Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan is on the rise again.

Nearly 68 years after the U.S. dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, it seems that the exhibition of its massive destructive power has not discouraged some politicians from threatening to use nuclear weapons. In The Tribune, Danish Amjad Alvi argues that Pakistan was never the intended target of India’s nuclear weapons.

India Targeted China With Nuclear Program, Not Pakistan

Nuclear saber rattling continues

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf spoke out on rising tensions with India. “We have not made the atomic bomb for occasions like Shab-e-Barat,” he said, alluding to the fact that Pakistan is ready and willing to carry out nuclear strikes.

His statement was met with approval among nationalist sections of Pakistani society. A commitment to matching India’s nuclear capabilities has been present in Pakistan since the days of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who famously claimed: “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass and leaves for a thousand years, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.”

This commitment has arguably affected economic growth in Pakistan, and left the country indebted to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). India’s nuclear program was perceived as a grave threat to Pakistan, and justified huge investment in the country’s own nuclear weapons.

Course of history changed by nuclear proliferation

However it may be that Pakistan was never the intended target of India’s nuclear weapons. In fact, New Delhi’s motivation for building the bomb stems from the Indo-Sino war of 1962.

China won large amounts of territory from India as a result of the conflict, and India believed China was a continued threat. By developing nuclear weapons, India hoped to deter further attacks from China, rather than Pakistan.

Although this may have been the line of reasoning in New Delhi, politicians in Islamabad saw things differently. India’s nuclear missiles led to the development of advanced nuclear weapons in Pakistan.

Pakistan invested heavily in nuclear weapons

Nuclear proliferation can be seen as a chain of events set off during by the U.S. bombing of Japan. As World War II ended and the Cold War began, the Soviet Union scrambled to match the power of its ideological rival. Communist China also built the bomb, leading to India’s nuclear program, and thus Pakistan’s.

Scandalously, Pakistan also helped North Korea and Iran to start work on their own weapons, and Israel countered the Iranian threat by building its own bomb.

If Pakistan had not turned its peaceful nuclear power program into a weapons program, the country may have developed faster in terms of education and standards of living. Instead, the perceived threat from India led the country down a different path, the merits of which hawkish figures such as Musharraf continue to believe in to this day.

The recent nuclear deal with Iran shows that sometimes the benefits of economic development outweighs the supposed need for nuclear weapons. Not only does Pakistan possess the bomb, it has far more efficient warheads capable of exacting far greater destruction than those dropped on Japan.

A nuclear strike in the world’s most densely populated region would evidently be catastrophic. That does not stop nuclear threats from receiving widespread public support, and provides evidence of the ongoing enmity between India and Pakistan.

If both nations can agree to reduce or remove their nuclear arsenals, it would be a huge step towards lasting peace. However India’s lasting distrust of China is a huge stumbling block.

Geopolitical issues justify nuclear arsenals?

New Delhi recently asked Beijing to stop its activities in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said that the presence of Chinese nationals in the disputed region is unacceptable.

“Government has also conveyed its concerns to China about their activities in PoK and asked them to cease such activities,” he said.

Increased Chinese activity in the Indian Ocean is also a concern for India. “China has also been deploying naval ships as part of their anti-piracy escort force in the Gulf of Aden since January 2009. It is understood that 20 such deployments have been undertaken till date,” Parrikar said.

A Chinese submarine has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden since April, and docked in Karachi to resupply. Chinese activities are constantly monitored by India, which is also concerned by the impending sale of 8 Chinese submarines to Pakistan.

Traditional allies China and Pakistan enjoy a close, cooperative relationship. The presence of Chinese nationals in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is likely related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which runs through the region.

The $46 billion plan has provoked opposition in India, presumably because it allows China to maintain a presence in Kashmir. Perhaps greater regional cooperation as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will improve relations between the neighbors.