India and Pakistan are moving dangerously toward war. On 22 May, Indian Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee told troops “to be ready for sacrifice…It’s time to fight a decisive battle.” The Pakistani government responded by saying they would use “full force” if India is to strike. The greatest concern not only to the region, but to the world is whether or not either country will resort to using nuclear weapons in order to “win” a war.

Tensions have been mounting between South Asian nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, particularly since the 13 December terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament. On 12 January, Pakistani President General Musharraf made a landmark speech condemning terrorism, promising internal reform and calling for a peaceful resolution with India over the disputed Kashmir region–the issue at the center of the standoff between the two nations. However, in India’s view, Musharraf has done substantively little to stop Islamic militants and Indian officials have charged Musharraf with continuing to support them.

Statements from India and Pakistan in the past few months have indicated that both countries are willing to fight a nuclear war, should one side attack the other with a nuclear weapon. Pakistan has gone so far as to state that it is prepared to counter any attack from India. Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf stated on 6 January, “If any war is thrust on Pakistan, Pakistan’s armed forces and the 140 million people of Pakistan are fully prepared to face all consequences with all their might.” On 30 December 2001, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes stated, “We could take a strike, survive and then hit back. Pakistan would be finished.”

In a move viewed by Pakistan as a provocative gesture in the region, India conducted a test of a new version of its nuclear-capable medium-range Agni missile on 25 January. After India test-fired the Agni missile, General Musharraf made an offer to work with India for the de-nuclearization of South Asia. India rejected the proposal saying that without global disarmament, the denuclearization of South Asia is meaningless.

Although the actual numbers of nuclear weapons in each arsenal are unknown, it is estimated that India has some 65 nuclear weapons and Pakistan has some 24-48 nuclear weapons. There are serious concerns about the military and intelligence infrastructures of both countries. Admiral L. Ramdas, retired Chief of the Indian Navy, stated earlier this year, “India and Pakistan lack effective command, control, communication and intelligence systems. When these infrastructures are not there, it makes the whole system more sensitive, accident-prone, and therefore dangerous. Global zero alert would be a major step towards providing a de facto security guarantee.”

Both India and Pakistan must show restraint and resolve the current crisis before the conflict escalates any further, making the use of nuclear weapons in a war between the two countries even more likely. Neither country will win a war in which nuclear weapons are used. The situation in India and Pakistan evidences that the use, let alone the existence, of nuclear weapons is completely irrational because they do the exactly the opposite of what they purport to do. Nuclear weapons do not provide security. Neither India, nor Pakistan, nor anyone in this world is more secure because of the existence of nuclear weapons. In fact, at this moment India, Pakistan and indeed the whole world sit on the precipice of nuclear annihilation. It is time for global leadership, particularly from the nuclear weapons states, to rid the planet of these completely irrational weapons.

More Resources on Nuclear South Asia

Statements from Admiral L. Ramdas are available online at

“Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces 2001” from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is now available in the January/February 2002 of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists at

“India’s Nuclear Forces 2001” from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is now available in the January/February 2002 of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists at