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Straight from the Specialists

How stable is South Asia 14 years after Pokhran II?

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

On May 11, 1998, India carried out a nuclear test and became a de facto nuclear weapon power. A few weeks later, Pakistan followed suit and demonstrated its own nuclear weapon capability. The covert nuclear weapon status of the South Asian region had become unambiguous. India had crossed the nuclear Rubicon after it had first signalled its technological ability to do so in May 1974 — with what was described as a Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE).

Today, it is moot if the South Asian region has become more or less secure and stable as far as its strategic profile is concerned. The fact that Pakistan tested its Hatf III ballistic missile on the eve of the 14th anniversary of India’s Pokhran II nuclear tests is a poignant reminder of the dynamic and opaque nature of the regional WMD environment.

It may be recalled that on April 19, India tested its 5,000 km Agni V missile, thereby enhancing its deterrent capability — and the commitment to a NFU (No First Use) doctrine. The latter is predicated on absorbing a nuclear attack — should the exigency arise due to deterrence failure — but the Indian response would be ‘massive’ and overwhelming.

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