India Pakistan: Kashmir issue cannot keep boiling says PM Khan

by Ciaran McGrath

INDIA is “sending a serious message” to China, as well as paving the way for a nuclear first strike on neighbours Pakistan, with its estimated investment of more than £400 million on cutting edge hypersonic weapons, an expert has warned, amid Islamabad leader Imran Khan's vow to "fight to the death" if tensions boil over into conflict.

However, while Yogesh Joshi, a research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, at the National University of Singapore, acknowledged India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was aiming to ensure his country had a place at the table in future international arms control talks, the strategy also increased the risks of a potentially deadly future confrontation by upsetting the delicate balance of power in south Asia. India is estimated to have spent over $500 million (£408 million) on the research and development of hypersonic weapons, according to an analysis published by Jane’s at IHS Markit last month. Programs include Shourya, BrahMos-II and Hypersonic Technology Demonstrating Vehicle (HSTDV), with India collaborating with Russia for the development of BrahMos-II. Funding for the Indian hypersonic weapons programs is expected to grow as they are still at the development and testing stage.

Mr Joshi said: “Even when Chinese interest in Hypersonic weapons is primarily driven by its need to counter the US in Taiwan or in the South China Sea, China is increasingly deploying more missiles on India-China frontier especially in Tibet.

“In any crisis situation over the disputed border, China may use hypersonic weapons to target India’s military forces. Given their manoeuvrability, hypersonic weapons can easily traverse the mountainous terrain along the Sino-Indian border.

“Chinese use of hypersonic weapons can seriously degrade Indian military’s ability to defend the disputed border. Without fear of an Indian retaliation in-kind, Beijing may also be tempted to use these weapons to inflict a quick but painful militarily embarrassment upon New Delhi.

“India’s development of hypersonic weapons especially cruise missiles like BrahMos is therefore intended to send a serious message to China that New Delhi is also capable of responding to any military escalation by Beijing.”

India has already deployed BrahMos-I, a supersonic cruise missile which can be launched submarine, ships, aircraft, or land, along the Sino-Indian border, Mr Joshi said.

Mr Joshi said another motivation reflected India’s regional rivalry with Pakistan, which threatened to boil over earlier this year after a terror attack by militants in the disputed Kashmir region in February claimed the lives of 44 Indian paramilitary police.

India launched retaliatory air strikes on what it called “terror camps” inside Pakistan, with Islamabad responding by shooting down two Indian jets in Kashmir.

Mr Modi last month revoked Article 370, the section of the Indian constitution guaranteeing special status to Kashmir and neighbouring Jammu - a move which Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mr Khan called a “historic blunder”.

Mr Khan said on Monday a war between the two countries would be a “fight to the death”, hinting at the possible use of nuclear weapons.

Mr Joshi said: “Pakistan’s first use posture on nuclear weapons has complicated India’s nuclear calculus. New Delhi has continued to maintain a no first use policy but more and more Indian officials have started doubting the strategic rationale behind such a policy.

“Pakistan’s continuous nuclear sabre-rattling has deeply unsettled Indian decision-makers. Hypersonic weapons could provide New Delhi a means to not only eliminate Pakistani nuclear weapons but also disrupt its nuclear command and control apparatus.

“For this purpose, India can employ hypersonic weapons with either conventional or nuclear warheads. Such preemptive strikes may substantially degrade Pakistan’s ability to use its nuclear weapons against New Delhi.