan has been trying to beat India in the nuclear race for a long time. It has tried every trick in the trade, from stealing nuclear blueprints from abroad, parts, to fissile materials including technology transfer from China and North Korea. Pakistan was able to carry out its nuclear tests within weeks of the surprise Indian tests in 1998. It certainly had ready-to-use know-how and weaponry, which had already been tested and perfected. Therefore, while India still requires extensive testing, Pakistan does not. Also, at the end of the day, the morality of a country's nuclear might or acquisition does not matter. If Pakistan has begged, borrowed and stolen nuclear secrets, it has acted with cunning and guile in order to score in a vital area over India. Then, is the leak connected with US's internal politics, this being the election year? According to defence expert K Subrahmanyam, the national missile defence (NMD) plan would be a major topic for debate. The Republican Party has a more hawkish posture on it though a significant number of Democrats too are keen on it. The justification for the NMD plan is the threat from emerging nuclear, missile-holding states other than the five established nuclear powers. Pakistan's powerful arsenal can threaten Israel and US assets in West Asia. Without naming Pakistan as a rogue state, the story focuses on continuing threat of missile and nuclear proliferation which justifies the proposed NMD efforts. Also it should not be forgotten that Pakistan has a strong lobby in the US. An inflated report on its nuclear status may serve a number of purposes. If Pakistan is projected as a powerful nuclear and missile state, it would be important for the US to mollycoddle it.

Regardless of the intent(s) behind the report, India should use this NBC story to its advantage. It is obvious that the Indian Government cannot reveal anything that pertains to its nuclear status. However, the Government must accept the shortcomings in its nuclear policy and its failures. I believe that India is behind Pakistan in both the missiles as well as delivery systems. The Prithvi was never designed for nuclear delivery and even the Agni has had no more than one test. Even a country like Russia had to conduct 11 tests before inducting its latest Topal-M ballistic missile. With its missile force of M-11 (Shaheen) missiles of Chinese origin and the Nodong (Ghauri) of North Korean origin, Pakistan has a deployable missile capacity. The IAF still does not have anything to match Pakistan's F-16s.

India cannot afford to drop its guard. Since the spectre of two unfriendly, autocratic, nuclear armed northern neighbors has been reinforced, India must go ahead with the expansion of its nuclear arsenal at full throttle. Most importantly, the disclosures made by NBC are yet another reason for India not to sign the NPT and the CTBT in its present form. If need be, the Indian leadership must reassess India's nuclear capability.

Finally, the Indian Government must counter such leaks and propaganda with effective information campaign. This is essential as such stories, even when they are planted, have a demoralizing effect on our security forces. Further such reports act as a morale booster for jihadis and assorted ISI-backed outfits to intensify their proxy war against India.