NEW DELHI: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday triggered a debate by suggesting India’s no first use (NFU) doctrine on nuclear arms was not written in stone, saying its future would depend on the prevailing circumstances.
Strategic experts called it smart posturing, viewing it from the prism of tension with Pakistan after the Centre withdrew J&K’s special status and broke it up into two Union Territories, and the subsequent sharp statements by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“Pokhran is the area which witnessed Atal Ji’s firm resolve to make India a nuclear power and yet remain firmly committed to the doctrine of ‘No First Use’. India has strictly adhered to this doctrine. What happens in future depends on the circumstances,” the minister tweeted.
He said this while visiting Pokhran to pay homage to the former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his first death anniversary. Pokhran was where India had conducted its nuclear tests in 1998.
Experts sought to read in Rajnath’s statement as a “signal” to Pakistan that the terms of reference have changed.
Strategic affairs expert Bharat Karnad felt Pakistan is nowhere a real strategic threat to India and the statement of the defence minister should be seen in the light of the stated nuclear policy of India. “The fact is NFU is just a guideline and not an operational directive... There is no absolute ban on nuclear weapons,” added Prof Karnad.
What people don’t know is Pakistan used the nuclear blackmail even before the 1998 tests. “During the Kargil conflict Pakistan had, directly or indirectly, threatened India 17 times,” said A Vinod Kumar, research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.