In true Trumpian style, the swaggering buffoon whom the Americans call President has threatened a wave of nuclear strikes on the tiny nation of North Korea, boasting to that country’s own paranoid nitwit that, “My button is bigger than yours.” Shortly thereafter, the American state of Hawaii, the state nearest the Asian mainland, and within range of the missiles Kim Jong Un’s “little Button” could unleash, went into a state of panic when a nuclear attack alarm was mistakenly broadcast one day, pointing to the frightful tensions that the tasteless posturing of Donald-the-Dangerous and Kim-the-Crude is generating. Now theirs, one may think, is madness enough. But here on our Subcontinent one perceives the same kind of nuclear threats being bandied about by military and political figures on both sides of the Indo-Pak border. One would think that these two countries are swamped with enough problems anyhow without indulging in such belligerent mouthings. Military functionaries threaten “surgical strikes” and “massive retaliation”. Perfectly reasonable people say, “We must hit Delhi first.” The maturity of our political and intellectual establishments, it seems, has not developed beyond the pre-adolescent stage that the American President seems stuck in. We seem not be conscious of the terrible danger these weapons represent, both to the Subcontinent and the world. Then, let us look at the source of this obsession itself, this “strategic asset” that our scientists have reinvented. There are four kinds of nuclear Bomb. In the kind that was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclei of plutonium or enriched uranium are split to release neutrons and a massive burst of energy; the neutrons split more nuclei and release still more energy. If this release happens slowly, as in an atomic reactor, it can be used to generate power. If it happens within the fraction of a second, it is a nuclear explosion. This Fission or Atomic Bomb disintegrates medium-sized towns or large chunks of bigger cities. And massacres lakhs of people at a time. It also poisons the immediate environment with radioactive fallout which, if the actual explosion has taken place not thousands of miles away, can also bring radioactive fallout back down onto those who fired the Bomb. This is an special danger inherent to the two nuclear powers of our Subcontinent, which the Americans and Korean do not face. Nuclear physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote in an article a couple of years back, “Because of this bomb, we can definitely destroy India and be destroyed in response. But its function is limited to this.” No one will ask, in the devastated aftermath, which side was at fault or what the justice or otherwise of a particular cause For those whose goal it is to kill, not mere lakhs, but millions of members of the human race at a time, there is the triple-action Fusion bomb. An initial atomic bomb explosion creates temperatures of several million degrees and causes the nuclei of hydrogen isotopes to fuse into helium nuclei (the fusion reaction at the heart of our sun and the other stars), causing a still more massive release of energy. This in turn releases further neutrons that cause the uranium casing to go into yet another explosion that showers down radioactive material at great distances. This device is called a Thermonuclear or Hydrogen Bomb. It permits for nations to destroy bigger towns or, using two or three at a time, whole metropolitan cities… and, conversely, to have their own destroyed by the fallout from an attack against a neighbouring enemy. At a further remove, there is the enhanced radiation warhead or Neutron Bomb. This has a relatively low ‘yield’ (nuclear jargon for blast-force) but it releases an enormous burst of lethal neutrons. Thus, buildings and installations beyond the direct blast area are relatively unharmed, while all living things (such as children, adults, cats, dogs, trees, birds, etc.) have been fried by the neutron barrage. And then there is the crowning glory of this family of deadly devices — the Cobalt Bomb. This is a ‘standard’ Fission or Thermonuclear device encased in a special Cobalt shell. It has also been called the Doomsday Weapon, because it scatters a particularly lethal and long-lived variety of radioactive debris that renders the soil, the water and the air deadly to life for many decades afterwards. These, dear reader, are no ordinary weapons! The Japanese people learned of them in the most direct and painful of ways. They do not wish the world to forget what was done to them…and what could happen to others. At Nagasaki is preserved a paving stone with the shadow of a man permanently baked into it. This person was vaporised in an instant. But, to the extent of that instant, he retarded the fusing of the paving stone by the Heat Flash. His shadow therefore survives him. For all time. However, at home, Dr Qadeer Khan, our own Oppenheimer, is lauded as a hero. And, at the time of our test explosions at Chagai, then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tastelessly sought to lecture Japan on what its nuclear choices should have been. This says something about our know-nothing-and-be-proud-of-it mindset. That the Indian mindset is no better, and with their present government is even worse, is neither consolation nor excuse. It seems that, on this Subcontinent, our leaderships have so few constructive achievements to their credit that we actually boast about having acquired a capability that could at best be considered only as a necessary evil… and that disputably. Will these Evil Seeds actually come to be sown to sprout their frightful mushroom-shaped blooms? No, we are told, these are deterrents in the same way that the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) equation between the USA and the late, lamented USSR ensured a stable balance of terror. Not so. The equilibrium brought about by the opposing Cold War nuclear stockpiles was based on the premise of substantial Second and Third strike capabilities on both sides, i.e. that, even if one of the adversaries were to be devastated by a nuclear First Strike, it would still be left with enough nuclear wherewithal to strike back with massive Second and perhaps even Third Strikes. This apprehension stayed the hands that might have reached for the big, red button to mount a First Strike. But, between India and Pakistan, the situation is inherently unstable. Far from being a deterrent, there is a clear incentive to get in that First Strike as quickly as possible, to devastate the adversary and eliminate his ability to retaliate. From this follows the absolute imperative that no words or deeds whatsoever — whether military threats or acts of provocation or anything else — should therefore be permitted to disturb relations between these two countries, since any kind of conflict that arises could offer that First Strike temptation. However, what we actually find is the belligerent invective on both sides surpassing even the Trump-Kim exchanges. Nuclear physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote in an article a couple of years back, “Because of this bomb, we can definitely destroy India and be destroyed in its response. But its function is limited to this.” No one will ask, in the devastated aftermath, which side was at fault or what the justice or otherwise of a particular cause. Whatever the issues involved, there has to be absolute peace at any cost in the Subcontinent. It’s as simple as that. The writer is a poet, author and columnist Published in Daily Times, February 1st 2018.