Imran Khan and his government have been upping the war rhetoric in recent days over India's move on Jammu and Kashmir

Late Monday evening, the headlines went up: 'Pakistan would not be the first to use nuclear weapons against India: Imran Khan'. Coming at a time when Islamabad has upped its sabre-rattling over the Indian government's move to revoke Jammu and Kashmir's special status, the Pakistani prime minister's comment was, rightly so, seen to be of great importance.

Especially so because several voices from within Pakistan -- including that of Imran Khan -- have in the recent days have come close to threatening nuclear war with India. At the heart of Pakistan's recent war-mongering is its frustration over being unable to internationalise India's recent actions with regards to Jammu and Kashmir -- most world powers have refused to comment on the issue, which they say is New Delhi's internal matter.

And so it is that Imran Khan has been forced to take on the role of Kashmir's "global ambassador", one who is hell-bent on "exposing" Indian "atrocities" in the region. And, as the "global ambassador" of Kashmir, Imran has time and again "warned" of the consequences of a nuclear conflict with India.


It was against this backdrop that news flashed Monday evening about a comment Imran Khan had made with regards to Pakistan's use of nuclear weapons. All the initial news flashes were based on a report put out by UK-based news agency Reuters.

"PM Khan: Pakistan would not use nuclear weapons first, amid tensions with India," Reuters headlined its report, published shortly after 8pm Monday. If true, Imran Khan's statement marked a dramatic development with regards to Pakistan's nuclear doctrine.

Like most countries, Islamabad has been ambiguous about its strategy on the use of nuclear weapons. However, it is widely believed that if Pakistan were back into a corner in a conventional war, its military wouldn't shy away from pressing the metaphorical nuclear button.

In fact, during the 1999 Kargil conflict, US intelligence told then US president Bill Clinton that Pakistan was preparing its nuclear weapons for possible use against India.

So, if Imran Khan did say what he was reported to have said on Monday that would turn on its head how Pakistan's nuclear doctrine is seen. So, did Imran Khan really say Pakistan would not use nuclear weapons first against India?

The truth is murkier.

Shortly after the Reuters report on Imran Khan's comment set Twitter on fire, a video of the speech Reuters was quoting from. In the video, which is of Imran Khan addressing a Sikh convention in Lahore, the Pakistani prime minister is heard ranting about India and its recent moves in Kashmir and the problematic "ideologies" that are currently in power in Delhi.

Around four minutes into the video come the comments Reuters seemed to have picked its headline from: "Hum do nuclear armed mulk hai... Agar ye aage tensions badhti hai toh duniya ko khatra ha isse... humari taraf se kabhi koi kisi taraf pehel nahi hogi..." [We are two nuclear-armed nations... if these tensions worsen, then it won't bode well for the world... there won't be a first from our side].

There won't be a first from our side. That, literally, is what Imran Khan said. Was he actually saying Pakistan would not be the first to use nuclear weapons? Maybe. Was he merely saying that Pakistan wouldn't be the aggressor during the current tensions with India? Maybe.

There's many maybes involved over a comment that does not qualify to be in the league of craft statements filled with innuendos that world leaders are often known to make.

Want an example of what such a statement is like? Look at the Rajnath Singh. At an event in Pokhran recently, the Indian defence minister said New Delhi has steadfastly followed a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons so far. What happens in the future, however, he said, "depends on the circumstances".

That is how countries announce subtle shifts in their strategic policies. Not by open-to-interpretation statements like Imran's that may sound different to different ears.

So, has Pakistan PM Imran Khan hinted at a shift in his country's nuclear doctrine? Looking just at his comments from Monday, that would be a stretch.