Tensions between Pakistan and India have reached such a point that talk has turned to the possibility of nuclear war between the two neighbors.

However such a conflict would be absolutely devastating for both countries, the wider region, and indeed the world. According to projections from three U.S. universities, a nuclear war in which India and Pakistan detonated 100 warheads would lead to the deaths of over 21 million people, destroy 50% of the ozone layer and cause a nuclear winter that would wreak havoc around the globe.

Pakistan vs India
Photo by Koshyk, Flickr

Threat of nuclear war stems from Indian response to Kashmir protests

Abheet Singh Sethi of The Hindustan Times writes that these reminders of the cost of nuclear war come at a time when the drums of war are beating loudly. The Indian Army has reportedly targeted terrorist camps on Pakistani territory, a member of parliament from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s party has called for nuclear attack and the Pakistan defense minister has underlined the country’s willingness to “annihilate” India in retaliation.

The escalation of rhetoric has been going on for some time. In fact the current problems can be traced to the continuing anti-India protests in Kashmir. Over various months of protests some 80 people have died, mainly protesters.

India then reacted badly when Pakistan criticized its violent response to the protests. In this atmosphere of heightened tension, talk of war was further spurred by a terrorist attack on an Indian army base in Uri, a town in Kashmir. 18 Indian soldiers died, and officials blamed Pakistan for the attack.

Pakistan refutes link to Uri attack citing Indian defense systems

However these claims were made without a formal investigation. It is also hard to believe that militants could have passed onto Indian-held territory thanks to high-tech defense systems installed by New Delhi, or that preparations were underway for another infiltration.

Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa said: “It does not make any sense there was preparations for infiltration. There is already escalation at the Line of Control (LoC) then why someone will try to infiltrate. We strongly deny such Indian claims.”

Claims of infiltration make no sense due to the defense systems employed by the country.

“India has established an anti-infiltration grid at the depth of 3-4 kilometers on the other side of LoC and has deployed state-of-the-art technology and have effective system of fences comprising three layers, which are electrified. Even a bird can be electrocuted if it touches these wires,” said General Bajwa.

He also outlined other defense systems such as check-posts, patrols and ground sensors.

Indian shelling is not a surgical strike

According to local media sources India has since engaged in shelling across the Pakistani border. This is a breach of international law.

India has since claimed that the shelling was part of a so-called surgical strike. However high-ranking Indian police officer Sanjiv Bhatt says that this is simply impossible.

“The Goebbelsian Propaganda Machinery now terms the cross-border firing/shelling by India as ‘Surgical Strikes across LoC'” he wrote on Twitter.

“When will the gullible morons understand that there can be no clandestine ‘surgical strikes’ across a fenced LoC,” he added

Some sections of Indian society continue to press for war. For its part, Pakistan has responded by saying that it would defend itself with nuclear weapons.

“If Pakistan’s security is threatened, we will not hesitate in using tactical (nuclear) weapons,” said Pakistani defense minister Khawaja M Asif.

Nuclear war would bring unimaginable destruction

The issue of nuclear weapons has also been a point of concern for the United States. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that while India and China deserve praise for their handling of nuclear technology, Pakistan is a different case.

“The last example I’ll cite is Pakistan, where nuclear weapons are entangled in a history of tension, and while they are not a threat to the United States directly, we work with Pakistan to ensure stability,” said Carter.

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has discouraged India from taking military action against its neighbor in the past. The recent tensions have not gone unnoticed in the U.S., and officials are pushing for a peaceful resolution.

“We have long urged India and Pakistan to find ways to resolve their differences not through violence but through diplomacy,” said White House spokesperson Josh Earnest on Friday.

Around the world billions of people are hoping that the current problems can be resolved without recourse to nuclear weapons. The destruction that would result from a nuclear war between India and Pakistan doesn’t bear thinking about.

It must be hoped that hawkish elements are not allowed to prevail, and a peaceful solution can be reached which benefits both sides and the wider region.