Pakistan, India trade nuclear war of words
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - 8 January 2003: Pakistan has responded angrily to comments by India's defense minister on his country's nuclear weapons prowess, warning of an "unforgettable lesson" if India were to launch a nuclear attack.
Hitting back at the Indian claims, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters Wednesday Pakistan had no wish for a conflict but warned "we know how to defend ourselves."
"India will be taught an unforgettable lesson if they ever launch a nuclear attack on Pakistan," he said.
"Our response will be a historic lesson for them if they used the nuclear option."
On Tuesday reports quoted Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes as saying that in any nuclear exchange India would easily absorb a nuclear hit whereas Pakistan would "cease to exist."
India could "take a bomb or two or more... but when we respond there will be no Pakistan," the Press Trust of India quoted him as saying.
His comments followed remarks by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf implying that he had been prepared for a nuclear showdown with India when tensions flared between the two South Asian rivals last year.
'No conventional war'
In a December 30 speech Musharraf said that he had warned India that it "should not expect a conventional war" if Indian troops moved across the Line of Control that divides the disputed province Kashmir.
"They [Pakistan] should not make such irresponsible statements," Fernandes said of the Pakistani leader's speech.
"They don't help them, don't help us, don't help the world," he added.
Musharraf had in the mean time clarified that he did not mean to imply that Pakistan was prepared for a nuclear confrontation
Rather he said he had meant that some 150,000 retired Pakistani military personnel living in Kashmir would have risen up to repel any Indian invasion.
But that explanation does not appear to have convinced India.
Responding to Fernandes' claims, Ahmed accused India of dangerously upping the rhetoric.
"We want to live peacefully with India, but the problem is that they keep making irresponsible and hostile statements," he said.
"Pakistan is a reality and cannot be wiped out through nuclear weapons ... We know how to defend ourselves, and respond to the nefarious designs of the enemy," Ahmed warned.
Tensions between India and Pakistan flared up dramatically last year following a militant attack on India's national parliament on December 13, 2001.
India accused Pakistan of arming and supporting the militants involved in the parliament raid and several other attacks -- a charge repeatedly denied by Islamabad.
As tensions rose the two countries deployed around a million troops between them along their shared frontier.
The moves raised fears among the international community that even the slightest spark could result in a full-blown war that might then spiral into a nuclear conflict.
Although the two sides have since pulled back, New Delhi and Islamabad have continued to exchange barbed verbal attacks raising little hope for direct talks to resolve the simmering disputes between them.
Since achieving independence from Britain in 1947 India and Pakistan have fought three wars, including two over Kashmir.
The two sides both became declared nuclear powers in 1998 when they conducted a series of tit-for-tat nuclear tests.