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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan warned of “consequences” if nuclear-armed Pakistan ends up losing a conventional war to its nuclear-armed rival and neighbor India.
Asked in an Al Jazeera interview to set the record straight on whether Pakistan would hit India with nuclear weapons in case of a large-scale conflict, Khan began with the disclaimer that he would never be the one to attack.
“Pakistan would never start a war, and I am clear: I am a pacifist. I am anti-war,” he said.
However, the prime minister quickly added that when two nuclear-armed states “fight a conventional war, there is every possibility that it is going to end up into nuclear war.” And while he described it as “unthinkable,” his next hint sent a clear message about what Pakistan may do if it’s losing a conventional war against India.
“If say Pakistan, God forbid, we are fighting a conventional war, we are losing, and if a country is stuck between the choice: either you surrender or you fight ‘til death for your freedom – I know Pakistanis will fight to death for their freedom.”
So when a nuclear-armed country fights to the end, to the death, it has consequences.
Khan has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that the standoff between India and Pakistan over disputed Kashmir risks spiraling into a nuclear conflict unless foreign powers intervene, along with the UN. There has also been some confusion in the media about Pakistan’s nuclear strategy.
Earlier this month, Khan vowed not to use nuclear weapons first against India. His spokesperson later said that his words were “taken out of context,” and there is “no change” in Pakistan’s nuclear stance – which reportedly does not rule out a first strike against overwhelming conventional force.
Bitter rivals India and Pakistan have fought three major conventional wars since the mid-1940s, along with several smaller border skirmishes. Most of the clashes are centered around the Kashmir region, where cross-border shelling frequently takes place along the Line of Control (LoC).
The neighbors edged close to a full-blown war in February. New Delhi sent warplanes into Pakistan to bomb what it said were camps of Islamist insurgent group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which had carried out numerous terrorist attacks on Indian soil. Islamabad accused India of violating its sovereignty. The hostilities ultimately led to intense shelling from both sides and open aerial combat.
The countries eventually made several friendly overtures but their relations hit another low last month, after India revoked the self-governing status of the part of Kashmir it controls. India claims the move will help curb terrorism and boost Kashmir’s economy. Pakistan says that ending Kashmir’s autonomy is against international law and will lead to violence in the region.