Karachi, Pakistan (CNSNews.com) - Asia watchers believe India's apparent willingness to risk war with Pakistan may be a result of an Indian perception that Pakistan's nuclear capability has been effectively placed under U.S. control.
Until October of this year, say academics at Karachi University, Pakistan's nuclear assets seemed to have proven a deterrent in the tense sub-continent. Now, however, this no longer appeared to be the case.
The reason, they believe, may be found in a statement by a senior Indian military official, who told the Indian Express that New Delhi felt Islamabad could be "deprived of the rights to use nuclear weapons" should war erupt.
Pakistani experts, including defense affairs writer Kamran Khan, retired military intelligence colonel Abul Hassan and former government strategist, Afaq Ahmed Siddiqui, attribute India's stance to the belief that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are under U.S. control and Islamabad "may no longer be in a position to push the strategic button at its own will."
They note that Russia, too, has been urging outside control over Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
Last week Russian officials said it was up to the U.S. to exercise control over the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, as the current standoff between the South Asian neighbors was a consequence of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
The influential head of the Russian Duma's foreign affairs committee, Dmitry Rogozin, said the anti-terror operation in Afghanistan had set extremist forces inside Pakistan in motion.
This had resulted in attacks on traditional enemy India, which have led South Asia to the current crisis.
A senior Pakistani official, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that New Delhi may have been advised by its allies - Russia included - to heighten tensions so as to lay the groundwork for an "international move [to] monitor and/or arrest" the deployment of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
The official warned, however, that any Indian action taken on the basis of "such assumptions" could be a gross miscalculation on India's part, and threaten the entire region.
Before the current crisis was sparked by a terror attack on the Indian Parliament on Dec. 13, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said that "Pakistan's nuclear assets are in safe hands" and that "those concerned with Pakistan's nuclear program are responsible people."
The statement surprised many observers here, who felt the Indians may have been led to believe that Pakistan's nuclear capability may have been placed under outside control.
On November 1, Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said Pakistan had accepted an offer by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell for Pakistanis to be trained "for security and protection of nuclear assets."
Hassan, the retired military colonel, warned that India could "commit a blunder" if it misunderstood the actual situation in Pakistan.
And Siddiqui, who once served in a regional security pact, added that "the time to test Pakistan's nuclear abilities has passed. Now no-one should take a chance [and risk] ... millions of lives."
Maj.-Gen. Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf, late last week ruled out the possibility of a nuclear conflict between the two countries, which he said were responsible states.
The comments were unusual for Pakistan, which routinely threatens to use "all weapons" available against India.