Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor's statement, being construed as a call to revisit the country's nuclear doctrine, in the light of the Federation of American Scientists report about Pakistan now possessing 70 to 90 nuclear warheads has predictably created a storm.
Whether or not the basic pillar of Indian nuclear policy -- No First Use -- merits a review, is the issue. Simultaneous with the FAS assessment are the reports that the 1998 Pokhran tests were not as successful as touted to be. Whether they were a fizzle or sizzle is being questioned by Dr K Sanathanam who directed the test site preparations.
The issue had become big enough for ex-President A P J Abdul Kalam to step in with a reassuring statement, thereby immediately drawing flak from two former highly reputed Atomic Energy Commission chairmen, Dr Homi Sethna, who oversaw the 1974 test, and Dr P K Iyengar, questioning Kalam's competence in commenting on this issue.
Before going into the issue of India reviewing its doctrine of no first use, an assessment of India and Pakistan's requirement of nuclear weapons and their numbers, needs to be undertaken.
Pakistan's threat assessment in the nuclear spectrum stems from India, its nuclearised neighbour that possesses the delivery means, weaponisation capability apart, to reach its entire length and breadth.
There is no other threat that can be construed by its decision makers, should it not want to revamp its foreign policy fundamentally and club China along with India in the threat matrix.
In the case of India, the threat emanates from two traditional rivals that have for long remained demonstratedly inimical -- China and Pakistan. To state the obvious, of the two, China is by far the greater threat, and hence Indian nuclear capabilities have to take into consideration the Chinese arsenal and its reach.
The threat from Pakistan is automatically taken care of in the process. It barely merits additional analysis, except perhaps in the area of warning time available after launch, with Pakistani delivery means being located much closer to sensitive Indian targets.
With the Pakistani threat perception being limited to India, the requirement of building up its nuclear arsenal to 70 to 90 weapons is certainly debatable. Further, with all due faith in its efforts to turn a new leaf and leave behind its past that pirouetted it to be the leading exporter of global jihad, a few truths cannot be disregarded.
The most critical of these is the fact that the country is in a state of volatile turmoil and the world community has been alarmed for some time now regarding the possibility of its warheads falling in the hands of jihadis.
Further, though the Pakistani army's operations along its western borders have been very reassuring to the world community, the possibility of the nation having been a proliferator, and its top nuclear scientist A Q Khan having had a rather dubious role in it, cannot be wished away.
On the Indian side, irrespective of the 'sizzle or fizzle' of 1998, definitely no more testing can be undertaken, even though it does not sign up on the dotted line of CTBT to prove it.
The sanctions that would follow another test are better avoided by greater reliance on the 'strong simulation capabilities,' that Anil Kakodkar, the current chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, confirmed in his response post the 1998 test controversy.
Nuclear defence, however, is not contingent to only possessing a nuclear arsenal. It is also dependent on associated systems and structures like the delivery means, triad capabilities, sound command and control structures, standard operating procedures and finally enough system survivability to undertake a second strike launch capability.
The last issue becomes more relevant for a country that espouses the 'no first strike' concept. The launch of the INS Arihant, the first Indian nuclear submarine and the undersea component of the triad, is a strong demonstrator of the resolve to attain the triad capability.
In the absence of any scope of further testing of nuclear warheads, it is essential in order to strengthen nuclear deterrence, to focus upon the associated structures of nuclear defence. It is also important in the area of nuclear strategy to declare these structures fairly openly.
That the Strategic Command is already in place is already well known, and Arihant was launched with due fanfare. Missile tests are regularly reported by the media. Such exercises in placing information regarding nuclear preparedness in the open domain serve to strengthen nuclear deterrence.
As far as the Pakistani arsenal is concerned, the threat from its volumes needs to be evaluated by the world community. A nation that gave nightmares of being overrun by jihadis of late, has undoubtedly displayed the will to start its long march out of the morasses. However, to what extent will it be able to purge its State machinery and military infested with jihadi sympathisers, remains the moot point.
The Inter State Intelligence with its long association with the jihadi establishment is also a nagging worry. Will the Pakistani leadership display the will to extend its anti-terror operations beyond the current theatre in the North West Frontier Province, further eastwards in that country -- to areas alongside the Line of Control with India, will provide a few answers.
Meanwhile, should the Pakistani leadership be able to keep its arsenal secure, the threat from it can at best be part of the Indian calculus. With Pakistan now shifting to plutonium-based warheads, that are lighter and lend to miniaturisation and thus weaponisation of missiles more easily, as reported by the FAS, would attain better capabilities.
However, if there be pilferage or compromise, be it technology or warheads, the threat assumes global dimensions.