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New US study warns: India-Pakistan Nuclear war can kill over 125 million people

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Amid rising tension over Kashmir between the two nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan, a new US study examines how such an hypothetical future nuclear conflict would have consequences that could ripple across the globe.

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan could, over the span of less than a week, kill 50 to 125 million people. That is more than the death toll during the six years of World War II, according to the research by Colorado University Boulder and Rutgers University.

The study published Wednesday said if India uses 100 strategic weapons to attack urban centers and Pakistan uses 150, fatalities could reach 50 to 125 million people, and nuclear-ignited fires could release 16 to 36 Tg of black carbon in smoke, depending on yield.

"The smoke will rise into the upper troposphere, be self-lofted into the stratosphere, and spread globally within weeks. Surface sunlight will decline by 20 to 35%, cooling the global surface by 2Â degrees to 5Â degreesC and reducing precipitation by 15 to 30%, with larger regional impacts. Recovery takes more than 10 years. Net primary productivity declines 15 to 30% on land and 5 to 15% in oceans threatening mass starvation and additional worldwide collateral fatalities," the study added.

Rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and India portend regional and global catastrophe, the study warned, and added: Pakistan and India may have 400 to 500 nuclear weapons by 2025 with yields from tested 12- to 45-kt values to a few hundred kilotons.

The picture is grim. That level of warfare wouldn't just kill millions of people locally, said CU Boulder's Brian Toon, who led the research published in the journal Science Advances.

Here are excerpts of the US study conducted by ten experts:

Neither Pakistan nor India is likely to initiate a nuclear conflict without substantial provocation. India has declared a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, except in response to an attack with biological or chemical weapons.

Pakistan has declared that it would only use nuclear weapons if it could not stop an invasion by conventional means or if it were attacked by nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the two countries have had four conventional wars (1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999) and many skirmishes with substantial loss of life since the partition of British India in 1947. Therefore, the possibility of conventional war becoming nuclear is of concern.

Chinese factor

India has one of the largest conventional militaries in the world, with about 1.4 million active-duty personnel. India has not deployed tactical nuclear weapons. Indian nuclear strategy requires that a significant number of high-yield bombs be held back in case China joins a war on the side of Pakistan. Because Pakistan is a small country with only about 60 cities with more than 100,000 people, India would not need all of its 250 weapons to destroy Pakistan's cities.

We assume that India will keep 100 nuclear weapons in its arsenal to deter China from entering the war. Chinese involvement would greatly amplify the destruction discussed below. As China expands its presence in Pakistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is an element of China's broader "Belt and Road Initiative," the odds of a Pakistani-Indian war spreading to China would appear to be increasing.

Urban targets

Of India's 150 weapons that can be used against Pakistan, we assume that about 15% will fail. In this case, failure is primarily due to the weapons not being delivered or failing to explode. Most urban targets in Pakistan are so large that precise targeting is not needed to hit them. Therefore, our scenario suggests 125 weapons actually exploding.

We further assume that there are 25 targets in Pakistan that are isolated military bases or industrial facilities located in regions with low populations and little combustible material. We do not include these in computing fatalities or environmental damage. Therefore, we assume that India has 100 strategic nuclear weapons to use on urban counter-value targets or military counterforce targets that are located within urban areas, such as military bases, industrial facilities, oil refineries, nuclear weapons facilities, and airports.

Pakistan also has one of the largest militaries in the world, with about half as many active duty personnel as India has. We assume that, in 2025, Pakistan will have 50 tactical weapons with yields of 5 kt to be used against an invading Indian army.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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