UK-INDIA-ELECTION-BJP:India s BJP puts no first use nuclear policy in doubt

April 8, 2014, 3:24 am

Reuters Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi (R), the prime ministerial
candidate for India‘s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),
speaks with his party’s president Rajnath Singh before releasing their
election manifesto in New Delhi April 7, 2014. REUTERS/Anindito

By Sanjeev Miglani and John Chalmers

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),
widely tipped to form the next government, pledged on Monday to revise
the country’s nuclear doctrine, whose central principle is that New
Delhi would not be first to use atomic weapons in a conflict.

Unveiling its election manifesto, the party gave no details,

but sources involved in drafting the document said the “no-first-use”
policy introduced after India conducted a series of nuclear tests in
1998 would be reconsidered.

Arch-rival Pakistan, which responded within weeks that year by
conducting tests of its own, does not profess “no first use”.

The BJP, which was in power at the time of India’s underground blasts,
appears to be on the cusp of returning to government under the
leadership of Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist many expect would
adopt a muscular foreign policy.

The BJP made no mention of reviewing nuclear policy in its manifesto
for the previous elections in 2009.

Opinion polls have consistently shown that the BJP will emerge as the
biggest party in the five-week election that began on Monday. They
suggest that, while the party is likely to fall short of the
parliamentary majority needed to rule on its own, it would have the
best chance to form a coalition government.

Two aides to Modi told Reuters in the run-up to the vote that if he
becomes prime minister, India would get tougher in territorial
disputes with China and more robust with Pakistan over attacks by
Islamist militants based there.

In its manifesto, the party said it would seek friendly relations with
neighbours, but – without naming any country – vowed to “deal with
cross-border terrorism with a firm hand” and take a “strong stand and
steps” when required.

India adopted a no-first-use policy at a time when it was under
pressure from punitive embargoes by Western nations for its nuclear
tests, but since then it has been unofficially accepted as a nuclear

The United States struck a deal with New Delhi in 2008 to give it
access to civilian nuclear technology as well as finance even while it
carried on with its weapon programme.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said it had no comment “on
domestic Indian political issues.”


But Richard Boucher, who was the U.S. assistant secretary of state for
South and Central Asia when the United States negotiated the Indian
civil nuclear deal, said scrapping the no first strike policy would
“not (be) a smart move” by the BJP.

“What does it do for India? Nothing really, although it would
introduce a small, probably destabilising, element in the calculations
of nuclear adversaries.

“In fact, the threats to India – terrorist groups and conventional
border disputes – can’t be dealt with by nuclear threats. India’s
nuclear strategy ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.”

Ashley Tellis, a senior associate of Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace think tank in Washington and a former official of
the U.S. National Security Council, said it was still unclear what
revision of the doctrine would entail.

“The new government should review the doctrine for all sorts of
reasons, including the fact that much has happened regionally since it
was promulgated. But I cannot convince myself that India actually
comes out ahead by giving up its “no first use” policy – if that’s
what revision entails.”

Dan Twining, a former State Department official and now a senior
official of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said India
had stood out among big powers with its no first use policy.

Twining said former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had
explained in 1998 that India first tested nuclear weapons in response
to a growing threat from China, which had since grown further.

“So a new BJP government … would be in keeping with party tradition
– and arguably with India’s national interest – to review nuclear
policy by considering one that would leave all options open for India
to defend itself,” he said.

The no-first-use policy was based on a premise that India would
retaliate so massively against a nuclear strike that an enemy would
not contemplate such a move in the first place.

However, a source who advises the BJP said there has been significant
debate in recent years about being bound to the policy given the
advances of Pakistan’s nuclear capability.

He said Pakistan’s nuclear inventory may have already overtaken that
of its neighbour, and it has claimed progress in miniaturisation of
weapons for use on the battlefield.

“Do we need tactical weapons? This issue was never raised and
discussed because at the time it was not a concern.” said another
source involved in drawing up the manifesto.


Murli Manohar Joshi, head of a committee that framed the BJP’s nuclear
policy, declined to spell out whether no-first-use could be discarded.
“Read the manifesto,” he told Reuters. “It has to be in sync with
geostrategic conditions.”

There was no immediate reaction from the Pakistan government or its
military, which controls foreign and defence policy.

A former Pakistani national security adviser, retired Major-General
Mahmud Ali Durrani, said he would not be concerned if India revised
the central tenet of its nuclear doctrine.

“I don’t think it will be of great consequence,” he said. “The nuclear
doctrine here is MAD (mutually assured destruction). If one side does
it, the other side has enough to cause unacceptable damage in

Durrani said there was more concern in Pakistan about the “overall
attitude” of Modi, who was chief minister of the western Indian state
of Gujarat in 2002 when more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were
slaughtered in mob violence.

Modi has always vehemently denied that he allowed, or even encouraged,
the bloodshed, driven by a Hindu nationalist agenda, and a Supreme
Court inquiry found no evidence to prosecute him.

The BJP manifesto set out its Hindu nationalist leanings, with a vow
to explore building a temple at the site of a mosque in northern India
that was torn down by zealots 22 years ago, potentially putting a
deeply controversial issue back into play.

“There’s a religious right in the BJP so they want to acknowledge that
without making it the centrepiece of the manifesto,” said Ashok Malik,
a political columnist. “I don’t think the BJP is going to take it
forward as a political movement.”

The party also made a commitment to withdrawing a special autonomous
status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir state, India’s only
Muslim-majority region, which many believe prolongs ambiguity over the
status of a territory claimed by Pakistan.

It added that it would aim for the return of Hindus who left Kashmir
when the region was roiled by an Islamist insurgency.

(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in NEW DELHI, Katharine
Houreld in ISLAMABAD and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by
Raju Gopalakrishnan)


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