India-Pak N-war may kill 125m in a week

Painting apocalyptic scenarios has been part of Pakistan’s game plan for Kashmir, but New Delhi is confident of bringing normalcy to the region, India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar asserted during a grand tour of Washington’s foreign policy community this week, aimed, among other things, at explaining the rationale for the Modi government’s move to scrap Article 370 and change the status quo.

The exercise evidently succeeded in reassuring Washington, where the Trump administration has implicitly supported India’s decision to change the dynamics of the region in the face of Pakistan’s intransigence over the terrorism issue. A state department readout of Jaishankar’s meeting with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo said the two “discussed a range of issues, including the growing US-India strategic relationship, developments in Kashmir, and global issues of concern”. “They also discussed plans to advance our complementary visions of a free and open Indo-Pacific region following the successful Quadrilateral Consultations on the margins of the UNGA last week,” the readout added.

The glancing reference to Kashmir without any critical asides and the expansive nature of their talks suggested Washington did not share the alarm or hysteria expressed in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s histrionics at the UNGA. It may have made good theatre and headlines, but going by Jaishankar’s seven thinktank engagements in seven days in the US, and global reactions, it has left the foreign thintank community unimpressed.

The MEA-mandarin turned foreign minister was heard respectfully throughout the week, with the capital’s seasoned veterans expressing admiration for his expansive presentations. “I’ve studied India for 30 years, when its foreign policy was largely hesitant, reactive and ineffectual. My takeaway from @DrSJaishankar is that India now has a firm grasp of its interests around the world and an assertive, self-confident and purposeful strategy to advance them,” tweeted Peter Lavoy, a former senior administration official in the Obama White House, whose scholarship includes Assymmetric Warfare in South Asia, reflecting on the Indian foreign minister’s tour.

The India-Pakistan asymmetry — and Pakistan’s use of terror under nuclear cover and Imran Khan’s repeated invocation of nuclear war — was one of the issues Jaishankar addressed on the occasions he spoke about Islamabad and its obsession with Kashmir (which formed only a small part of his presentations).

Indeed, Pakistan’s hype about an imminent conflagration got another academic boost on Jaishankar’s last day in the US with a new report report that projected the fallout and death count from a nuclear war with India: around 125 million fatalities, a 35% reduction in sunlight reaching Earth’s surface, a 15-30% decrease in rainfall, and consequent famine and food shortage for a generation.

But it was the premise of how the nuclear war could begin — in the paper published in Science Advances — that was eye-catching. The scenario involves militants attacking India’s parliament in 2025, killing most of its leaders. New Delhi retaliates by sending tanks into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Fearing it will be overrun, Islamabad hits the invading forces with its battlefield nuclear weapons, triggering an Indian retaliation and an all-out nuclear war.

Indeed, that has pretty much been the scenarios Islamabad has also projected except for accusing India of staging a “false flag” operation to attack Pakistan. In India’s eyes, invoking nuclear war is a desperate gambit on part of a country that has no past, no future, and no hope.

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