Did Rajnath Singh Score an Own Goal on Nuclear Policy?

PANCHKULA, INDIA - AUGUST 18: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh addresses a rally at Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar's Jan Ashirvad Yatra campaign launch for the upcoming state assembly elections, at Kalka, on August 18, 2019 in Panchkula, India. (Photo by Sant Arora/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

When was the last time world politicians shared matters of government policy on social media platforms and jousted with each other in full public view? Especially when the topic of discussion involved matters related to the use of their nuclear arsenal?

Even trigger-happy Trump, whose tweets are usually a cause for mirth and concern, is careful about sharing his deepest thoughts on social media, given the widespread impact that it could have on both allies and rivals. However, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh had no compunctions about suggesting that India’s no first-use policy on nuclear weapons could change.

Defense experts were critical of the minister’s comment with Lt. Gen Prakash Menon, former military advisor to the National Security Council Secretariat seeking to know if the statement was part of India’s strategic communication plan or was aimed as a deterrent to Pakistan, which has been attempting to force Kashmir onto the international forum.

In a signed article, Gen Menon argues that given that Pakistan does not pose a conventional threat that India cannot counter, they’re likely to persist with support to cross-border terror. The main advantage of no-first-use is that it minimizes the probability of nuclear use. “This is so because it enhances the possibility of containing the crisis before a point of no return.”

Even as these arguments were being bandied around in the media, Pakistan seems to have picked up the narrative and gone to town with it to suggest that all of a sudden, the nuclear arsenal held by India had become more dangerous under the command of the current dispensation due to its supposedly anti-Muslim sentiment.

And the statement came from none other than Prime Minister Imran Khan. The forum was once again Twitter. Here is the tweet:

In what is yet another attempt to get Kashmir on to the UN Security Council agenda, Khan sought to connect India’s decision to remove special status from Kashmir to the statement made by Rajnath Singh. He claimed that India was under the rule of a “fascist, racist Hindu supremacist ideology and leadership” which threatened Kashmiris and should have sent alarm signals across the world with UN observers being sent there.

Of course, Khan has conveniently forgotten that barely three months ago, he had predicted that there was a better chance of resolving Indo-Pak issues if Narendra Modi came back to power in the general elections. “Perhaps if the BJP – a right-wing party – wins, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached,” he told the media in April.

So, what has changed in the recent past that makes Khan spew venom at the very same leader on whom he had heaped praise? Quite obviously the abrogation of Article 370, which renders Kashmir as an integral part of India and removes practically any diplomatic hope that Islamabad had to bring the matter back to the United Nations. Even China, which ostensibly supported its all-weather friend to get the UNSC to discuss it behind closed doors, has suggested that Kashmir was a bilateral problem for India and Pakistan to solve.

Recent events have made Imran Khan’s position with the all-powerful Pakistani Generals untenable, given that their army’s very existence hinges on its antagonism with India. By the looks of it, Rajnath Singh just lent a helping hand to the Pakistani premier to create a new ruckus around Kashmir and attempt to internationalize it.

Whether he will succeed or not is for time to tell. Meanwhile, it does appear that our Defense Minister’s tweet was a bit of an own goal.