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Dangerous deterrence

May 26, 2013
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who authorised Pakistan’s nuclear tests after India’s in 1998 and negotiated the Lahore Declaration, will be required to address India’s nuclear threat again in his third term in office.—File Photo
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who authorised Pakistan’s nuclear tests after India’s in 1998 and negotiated the Lahore Declaration, will be required to address India’s nuclear threat again in his third term in office.—File Photo

THE speech made by the chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Board and former foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, at India’s Subu Centre on April 24 should be required reading for those Pakistanis who believe that relations with India can be “normalised” through trade and people-to-people exchanges even if security issues remain unresolved.

Shyam Saran — a friend and respected adversary — has been consistent and candid in his view that Indo-Pakistan relations will remain adversarial for the foreseeable future and the realistic aim should be to construct ways to manage their rivalry.

The Subu speech was designed to refute foreign and Indian critics who have asserted that India’s nuclear programme is driven by prestige and its quest for great power status whereas Pakistan’s programme has strategic clarity — deterrence against India — and has been better managed.

Some of the events cited by Saran, in fact, confirm, rather than refute, the critics. Thus, prime minister Nehru did say when inaugurating India’s civilian programme that its nuclear capability could be also used for India’s “protection”. But this was in the early 1950s, when India faced no threat from Pakistan, China or elsewhere. Mr Nehru’s assertion was inspired by pride rather than strategic requirement.

Likewise, India’s 1974 “peaceful nuclear explosion” was not in response to China’s 1964 explosion and the American deployment of the Enterprise in the Bay of Bengal during the Bangladesh war. If it was indeed such a response, the explosion shouldn’t have been described as “peaceful”. If anyone should have felt the compulsion to acquire nuclear deterrence at the time, it was Pakistan which had been recently dismembered by India’s military aggression.

Similarly, in 1998, India justified its nuclear explosions by asserting that it was threatened by China, despite significant improvement in Sino-Indian relations preceding the explosions. In fact, the Bharatiya Janata Party had declared it would conduct the explosions if elected. The timing of the tests, as Saran admits, was dictated by the impending adoption of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which India had so far championed.

Such hypocrisy has been the hallmark of India’s nuclear narrative. The plutonium for its 1974 and 1998 tests was diverted from its “civilian” nuclear facilities. After 1974 India continued to claim its explosion was “peaceful” and advocated global nuclear disarmament, even as it rejected initiatives to denuclearise South Asia and developed nuclear weapons and missile capabilities.

Saran has argued that Pakistan’s programme was helped by China. In fact, India has been the principal beneficiary of external assistance. Its plutonium came from the reactor provided by Canada without IAEA safeguards and uranium supplied by the US and France; its early missiles utilised the US Apache and other missile technologies; its current missiles are based on prototypes and technologies acquired from Russia and the US (ostensibly for its space programme).

After its 1998 nuclear tests, India’s nuclear doctrine was hastily put together, in a ‘draft’ form. It mimicked the US-Soviet doctrines of seeking a ‘triad’ of land, air and sea nuclear deployments.

Such a vast programme was not needed for Pakistan-India deterrence. The demonstration of their respective nuclear capabilities was sufficient for the purpose. Indeed, in a 2001 joint communiqué, Pakistan and India declared that a stable deterrence existed between them.

However, India rejected Pakistan’s call for a “strategic restraint regime” in South Asia. It proceeded, even if in a haphazard manner, to develop and deploy its nuclear ‘triad’. As in the past, Pakistan is being compelled to respond and preserve stable deterrence.

India has been enabled by the US and others to pursue its nuclear ambitions in the belief that India’s capabilities can serve to ‘contain’ an increasingly powerful China. They will rue this strategic miscalculation at some future date.

India’s capabilities are unlikely to overly trouble China for the foreseeable future. India will pursue its own priorities, principal among which is to neutralise Pakistan’s military and political power and influence in the region.

Shyam Saran’s speech sought to build the case for the continued discrimination and greater restrictions against Pakistan in the nuclear and missile arenas. To this end, he repeated the familiar allegations about Pakistan’s “proliferation” and the fantasy of a terrorist takeover of its nuclear weapons.

India’s non-proliferation record is not unblemished. Its chemical weapons assistance to Saddam’s Iraq and others is an open secret. And, as some analysts have pointed out, Pakistan’s strategic assets are more tightly controlled by the military, as in other nuclear weapon states, than India’s ‘civilian’, in reality bureaucratic, control.

While India’s capabilities hardly serve as credible deterrence against China, they do pose a serious threat to Pakistan. Declarations of non first-use of nuclear weapons are convenient for a larger conventional power and are never credible. Nato rejected such assurances from the Soviet Union. What counts is capabilities not intentions.

The danger is that India may believe that its nuclear triad, together with the acquisition of anti-ballistic missile systems and advanced conventional weapons, will enable it to pursue a conventional war against Pakistan. The Cold Start strategy has not been disavowed. This danger is magnified by the endorsement of India’s ambitions by the US and its allies.

There is no assurance that a ‘limited’ war is possible between nuclear-armed states. Rapid escalation is likely. There is no assurance that while Kashmir and other Pakistan-India disputes fester, there will be no war in the future.

It is thus in the vital interest of both countries, and their people, to construct a regime for mutual strategic restraint, nuclear and conventional, and to resolve their outstanding disputes, first and foremost, Kashmir.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who authorised Pakistan’s nuclear tests after India’s in 1998, and negotiated the Lahore Declaration, will be required to address India’s nuclear threat again in his third term in office.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.