<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The recent attack in Uri, Jammu & Kashmir, on an Indian Army base, where the death toll has now risen to 19 Indian soldiers, was a game changer. After Pathankot, pressure already existed to make sure some sort of reply is given to Pakistan. Uri was the straw where many reached that line where crossing over from ‘strategic restraint’ to a reaction was acceptable. However, even as India has confirmed that its special forces crossed over the penciled in status quo that is the Line of Control (LoC) in the fraught state of Jammu & Kashmir, the public narrative that is often led by the jingoistic media output around Indo–Pakistan affairs quickly moved towards the usual plausibility: Nuclear War. Even as I entered my home last evening, one could hear loud television sets from the streets, blaring in many homes as most in the public celebrated India losing its self-restraint against Pakistan’s audacious support for terror groups against India. Articles and debates on potential nuclear conflict between these two nuclear-armed states are neither new or unexpected. In fact, theoretically speaking, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in probability is more likely than between any other two nuclear-armed states at this point of time. Nonetheless, in public discourse in both India and Pakistan, nuclear weapons hold some sort of chimera like fantasy-laden rhetoric as if they’re not weapons of mass destruction but fairy-dust that will solve everything. There have been various studies done on what a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan will achieve, and there have been various articles in the media over many years on how a nuclear conflict will affect populations of both the countries (general consensus was that it will not be very nice). Yet, actual knowledge of nuclear weapons, how they are used more as strategic tools of deterrence than WMDs and are weapons that could perhaps bring warring parties to the negotiating table faster than anything else is very limited. In general, I have found our people have this utopian-dystopian take on nuclear weapons that if we launch warheads towards Pakistan they can sit on their roofs and watch it as if it is some sort of a festivity. These are WMDs after all, and not sutli bombs that one gets in packets for Rs 100 on Diwali. But again, this is not very surprising at least from an Indian discourse context. We are, after all, people who would feel much more comfortable knowing that there are nuclear weapons based in our backyard pointed towards our adversaries than having a nuclear plant in our backyard which will give us clean, green energy. If the latter happens, most run around screaming bloody murder, but an Agni missile under the local park will possibly make most people feel ‘safe’. So, does one blame people for such a thought process? Seeing our neighbourhood, maybe not entirely at least. The strange halo of nuclear conflict being some sort of end game to geo-political troubles is bizarre at best. The fact that this sort of bravado sells to domestic audiences is highlighted by Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif saying on a televised interview that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons can be used against India in wartime (India maintains a no-first use policy for nuclear weapons). Information flow these days also helps spread such fear mongering, with unsolicited, uninformed, jingoistic and factually wrong messages being circulated on social media and messaging services such as WhatsApp being taken literally by even the best educated people. Such chest-thumping, which includes promoting the idea of a nuclear conflict, is easy to orchestrate sitting at home and being oblivious to what a nuclear conflict entails, what such a conflict will never achieve or even how a nuclear weapon works. That wish to see the mushroom cloud over Pakistan, and some Pakistanis’ wish to see the same here, is difficult to fathom, and can be best explained by pure, unadulterated dumbness of people promoting such ideas in public discourse as if the mushroom cloud is some sort of imagery of vindication. Perhaps, for anyone who thinks that way, it will be a wise idea to sit them down and make them watch what erstwhile nuclear weapons of much less power than what we have today did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And follow this up with testimonies of survivors of these bombings. How Japan changed thereafter, is sobering to know. Furthermore, covert strikes across the LoC escalating into a nuclear conflict has absolutely minimal probability, it is an outcome neither India nor Pakistan would work towards (barring the small margin of error on such probabilities). Beyond that, it is vital to remember, this is not the first time cross-LoC ops have taken place, but this is only the first time you have been told about it. This alone, should put things in perspective. The theatre of nuclear deterrence is in-fact a much more wholesome and solid-bodied theory than people may realise. The consequence of nuclear conflict is not a regional outcome, but a global one. During the height of the Cold War, situations around nuclear activities were much closer than what they are with India and Pakistan today, but even then, both the US and USSR did not severe diplomatic ties. So, if you are from India or Pakistan, and people around you seem to be thinly apprised about nuclear conflicts, do make it a point to tell them that a few packets of MTR pre-cooked meals and a ditch masquerading as a bunker behind their house is not going to be a fool-proof plan to survive such an eventuality. And it is perhaps best they think thrice, or as many times more as they need according to their personal thought capacity requirements, before loosely talking about a nuclear confrontation being some sort of end-game for the conundrums faced by India and Pakistan over their evening cup of tea.

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High On A Mushroom Cloud: India, Pakistan and public discourse around nuclear conflict