LONDON: The year is 2025 and militants have attacked India’s parliament, killing most of its leaders. New Delhi retaliates by sending tanks into Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
Fearing it will be overrun, Islamabad hits the invading forces with its battlefield nuclear weapons, triggering the deadliest conflict in history – and catastrophic global cooling, with temperatures not seen since the last Ice Age.
This scenario was modelled by researchers in a new paper published on Wednesday, which envisaged more than 100 million immediate deaths, followed by global mass starvation after megatons of thick black soot block out sunlight for up to a decade.
It comes at a time of renewed tensions between the two South Asian rivals, which have fought several wars over the Kashmir Valley and are rapidly building up their atomic arsenals.
They currently each have about 150 nuclear warheads at their disposal, with the number expected to climb to more than 200 by 2025.
“Unfortunately it’s timely because India and Pakistan remain in conflict over Kashmir, and every month or so you can read about people dying along the border,” Alan Robock, a professor in environmental sciences at Rutgers University, who co-authored the paper in Science Advances, told AFP.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped the autonomy of occupied Kashmir in August, following which his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan warned the United Nations last week that the dispute could escalate into nuclear war.
The two countries last fought a border conflict in February, but they pulled back from the brink after Pakistan returned a downed pilot to India.
India has a “no first strike” policy, but reserves the right to mount a nuclear response to any hit by weapons of mass destruction.
Pakistan has declared it would only use nuclear weapons if it could not stop an invasion by conventional means or were attacked first with nuclear weapons.
The authors wrote that although their scenario had Pakistan pulling the trigger first, they did not mean to imply they believed this was more likely.
Based on their current populations and the urban centres that would be likely targeted, the researchers estimated up to 125 million could be killed if both countries expended the bulk of their highest yield weapons.
Around 75-80 million people were killed in World War II.
This most extreme scenario would involve the use of 100 kiloton weapons, more than six times as powerful as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima.
A single airburst from such a bomb could kill two million people and injure 1.5 million — but most of the deaths would occur from the raging firestorms that followed the blast.