The N-word

2002 ended much like it began, with talk of war, possibly war involving nuclear weapons, hanging over the Subcontinent like a thick, blinding fog. Addressing an air force veterans rally in Karachi on 30 December, President General Pervez Musharraf said that at the height of the standoff with India last June, he sent signals to New Delhi that "if Indian troops moved a single step across the international border or the Line of Control, they should not expect a conventional war from Pakistan".

Musharraf's statement, which appeared to imply that he had threatened nuclear war against India, quickly provoked denunciations from New Delhi and clarifications and counter-denunciations from Islamabad. On 3 January, Musharraf insisted that he had been misquoted, stated that "no one in his right state of mind can talk of nuclear war", and clarified that his reference to non-conventional warfare meant guerilla combat in the event an Indian invasion of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. NC Vij, India's army chief, declined to analyse the semantics of Musharraf's statement, though Defence Minister George Fernandes replied that "nuclear blackmail" would not succeed and that if Pakistan launched a nuclear strike, "we would suffer a little but there will be no Pakistan left later". In Islamabad on 7 January, Pakistani Information Minister Shiekh Rashid Ahmed termed Fernandes' rebuttal the "ravings of a crazy man" and said that if Pakistan is attacked, "we have the will to give a crushing reply", yet another ambiguous statement appearing to suggest a willingness to use nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional attack.

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Himal Southasian