New Delhi: Days before his election as Vice-President, M. Venkaiah Naidu threatens Pakistan with war. As sure as he is to win the vice-presidential election, it is equally certain that he will lower the Vice President’s office on the present course. It is astonishing that men of Naidu’s age and experience should speak so cavalierly of war, and with a rival nuclear power. This is not 1971.

The top leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party has scant understanding of strategic issues. Anti-intellectual to the last of them, they equate war with nationalistic rabble-rousing. This absent strategic mindset prevented India from emerging a relative winner when Atal Behari Vajpayee ordered the 11 and 13 May 1998 nuclear test. To his best ability, Vajpayee tried to control the inevitable fallouts of the test, trusting its preparation and final execution to only two cabinet colleagues, Jaswant Singh and George Fernandes, neither of who has RSS roots.

Commentators have often accused Vajpayee of seeking to enhance India’s prestige with the test. This may well be. But there was a more pressing reason too. The nuclear scientific community feared that India could not keep its opposition to CTBT open-ended and advised an early test. By assenting to them, Vajpayee was bringing P. V. Narasimha Rao’s policy to fruition. The test, therefore, had more than one parent.

There was a fortnight’s gap between the Indian and Pakistani tests. The United States was willing to open its treasury to Pakistan and supply the latest weapons if it desisted from following India’s example. There were news reports to the effect then that the Pakistan army chief, General Jehangir Karamat, favoured the US offer. Militaries all over the world dislike nuclear weapons because they cannot be used and cut into budgets for conventional arms. In the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharief, has claimed that Bill Clinton offered $5 billion if Pakistan did not test. Nawaz Sharief makes out the $5 billion as bribe which he rejected. It may not have been a bribe but sovereign compensation. In any event, Pakistan tested.

In the two weeks between the rival tests, this writer remembers appealing to officials who were part of L. K. Advani’s setup to contain the taunting rhetoric against Pakistan. This writer’s argument was simple. If Pakistan did not test, the nuclear asymmetry would forever play to India’s advantage. Going forward, having taken US money, Pakistan would come under relentless pressure to sign the NPT. To be sure, India would have to face the full weight of the sanctions. But India had survived sanctions after the 1974 test and would do so again. Pakistan’s conventional weapons’ superiority over India in the likelihood of accepting the US deal could not always remain advantageous. Time and patience would put India on top again.

BJP vociferants would not hear of such analysis. There was a lowbrow in those days called Madan Lal Khurana. He spoke fatuously of India’s nuclear superiority over Pakistan. Advani, who was kept out of the loop by Vajpayee in the test preparation, advanced some bizarre theory connecting India’s weaponization and Kashmir’s resolution. Advani insinuated that Pakistani terrorism would be contained with the test. A subterranean fear also drove this rhetoric. Vajpayee’s ministers were terrified of facing the sanctions alone. In all probability, Nawaz Sharief would have ordered the test even without Indian derision. After all, he had Pakistan’s fearful and enraged public opinion to consider. But BJP jibes almost certainly determined him in favour of the test. There was a curious theory propounded by K. Subrahmanyam, the late defence analyst, that it would be better for the weapons’ programme of both India and Pakistan to be simultaneously revealed to the world. This writer to this day has not been able to understand the strategic logic of it.

If the aim was to mitigate US and allied sanctions by having them equally distributed between India and Pakistan (see how we hyphen ourselves), that was achieved. But Pakistan’s test also brought it military nuclear parity with India, which Subrahmanyam and the BJP chest-thumpers did not factor. The law of unintended consequences left India weaker in respect of Pakistan as a nuclear power than was the case prior to Pokhran 1998. Being the power with a greater appetite for risk, Pakistan redoubled terrorism under a nuclear overhang, thereby obscuring the ignominy of Kargil. Perhaps Vajpayee understood that Pokhran had not gone as intended, which is why he made diplomatic exertions for peace with Pakistan, commencing with the 2003 ceasefire agreement. The BJP leadership after him has returned to the immediate post-Pokhran sabre-rattling, displaying not even the smallest knowledge and understanding of the strategic stakes.

Venkaiah Naidu blithely speaks of war. War has to have political objectives. Indira Gandhi had one to separate East from West Pakistan. What is Naidu’s war objective with the West Pakistan residue which is today’s Pakistan? Recapture Pakistan-occupied Kashmir? Occupy and hold Punjab? Grab Sind? Annex Karachi? Are these objectives even thinkable? At the first hint of a threat to its sovereign survival, Pakistan will use tactical nuclear weapons. Tactical nuclear war-fighting is the complete opposite of conventional fighting. It requires new doctrine and discriminatory weapons and mobilization levels that India presently can only aspire to. And however convinced its theorists are that tactical nuclear war may be limited and winnable, this writer is not. It will inevitably set off an upward spiral ending in strategic all-out strikes on both sides. Does Naidu know anything about these matters to casually suggest war in his election campaign?

And just to put the record straight, the thermonuclear test in Pokhran failed. The world is not convinced that India possesses tested thermonuclear weapons. And the starting point for deterrence is credibility. India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. War between them cannot -- and should not -- be contemplated.

The world of 1971 has disappeared.

Editor’s Notes: 1. Narendra Modi’s indiscretion to Benjamin Netanyahu and its worldwide publicity are shocking and come at the worst moment of Israel-Arab ties. They will gravely injure India’s relations with the Middle East.

2. The rising military and security expenditures on the frontiers and in Kashmir and arms imports since May 2014 must be tabulated by independent economists to study their impact on the Indian economy and on individual taxpayers.