1 November 2012
Scheduled TV programming was interrupted on almost all TV channels as the ashen face of Defence Minister appeared on the screens. He started reading from a prepared speech,
"My dear countrymen, I'm here with a bad news for all of us. Today we came under a surprise nuclear attack. Mirwai, a small town in Rajsthan with nearly 55000 population was devastated by a nuclear bomb delivered through a missile. The attack happened at 6 pm today without any warning. Although the missile was launched from Pakistan, a military spokesperson speaking on behalf of the Pakistani authorities has denied that they were involved. I can't tell you the exact figures right now, but more than 20000 people are believed to be dead and many more injured. We are doing everything we can do to help the stricken people. Even as I speak, supplies and relief material are being rushed with utmost speed. Indian army which operates a small base there and Air force, have pressed in all of their resources to help the survivors in every way possible.
As of now, no one has taken any responsibility for this dastardly attack, but I'd like to assure all of you that whoever did this will dearly pay for this crime against humanity. Our forces are now on the highest alert and are taking every action to identify the culprits and also to prevent any further attacks. Our chain of command and most importantly, will to fight are still intact and will remain so.
Our country needs help of every single citizen in these troubled times. Irrespective of our differences, every single one of us needs to support the government and armed forces. I appeal to all of you to remain calm and follow the instructions provided to you by local authorities. Please do not panic or try to relocate unless absolutely necessary. The government will take whatever steps are necessary to protect everyone.
Cameraman signaled end of transmission and DM slumped limply in to the chair. He ran his hands through his thinning hair twice and got up to his feet. His aide came up a cup of tea which he waved away. He was in no mood to eat or drink anything.
He opened the small door of the media room and started walking towards the PM's cabin in the special Boeing 747 informally known as AF1. PM and DM along with some senior defence and civilian officials had been bundled in to the special plane within 20 minutes of the time when first warning of the missile attack came. An IL-76 based AWACS on a patrol over Rajsthan had first detected the missile as it's reached it's terminal stage. The crew had immediately sent warnings, but it was not enough to help Mirwai. There was little any one could do anyway .
DM was visiting PM at his residence when their bodyguards burst in to the room and bundled them off in to a chopper and then to AF1 with little ceremony. Much to consternation of every one, PM had suffered severe chest pain moments after plane was airborne. On board doctor, a middle aged Air Force Major Rudra had treated him and put him under observation. News of the country's PM collapsing on hearing such news, even of this magnitude would've been really bad for morale. So it was DM who had to go on TV instead of PM to read the bad news. He had done so with much reluctance but had kept the fact to himself only. He walked slowly towards the PM's cabin and stopped in front of the door, apparently lost in thought. Two guards on the door smartly saluted him and that caused DM to come out of his reverie.
"I wish you guys stop doing this every time you see me. " he smiled tiredly at the young soldiers.
"I'll keep it in mind from now on sir." Older of them smiled back politely.
"Thanks. Is doctor still inside ? How is PM feeling now ?" DM asked.
"Yes sir. Mr. PM wanted to see you as soon as possible. He is waiting for you." with this, he knocked on the door once and on hearing the permission to enter, opened the door and ushered the DM in.
PM was lying on a bed apparently sleeping while his wife and Maj Rudra were sitting on chairs besides him talking in low voices. Both stopped talking on seeing him and Maj Rudra got up to salute him. PM opened his eyes and looked at him with resigned eyes.
"How are you feeling now sir ?" Suddenly not sure whom to ask this question, DM asked with a slight hesitation.
"Much better. Thanks to Dr. Rudra here. " PM replied looking at the doctor who looked on impassively. "Any new developments ?"
"A little. Some of our people are standing by on a video conferencing call. Are you feeling well enough for this ?" DM asked with some concern looking at PM and the doctor in turn.
"Sure. Lets begin right now." PM replied with some display of energy.
DM gave the doctor a questioning glance to which he replied, " Yes of course, he can do anything he wants short of strenuous physical activity right now. But please be sure that he doesn't get too stressed. My work here is done anyway. I'll pop in from time to time to keep an eye. I think I should leave, if I have your permission."
He gave everybody in the room a quick bow and left. PM's wife also left the room after instructing both men to be careful about her husband's health.
PM watched her close the door with a tired smile and then turned to DM, "So, what did you find out ?"
DM in the meanwhile had called for some senior officers and analysts on board the plane to enter the room and had turned on the video conferencing screen for other people to join in. Faces of people, some old and most of them new to both the ministers filled the room. After hurried introductions, everybody quickly got to the business. Chief spook Angad was first to begin via a video link,
“The missile was launched from a location somewhere east of Karachi. Our analysts believe that it was a Shaheen, just a repainted Chinese M-9. The bomb was Uranium 235 based with yield of slightly less than 20KT . It's copy of an old Soviet design that was stolen by China. Apparently they also sold the same design to Pakistan and North Korea. The missile has a possible range of less than 700km with this kind of warhead. If anybody is wondering why didn't they try hitting New Delhi, Bombay or any other big city, then I assume it's because of Shaheen's limited range only. Mirwai is one of the very few possible places that can be hit with that missile when fired from that distance.
"Do we know who actually launched it ?"
"Unfortunately, not yet. Control of Pakistani nuclear arsenal was supposed to be with General Beg only. But the missile was launched from the area under control of General Asgar." Angad answered.
DM jumped off his seat and begin in an excited voice, "That can mean only one thing. If General Beg had full control of every weapon, then it's entirely possible that he had launched the missile. That way he can injure us as well as gather support for his fight against Asgar." He started pacing the small room as he spoke then his voice trailed off, "But.."
Curious at his behaviour, PM asked "What ?"
DM shook his head slightly and said, "Same thing can be said about General Asgar too. He too is a prime suspect just as Beg is. If he proves that it was Beg, not him that launched the missile then Beg is screwed beyond redemption. Even him being the American poodle wouldn't help him then."
HM butted in before DM had chance to finish, "Screwed how ? Pakistanis have already started celebrating this strike against the kafir Hindu India. In my opinion,the culprit will gain support of Islamists and gain power, not get screwed as you said it."
DM gestured defensively, "Hey, I'm just thinking aloud. Either way, you can't have everything. You win some, you lose some. For either of them, there are going to be benefits as well as repercussions. The perpetrator took his chances and I'll be damned if I know who did this just by talking and guessing like this. "
PM who had been listening quietly asked, "If it's like what you people are saying, don't you think that either of them will try to take the credit ?"
On the screen, HM just stared blankly while DM shrugged his shoulders trying to think of something. "Could be terrorists." he added.
Angad cleared his throat and said, "True. But they would've taken the responsibility as soon as it had happened. Not a single one of the rag head terrorists out there is going to miss an opportunity like this. Strangely, no one has. But most importantly, an attack like this is beyond he capability of almost all of terrorist groups out there. There is no way that a bunch of terrorists could have pulled this off without Paki army help."
"What about a rogue military commander acting independent of every one else ? DM asked
General Vaidya, a 3 star general replied, "Same as with terrorists. Possible, but highly unlikely without either of the two Generals knowing."
For a few seconds, everybody involved in the meeting fell quiet having reached a dead end. Then voice of PM broke the silence, "Excuse me for the silly question, but didn't Beg had full control of all the nukes ? Then how can Asgar be possibly involved in this ?
"He could've taken the control of one or two missiles that Americans didn't knew about." HM took the bait.
DM was quick to pounce on it, "And launched it on us without trying to take any advantage ? If he really had those nukes then he could have bargained with Beg and Americans for anything. This doesn't makes any sense."
HM challenged him, "Well, tell me one thing that does."
DM shrugged and slumped back in chair, " I don't know."
Angad looked slightly uneasy on the screen“ I don't know if it seems important, but Gwadar is not too far away from the launch site. For what it is worth, Chinese seem to be awfully busy lately there. Far more than what seems normal.”
“Busy ? How ?” DM asked.
“According to our intelligence reports, number of ships docking there has increased by 15% during the last 3 weeks. Of course it could all be unrelated, but somehow I can't shake off the feeling that something fishy is going on.”
“You don't have details ? It's your job to get this kind of information. We can't do a single damn thing based on your hunches only.”
Angad took the remark as the unneeded insult as it was. He was still bitter over the fact that his proposals for more intelligence satellites and human intelligence had been gathering dust for years now, “ What else would you expect on the money that we actually spend on intelligence ? “
DM let out a sigh and rolled his eyes. But he knew that Angad was right. Intelligence organisations had been demanding higher budgets and more freedom from political intervention for years, but successive governments including the present had been dithering on many important proposals. Who knew this attack could've been avoided if they had advance warning.