India Shrugs Off Pakistan Nuclear Warning

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - Pakistan's threat to use nuclear weapons against India in extreme circumstances has failed to cause a great stir here, as many Indians view it as a gimmick aimed at Gen. Pervez Musharraf's domestic constituency.

The military ruler made the threat in an interview with the German publication, Der Spiegel. The magazine quoted Musharraf as condemning India's "great power illusion" and saying India should bear in mind that "if the pressure on Pakistan becomes too great, then nuclear weapons use [is possible] as a last means of defense."

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who received reports of the interview just as he was about to embark on a five-day visit of Singapore and Cambodia, declined to comment until he had seen the entire statement.

Senior officials in India's External Affairs Ministry attributed the threat to domestic political considerations.

A ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government was not particularly surprised by Musharraf's remarks.

New Delhi believed it was deliberate posturing aimed at winning support of Pakistanis ahead of a referendum Musharraf has called on whether his tenure - which began with a 1999 military coup - should be extended.

The official pointed out that India was committed to a "no first use" nuclear weapons policy, but warned that if Pakistan were ever to make good on the threat, "Pakistan would cease to exist from that very day." India's nuclear capability was far superior to that of Islamabad, he added.

India and Pakistan became declared nuclear-capable countries with tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May 1988.

Troops from both are presently along their joint border in a tense standoff, following a serious deterioration in relations following a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament last December.

India accused Pakistan of sponsoring the terrorists, and has been threatening to attack. But immense pressure from the United States has helped to prevent an unleashing of hostilities.

There was no immediate reaction to Musharraf's comments from the U.S.

Musharraf's interview was published a fortnight after Vajpayee emphatically ruled out any "possibility or threat of nuclear war" in South Asia.

"India has already declared that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, and Pakistan has also expressed similar views," the Indian leader told journalists late last

Analysts in India said Musharraf appeared to be trying to draw the attention of the world community to the continuing and unresolved crisis with India.

The Pakistani leader maintains that he has done enough to placate India and defuse the crisis, having arresting militants and banned terrorist organizations. He now expected India to reciprocate so the episode could be concluded.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth has become the first international body to criticize Musharraf for his proposed referendum, which would extend his term in office by five years after a planned restoration of civilian rule in October of this year.

While most other countries, including former colonial power Britain maintained a studied silence, Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon noted that referendums were "a device used in the past by a former military leader in Pakistan to extend his term in office."

Diplomatic isolation descended on Pakistan after Musharraf's coup, and lasted until the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks last year, when Pakistan became an ally in the war against terrorism.

McKinnon warned that Musharraf's stated roadmap to a return to democracy had never included mention of a referendum of this nature. Because of the coup, Pakistan remains suspended from the Commonwealth, a grouping of Britain and its former colonies.

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