India's statement regarding ‘no first use’ policy on nuclear weapons is irresponsible: foreign minister

Updated August 16, 2019

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Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi addressing a press conference in Islamabad on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi addressing a press conference in Islamabad on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Friday termed the Indian defence minister's statement on a possible change in its 'no first use' policy of nuclear weapons as "shocking and irresponsible" .

Earlier in the day, the Indian defence minister had announced that despite the fact India has stuck to its commitment of 'no first use' of nuclear weapons, the future policy will depend on the situation, which analysts said introduced a level of ambiguity in a core national security doctrine.

In a press conference held in Islamabad, Foreign Minister Qureshi said that the Foreign Office had held deliberations on the statement by the Indian defence minister and formed a position on the matter.

He then proceeded to read out a response by the FO, which he said he was doing so that no verbal statement of his own can be misconstrued.

"The substance and timing of the Indian defence minister's statement is highly unfortunate and reflective of India's irresponsible and belligerent behaviour. It further exposes the pretense of their no first use policy to which we have never accorded any credence," he said.

"'No first use' pledge is non verfiable and cannot be taken at face value. Especially when development of offensive capabilities and force postures belie such claims.

"Pakistan has always proposed measures relating to nuclear restraint in South Asia and has eschewed measures that are offensive in nature. Pakistan will continue to maintain a credible minimum deterrence posture," he said in conclusion.

India had declared itself a nuclear power after conducting underground tests in 1998 and Pakistan responded with its own tests shortly afterwards. Since then, nuclear experts say the rivals have been developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

On Friday, in a visit to Pokhran in western India, the site of the nuclear tests, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh paid tribute to late former prime minister and revered leader of the ruling Hindu nationalists, Atal Behari Vajpayee, for making India into a nuclear power.

“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," said Singh.

“India has strictly adhered to this doctrine. What happens in future depends on the circumstances.”

At the time of the tests, India said it needed a deterrent against nuclear-armed China but it has also long been concerned about Pakistan's nuclear capabilities.

Comments aimed at Pakistan?

Shekhar Gupta, a political commentator and defence expert, said the government appeared to have an open mind on the issue of 'no first use' of nuclear arms and the comments could be aimed at Pakistan, which has said previously it needed to develop small nuclear weapons to deter a sudden attack by India.

“Rajnath Singh is measured and not given to loose talk or bluster. He isn't signalling a shift, but an open mind on the NFU (No First Use) inherited from Vajpayees Nuclear Doctrine,” he said on Twitter.

Tensions between the two countries have increased following India's move to revoke autonomy in the disputed region of Kashmir, the cause of two of their three wars. In February, Indian and Pakistani fighter jets clashed over the territory.

Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at MIT in the United States, said that Singh's comments were a sign the policy on 'no first use' could change in the future.

“Make no mistake: this is by far the highest official statement from the Raksha Mantri's (Defence Minister) mouth directly that India may not be forever bound by No First Use,” Narang said on Twitter.