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UNITED NATIONS: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has informed world leaders that his country will not accept one-sided restrictions on its nuclear programme, as international media continued to speculate over whether or not Pakistan and India were moving towards a war.

“The prime minister has reiterated Pakistan’s stance; one-sided restraint will not work. India’s cold start doctrine should also be contained,” Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi told a news briefing in New York.

“Any restriction has to be bilateral. We told the US to use their influence on India to make them do what you ask us to do,” said Ms Lodhi when asked if US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the prime minister to consider ‘nuclear restraint’ when the two leaders met in New York on Monday.

A US State Department press release said that Mr Sharif and Secretary Kerry “stressed the need for restraint in nuclear weapons programmes”.

No indicators yet to suggest war with India is imminent, says foreign secretary

The Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons came under the spotlight this week when reports in the media suggested that India might launch air strikes on alleged terrorists inside Pakistan. The reports claimed that India began “seriously considering” the option after a militant attack on a military base in India-held Kashmir killed 17 soldiers.

Some commentators suggested that the so-called “cold-start doctrine”, that is, hitting Pakistani installations before Pakistan retaliates to an Indian military strike, gave India a strategic advantage over Pakistan. But others warned that Pakistan had countered the advantage by developing tactical nuclear weapons.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asian affairs expert at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington, reminded India that it might be premature to point the finger at Pakistan.

“One can’t rule out the possibility that Kashmiri militants, seeking revenge for the brutal tactics of the Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, pulled off the operation,” he wrote.

He warned that “despite full-throated pleas from some Indian hawks” to launch air strikes inside Pakistan, “it is not an option, thanks to the nuclear weapons issue”.

He warned that “even punitive measures short of all-out war — such as targeted air strikes on terrorist facilities — would be prohibitively risky”.

But in an interview to the Indian media, another US scholar, Christine Fair of the Georgetown University, said that India shouldn’t exercise restraint fearing nuclear reprisal from Pakistan.

Ms Fair, who is an expert on India-Pakistan relations, argued that India’s nuclear arsenal should “give it immunity and impunity” to launch punitive strikes. “If Indian troops transgress into a populated city like Sialkot or Lahore, Pakistan will suffer more fatalities than on Indian troops. Therefore, this battlefield calculation gives India a lot of wriggle room to retaliate than to exercise restraint,” she said.

However, Ajai Shukla, a former Indian army colonel who is now the strategic affairs editor of the Business Standard, told CNN that India was “not strategically prepared” to launch an attack.

“One also cannot ignore the fact that Pakistan has the 11th biggest army in the world,” he said. “We’re in a symmetrical relationship. The consequences of any form of attack are far worse than people realise.”

The question that everybody at Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and Dr Lodhi’s news briefing wanted answered was: are India and Pakistan going to war?

Mr Chaudhry told the reporters that so far he had seen “no indicators” to suggest that a war was imminent. He claimed that India was encouraging such rumours to divert attention from the atrocities it was committing in held Kashmir.

The foreign secretary advised the Pakistani media not to see Tuesday’s telephonic conversation between Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and the prime minister as “anything more than what it was, a routine consultation between civil and military leaderships”.

Mr Chaudhry said that while US President Barack Obama did not mention the Kashmir issue in his speech, Pakistan had kept the American side fully informed about the developments in the Valley.

“We believe that the US has a responsibility [to defuse the situation] and should play its role. We will keep asking US until they play that role; when and how, only they can decide,” he said.

Published in Dawn September 22nd, 2016