New Delhi: In a rare gesture of cooperation, India and Pakistan exchanged lists of their nuclear installations and facilities on Monday, as part of a bilateral agreement to prevent attacks on each other’s nuclear assets.
The exchange, which took place through diplomatic channels in New Delhi and Islamabad, marked the 33rd consecutive year of such an exercise, which began on January 1, 1992.
The Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that the exchange was done by the Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities between India and Pakistan.
The agreement, signed in 1988, aims to reduce the risk of a nuclear conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, who have fought four wars since their independence in 1947.
However, the exchange of lists comes amid heightened tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir, where both sides have accused each other of violating a ceasefire agreement and supporting cross-border terrorism.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India and Pakistan have about 150 and 160 nuclear warheads respectively, while China has 320. The US and Russia have the most nuclear weapons in the world, with about 5,800 and 6,375 respectively.
India and Pakistan have different nuclear doctrines and postures, which reflect their strategic and security interests.
India adopted a policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons in 1999, after conducting its second round of nuclear tests in Pokhran, Rajasthan, in May 1998. The tests, which followed the first ones in 1974, drew international condemnation and sanctions, especially from the US and China.
The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee defended India’s nuclear program in Parliament, saying, “Will preparations for self-defense be made only when there is danger? If preparation is done in advance then the danger of impending danger will also go away.”
India’s nuclear doctrine states that it will use nuclear weapons only in retaliation to a nuclear attack on its territory or forces and that it will not use them against non-nuclear weapon states.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has not declared a policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons and has maintained a posture of “full spectrum deterrence”, which implies that it can use nuclear weapons at any stage of a conflict with India, depending on the threat perception.
Pakistan conducted its first nuclear tests in May 1998, in response to India’s tests, and has since developed a variety of nuclear delivery systems, including short-range tactical missiles and cruise missiles.
Pakistan has also frequently threatened to use nuclear weapons against India, especially in the context of Kashmir, where it claims the right to self-determination for the people of the region.
The exchange of nuclear lists is one of the few confidence-building measures that have survived the ups and downs of the India-Pakistan relationship, which has been marred by mistrust, hostility, and violence.
However, experts have warned that the exchange is not enough to prevent a nuclear escalation and that both sides need to engage in dialogue and diplomacy to address the underlying issues that fuel their rivalry.