Gaurav Kampani

The test is an attempt to persuade India's decision-makers to refrain from purchasing the software and hardware of the Nuclear Bomb Lobby Inc

More than anything, the Ghauri appears to be an example of vapourware. In computer industry parlance, vapourware refers to software or hardware products announced far in advance of their development to stymie the chances of a competitor. Rivals announce vapourware to trigger the FUD -- fear, uncertainty, and doubt -- factor to prevent consumers from buying products from their competitors. The Ghauri, of course, is not exactly vapourware in the literal sense of the word. It has entered what software developers describe as the Beta phase. The Beta phase is a sort of real world test that involves a certain amount of unit, component, and systems testing. Thus vapourware at this stage becomes partially solidified.

Pakistan's launch of the Ghauri amidst a media blitz is a classic example of solidified vapourware that has been released to give the strategic audience in the subcontinent a preview of the future. It has also been accompanied by an announcement of the development of an entire range of new missiles -- the Ghaznavi, Babri, Abdali, and so forth. This is an example of brochureware where new, planned, but non-existent products like vapourware are deployed with stunning effect to dupe consumers into not committing to an existing product.

The consumers in question are the BJP government in New Delhi and India's newly constituted National Security Task force. The Ghauri launch is a warning shot across India's bow to desist from taking the road of overt nuclear deployment. In other words, the test is an attempt to persuade India's decision-makers to refrain from purchasing the software (ideology) and hardware (military systems) of the Nuclear Bomb Lobby Inc. Pakistan has signalled that it will not passively accept any erosion in the rough nuclear parity that prevails under the present regime of non-weaponised deterrence in South Asia. Any attempts by India to change the balance of power by inducting nuclear weapons into its armed forces will prompt a strategic counter response that will deny India its natural strategic depth.

A section of Indian scientists are also prone to dismissing Pakistan's strategic nuclear and missile capabilities as hogwash. This influential school, which includes among others P K Iyengar, former chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, believes that Pakistan's nuclear capability, which rests on limited fissile stocks from a smuggled uranium enrichment plant, is not open- ended. Pakistan could at best assemble a few nuclear devices. Thus Islamabad might have intended the Ghauri test to enhance the credibility of its deterrent capability.

Finally, the Ghauri is meant to convey to Washington that Pakistan does not take kindly to being abandoned as a strategic ally. Pakistan has made it clear that if confronted with a corroding conventional posture and superior nuclear forces, it would be willing to defend its interests in a manner that could make South Asia the most dangerous place on earth. In recent months Pakistan has expressed concern that India is subtly preparing the ground for the open deployment of nuclear weapons.

By choosing to test-fly the Ghauri just before US ambassador Bill Richardson's visit to South Asia, Pakistan probably intended to draw international attention to the dangers posed by the advent of the new-BJP government in New Delhi. In fact, the Ghauri may be a bold ploy to grab US attention to bring political pressure on India to exercise nuclear restraint. India can now respond in two ways to the latest display of techno-machismo from across the border.