Hell’s Door Opened - The 2001 India-Pakistan Nuclear War

Hell’s Door Opened

A contemporary Alternate History of the 2001India-Pakistan War

by David Atwell

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No one would have believed, at the beginning of the new millennium, the Twenty First Century, that events would unfold that would remind the world of the fears of the past 50 years. Everyone thought that after the fall of the Soviet Union, and with the ending of the Cold War, the world would no long live under the threat of nuclear weapons. For a time this appeared to be correct. A "New World Order", as President Bush (snr) had stated, appeared, for a while, to be living up to the promise of peace. Within a decade, however, everything would change.

Ever since the United States used the first nuclear weapons, the world had changed. War was no longer seen as the extension of politics by other means. Instead, as more and more nations got the Bomb, war itself, especially nuclear war, had become the enemy of all mankind. Many of the world’s leaders understood this principle, and regardless of how they presented themselves publicly, knew only too well the ramifications of a nuclear showdown. In a insane kind of way, this duplicitous duality of policy actually ensured that no Third World War ever took place.

Yet that seemed to work fine for the major powers. But when it became clear that minor powers were also seeking the Bomb, the major powers stepped in to thwart their efforts. This worked to a certain degree, but still Israel, South Africa and India had a primitive nuclear device by the 1980s. Other countries were also working on nuclear weapons, such as Brazil and Argentina, but under pressure from the major powers, these countries quietly gave up their nuclear goals.

Come the ending of the Cold War, however, and the global political spectrum had changed completely. The USSR fell apart and with it went security. Now that capitalism emerged in the former USSR, everything was for sale at a price. And this included nuclear secrets. Of course the Russians have long denied any part in the expansion of countries with nuclear weapons, but it is now believed that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program gained a significant boost somewhere in the mid 1990s. At first it was believed this information had come from the Chinese, but subsequent inquiries have clearly demonstrated that the Pakistani Bomb was of Soviet Cold War era origin.

So by the year 2000, while the world celebrated the new millennium, Pakistan went about testing their nuclear weapons. Immediately thereafter India, which had remained very quiet on the Bomb subject ever since the 1970s, tested several nuclear devices as well. Clearly the Indians were reminding Pakistan that they had plenty of nuclear weapons to match those of Pakistan. Politics soon took over, with each of the two nations warning the other of nuclear war.

Things came to a head very quickly when Islamic rebels in Pakistani Kashmir, began attacks across the border, taking control of some Indian territory. Naturally the Indian Army responded and soon it was reporting that the rebels were indeed backed by the Pakistani Army. Vajpayee, the Prime Minister of India, demanded the Pakistanis to withdraw. Naturally they refused and argued that the rebels had nothing to do with Pakistan. Both sides stated the usual rhetoric about sovereignty of Kashmir which only flamed the issue even more.

By now the world had become involved in the matter, especially the United States, which had become alarmed due to the fact that war was about to erupt in South Asia. What was worse was the fact that both sides were nuclear armed and it appeared that they were ready to use these weapons. Frantic attempts at diplomacy virtually got nowhere and so an economic boycott was put into place. Although this got the attention of the leaders of India and the new President of Pakistan Musharraf, it was in fact eventual victory by the Indian Army over the insurgents which cooled things down.

It appeared that the threat of war had significantly diminished. Even after the dreadful events and aftermath of September 11 came and went, relations between Pakistan and India had become somewhat cordial. That was to all suddenly change by a single event. Within a week, this event would send these two nations over the abyss and the world would watch helplessly as a nuclear holocaust took place.

The morning of the 13 December 2001 was a brilliant morning in New Delhi. The noise of the city was at its usual suggesting that all was right in India, apart from the usual simmering of discontent. Nonetheless, the capital of India was also the capital of the largest democracy in the world. Although far from perfect, it had taken on the Westminster system of government and had done reasonably well with it, considering the difficulties that India faced. India’s neighbours, however, were far from democratic. Pakistan, which had occasionally flirted with democracy, was once more a military dictatorship. Burma was another military dictatorship. China was a People’s Republic, which meant to say it was a Communist dictatorship. Thus under the circumstances, India was akin to the Garden of Democratic Eden in comparison to the desert of dictatorships that surrounded it.

So on the afternoon of 13 December 2001, when terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament, the Indian government went into action. As bullets and explosions shook the building Prime Minister Vajpayee immediately put India’s Armed Forces on alert. This also included India’s nuclear arsenal. By the time the terrorists had been killed India was ready for war.

Naturally the Indian’s blamed the Pakistani’s for the attack on their Parliament. And they had much good reason to do so. The weapons that the terrorists used where discovered to be of Pakistani origin, not to mention that Indian Intelligence identified two of the terrorists as Pakistani citizens and known to be members of a terrorist organisation partly funded by the Pakistani Government. All this was far too much for the Indian public who demanded action, and with several state elections coming up, it would be electoral suicide for Vajpayee’s BJP ruling party to do nothing.

Thus it came as no surprise when Vajpayee ordered 600 000 troops to the Pakistan border in Kashmir. The Indian generals where then given a second order: an invasion of Pakistan itself. Although Musharraf was unaware of the second order, the first one was made very public. At first Musharraf hesitated to response to this Indian action, as the Pakistan Army was committed to the Afghanistan border in an effort to stop the September 11 terrorists escaping the wroth that the United States had decided upon. But soon Musharraf changed his mind and ordered 400 000 of Pakistan’s troops to face the Indians.

This response was exactly what the Indian generals had hoped for. By sending 400 000 troops to the one region, Pakistan had only 200 000 troops left to guard the rest of the country. India, on the other hand, had a further 700 000 troops to employ as the general’s saw fit. As such an Indian Tank Army was quietly and secretly formed in the Punjab State of India. 4 tank, 4 mechanised, and 4 infantry motor divisions, along with support and logistic units, numbering 250 000 of India’s finest troops, were soon ready. Within a week of the bombing of the Indian Parliament, this army would cross the border near the Pakistani city of Lahore, capture it the same day, then advance onto Islamabad the capital of Pakistan. In doing so it would encircle the 400 000 Pakistani troops in Kashmir and reduce Pakistan to its southern territory. As a result Pakistan would be halved in size.

Pakistan’s generals were not stupid. They could read the same maps as their Indian counterparts and immediately feared the worst. At best they could deploy 2 brigades to cover the Lahore Front, as they called it, and were well aware that they were extremely vulnerable there. Although the Thar Desert offered another invasion route into Pakistan from India, this was considered unlikely because there was little of value on the Pakistani side. All agreed that Lahore was a very tempting target, should the Indian’s invade, yet they had little to defend it with. It was at this point that Musharraf, an army general himself, made the most unenviable decision in history. Should the 2 brigades be overrun, then Pakistan would use the Bomb.

It was pre-dawn on the morning of 20 December 2001 when the Indian Tank Army moved towards the border. The Indians had done extremely well. Within a week they had assembled the most powerful field army in all of Asia. Combined with the Indian Air Force, there would be little to stop them save for a nuclear weapon. This consideration had been taken into account and thus the "Charge to Lahore", as it was known, was seen as the tactic to use against any possible nuclear attack. Time, however, was the essence here. The Indian Tank Army had to race to Lahore before Pakistan could react. It was believed that once at Lahore, the Pakistanis would not use a nuclear weapon on them. The trouble was they had to get there first.

The 2 Pakistani brigades never had a chance. Not only did the Indian Air Force dominate the skies, they were outnumbered 250 000 to a mere 7 000. The Indians simply drove over them. Many prisoners were taken, which were treated with much respect. It is interesting to note that, although the soldiers of both countries were trained to kill the other, they showed much chivalry and honour in battle. Furthermore, the Indian officers mostly referred to the Pakistanis as "those people" rather than "the enemy".

Unbeknownst to the Indian Tank Army, though, was the readiness of the Pakistani nuclear forces. Musharraf had already put them on full alert and ensured that both the missiles and the bombs had been dispersed around the country. This, the Indians had missed during their preparations for the attack. If the reverse had been true then maybe the Indian attack would have been delayed. Yet as it was, 250 000 Indian troops were on their way to Lahore. None of them would make it.

Musharraf gave the order that any sane person would dread and regret all their life. As a result of this order, 4 Ghauri missiles, each with a single 10 kiloton nuclear warhead, were launched from their mobile launchers. Three minutes later, four nuclear explosions, all on Pakistani territory, destroyed India’s finest army. Although there were survivors, none were battle capable. Ironically, 4 500 Pakistani prisoners, who had been moved from the battlefield to POW camps in India, witnessed the mushroom clouds from a safe distance, then volunteered to help any Indian survivors. There would be about 50 000 of these horrified and tormented human souls. It was just on 8am local time.

Word got through to New Delhi about fifteen minutes later. Vajpayee could not believe what he was hearing. Then it hit him. He broke down and cried for about five minutes according to some witnesses. Soon afterwards, however, he was back in business as the Prime Minister. Knowing that Pakistan could not get away with the nuclear attack, and yet dreading where all this may end, he demanded nonetheless a nuclear attack on Pakistan. His generals were not confident that this was the right move, yet Vajpayee and other government Ministers were committed to it. Eventually it came down to an attack in Kashmir on military targets. The generals reasoned that by keeping it limited to the military, the general public will suffer little and that the 17 million casualty figure quoted by the United States only a few days before would be remarkably less.

The orders went out. The planners decided to use strike aircraft instead of missiles. The aircraft would be more accurate plus they could be recalled at the last moment if the Pakistanis surrendered. Furthermore, nuclear armed missiles were in limited numbers and India had control of the skies. Thus, unlike the Pakistanis, the Indians had the luxury of using aircraft on several missions.

About an hour after the decision had been made, 8 Mirage 2 000 jet aircraft dropped their bombs on the Pakistani Army in Kashmir. Although 8 bombs were delivered on target, the Pakistani casualty rate was not as high as the Indian Tank Army. Having said that, the Pakistanis lost 50 percent of their forces. Those that survived did so thanks to the numerous trenches and bunkers which crossed the Kashmir countryside. Nonetheless it was far from pleasant being on the Pakistani side of the border. Of those that survived, one can hardly imagine the horror that these humans went through.

Up until know, all the nuclear detonations had taken place in Pakistan. This was soon to change rapidly. Within a few minutes of the Indian attack, Musharraf was informed. Like Vajpayee 90 minutes earlier, he was put into an impossible position. Should he respond with another nuclear attack? Most of his fellow generals were all for it and wanted to target the major cities of India. But Musharraf was against it. Although he was determined to show the Indians that Pakistan could not be intimidated, he decided to play it by India’s example and hit the Indian troops along the border in Kashmir. This the others agreed upon. Soon afterwards, 10 nuclear armed Ghauri missiles were heading for the 600 000 Indian troops. Musharraf said a prayer to Allah for the Indians to come to their senses and not fire back.

The Indian troops were ready, as much as one can be when facing a nuclear explosion, and hid in their trenches and bunkers. All had seen what had happened across the border to their counterparts and everyone knew what weapon had made those mushroom clouds. The troops realised that their turn for nuclear hell would be next. As a result, several thousand had taken off in an easterly direction to get away from the potential nuclear battlefield. All, however, prayed to their respective deity. Then the missiles hit. Even though the Pakistanis used more weapons than the Indians, their missiles were not as accurate as the Indian aircraft. The result meant that Indian casualties mirrored those just across the Kashmir border.

If these exchanges seem horrifying enough, it was only the beginning. It was about 10.30am and already 600 000 lives had been lost. More would follow as the horror would soon get worse, although at this point things appeared to quiet down. By this stage the world had caught up with the madness. Pleas for peace, humanity and above all sorrow came from all parts. World leaders began calling India and Pakistan demanding an audience. None were listened to. All calls were rejected. But it seemed that Musharraf’s prayer had been answered as by 1pm India had not counterattacked, even though no word had come through from the Indian government.

This, unfortunately, would change by 1.30pm. The reason for the lull was never understood by the Pakistan government, but for India it was time well spent. Since the last attack Vajpayee had ordered a list of military targets in Pakistan. He wanted the top 25 on the list targeted with India’s Prithvi nuclear armed missiles and end for good Pakistan’s ability to wage war. As a secondary phase to this attack, the whole Mirage 2000 strike force would be back in the air armed with free fall nuclear bombs. Their job was to hunt down and annihilate the mobile launchers that Pakistan had been using to attack India. Just like what America did to Iraq in chasing their Scud missile launchers, so too India would do to Pakistan: except India was going to use nuclear weapons.

An hour later, as the Indian Air Force began hunting for the Pakistani mobile launchers, nuclear death rained down on Pakistan. All of the 25 Pakistani military bases were obliterated in the attack. Unfortunately, many of these bases were often located next to large urban centres. Although it was not the intension of the Indians to go from the tactical to the strategic in terms of nuclear warfare, to Musharraf and the others in Islamabad, this certainly appeared to be the case. The war had spun out of control and now even generals, prime minsters and presidents had become mere pawns in it. With little alternative Musharraf ordered every nuclear missile fired at Indian cities within range, and every plane capable of carrying a free fall nuclear bomb into the air.

At first the Pakistani response could not get under way until 4pm, mostly due to the fact that suitable aircraft had to be found, fuelled, crewed and armed. But by 2.50pm reports started coming in stating that Indian aircraft were roaming over Pakistan dropping nuclear weapons. Although this was somewhat expected by now, this alarmed Musharraf into thinking that the Indians were after the remaining Ghauri missiles. He was right, of course, and immediately ordered their launch. The remaining 38 missiles thus headed for India’s largest cities. It would be Pakistan’s final attack.

By 3.10pm Vajpayee did not need to read any more of the reports flooding into his bomb-proof bunker in New Delhi. The fact that he just survived an horrendous earthquake told him that the capital of India had just been destroyed by a nuclear explosion. How much longer he had to live he did not know, but Pakistan would pay a heavy price for what they had done. He thus issued his final order of the war, hit the Pakistani cities. A few minutes later 30 Prithvi nuclear missiles were launched into the sky. Some five minutes later 29 Pakistani cities suffered the fate of New Delhi. Two missiles were deliberately aimed at Islamabad. The commander of India’s Missile Force came from New Delhi. Furthermore his wife and four children lived there until a few minutes ago. Added to this horrific attack were the remaining Indian Mirage 2000s which still had their nuclear payload aboard. Ordered now to seek out and destroy all the remaining Pakistani Air Force bases, this had been achieved by 3.50pm. Pakistan never got in its nuclear air strike on India.

The war might have been over, but the cost to humanity would continue. The US Defence Intelligence Agency warned both the Pakistani and Indian governments that 17 million of their citizens would become casualties in a nuclear exchange. Out of that figure 12 million would die. No one, however, truly knows the true figure. In the weeks that followed, with so many variables taking place, only estimates of casualties can be given. But clearly, what is known is that the figure given by the DIA was completely wrong. On the day in question, the 20 December 2001, at least 47 million people became casualties as an immediate result of the nuclear explosions. Over the next week, as fallout covered Pakistan and Northern India, this casualty rate would triple.

But it would not end there. As hundreds of millions of people became refugees, all order broke down. Government, what was left of it, collapsed. There was no rescue or medical service to speak of, safe food quickly ran out as did safe dinking water and the like. Not only did 150 million people die from radiation sickness due to fallout and contamination, a further 100 million died of starvation and exposure to the elements. Then the survivors were hit again. Illnesses ran at plague levels ensuring unprecedented levels. Every disease became deadly, especially with all the dead rotting away. And it was not just human bodies littering the ground. Many animals, especially cows, died along with desperate survivors.

By the time the United Nations finally established a workable refugee system, a whole month had past since the nuclear holocaust. Still, people continued to die in the thousands from radiation. Furthermore, radiation sickness spread throughout the region. Afghanistan and Nepal got off lightly. Iran suffered a few hundred cases, but most of the population were declared safe. For Bangladesh, however, it was an entirely different story. Greatly depended upon the Ganges River, it took but a little time before the Ganges became a hotbed of radiation. Its citizens, not knowing any better, carried on with life as normal regardless of the events in India and Pakistan. Soon, unfortunately, whole villages, towns and cities in Bangladesh were being killed. The United Nations acted fast, but not before 20 million of Bangladesh’s citizens became critically ill. Alas, most would die a dreadful death.

As this article is being written only a year after these sorrowful events, more after-effects will most likely take place in the future. We still do not know, for example, what the final effects will be for the world’s environment. Yet it is most certain that a great part of our planet will remain uninhabitable for decades if not centuries to come. Furthermore, Pakistan has ceased to exist, although a large number of her citizens continue to live in refugee camps around the world. India, however, is partly surviving in the South and Eastern parts of that country. But like Bangladesh, it requires an enormous amount of aid to survive and will continue to be in this position for decades to come. For the world as a whole, little good has come from this nightmare, other than the fact that it has been reminded that there is no future for anyone in nuclear weapons or modern warfare for that matter. Indeed, as they say, truth is the first casualty in war, then surely the human race and all other living things are a close second.

© 2006 David Mark Atwell