New Delhi: On the fifteenth anniversary of the Pokhran-2 explosions, it must be accepted that India is not more secure with the possession of nuclear weapons. History cannot be reversed. But it must be squarely faced that India has failed as a nuclear weapons’ state.

Since the 11 and 13 May 1998 test explosions, India has faced the brunt of a limited war in Kargil provoked by Pakistan under the cover of its deterrent and numerous incidents of Pakistani terrorism, including the 13 December 2001 Parliament attack, the earlier hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft from Kathmandu, blasts in Delhi, Bangalore, Varanasi and other places, and culminating in the 26 November 2008 Bombay carnage. Just days ago, China continued with its brazen intrusion into Indian territory in Eastern Ladakh, and only ended the standoff after extracting concessions from Delhi, whose details and contours remain a secret.

Besides China and Pakistan, there are the other states of South Asia that scorn India, care nothing for its nuclear weapons, and laugh at its alleged regional power status. Relations are fraught with Nepal, Bangladesh is going through an Islamist convulsion on which India has no determined policy far less any control, and Sri Lanka and the Maldives are breaking away from Indian moorings and drifting towards China, cocking a snook at India while at it. What has gone wrong with India as a nuclear weapons’ state?

First and foremost, a nuclear power does not exist in isolation. Gaining a deterrent is no guarantee of security, especially as it is a common and widespread strategic and military understanding that nuclear weapons cannot be used. Pakistan is not internally secure despite having more than one hundred atomic bombs. Rather, the terrorists want to capture the Pakistan state to grab its nuclear weapons, at which enterprise they may or may not succeed. But India faces a more classical problem in the implementation and enforcement of deterrent theory, and it is made worse by the extraordinarily weakened and hollowed-out Centre under Manmohan Singh. When Manmohan Singh has no say or control over his cabinet, and ministers come and go at the pleasure of Sonia Gandhi, India’s external security is affected. It tells enemies like China that India is weak and gives rise to the impression that the country cannot withstand external aggression.

Nuclear weapons cannot insulate a state against terrorism. This writer was clear about it right after the Pokhran explosions and fifteen more years have only bolstered that belief. Can India nuke Pakistan for a terrorist attack? Obviously not. The punitive measure must be conventional and well under the nuclear threshold. Does India have a determination of this threshold? Perhaps the military has, but the Indian government does not take military thinking and assessments seriously. The mindset of defensive defence limits India to clearing its territory of Pakistani intruders, and even this principle stands breached with respect to China after the Eastern Ladakh incident. So one doesn’t know where India stands with regard to its conventional military options. During the Kargil War, India did not enter Pakistani territory in any substantive way, and Operation Parakram provoked by the terrorist attack on Parliament House was an impotent exercise in military mobilization.

At the heart of it all is absence of political will. Political will to employ the conventional military option when it becomes necessary and unavoidable gives seriousness and weight to the nuclear option. When India has no will for employing conventional military options against Pakistan or China, how will the deterrent assist? Pakistan has gone a step further. Its terrorism and conventional military options against India are carried out under a nuclear overhang, for which India has found no solution. When a state like Pakistan weaker than India in all respects bleeds it by a thousand cuts, why should China respect India militarily at all, or pay heed to its deterrent? A deterrent ought to give confidence, immediately and impressively, but without tested and proven fusion weapons, and more particularly fusion warheads to put on long-range missiles, how does China come under India’s nuclear shadow? Why should it feel deterred? India’s deterrent systems, priorities and doctrines are in a mess fifteen years after Pokhran-2, and India’s failure to meet conventional security challenges adequately with conventional military means has neutralized its deterrent advantage, and rather exposed the country to more dangers.

And it has all been made worse by the weak, corrupt and incompetent government of Manmohan Singh. When the political leadership is strong, the country can overcome its economic and military shortcomings to make a forceful impact on the world, as Indira Gandhi proved decisively. Weapons, conventional or nuclear, can secure a country only to the extent that the political will exists and is strong and unshakeable. After the failure of Manmohan Singh, the country must understand the dire need to elect a prime minister with redoubtable political will. Without this understanding, India faces perilous times ahead.