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Dangerous deterrence

Published May 26, 2013 10:08am


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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.


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Comments (25) Closed

aviratam May 26, 2013 05:32am
One of the main points that Shyam Saran made was in the context of Pakistan's acquisition of so-called tac-nukes: that their use in the battlefield will be interpreted by India as a nuclear weapons attack and will be met with full (nuclear) force. The belief that Pakistan could make limited use of nuclear weapons was a mistaken one.
Samir Dutt May 26, 2013 05:41am
Feroz May 26, 2013 07:02am
Honesty and humility do not seem to be of any concern to Munir Akram. The only aggression seen in East Pakistan in 1971 was the slaughter of one million citizens by its own army and the rape of one million women citizens by the same. Someone had to stop this mayhem for the cause of humanity and India was the one who suffered with the influx of five million refugees. Secondly, India has declared policy of "No fist use" of Nuclear Weapons, unlike Pakistan which threatens to use them at the drop of a hat. I doubt Munir Akram has even a clue about the command and control systems of the Pakistan Nuclear program. To live in fools paradise is fine but to believe India will continue to tolerate Terrorist infiltration without a riposte of any kind is foolhardy. Such miscalculations by Mr Munir Akram and his cohorts in the Establishment could cost South Asia dear. Nuclear blackmail will not solve any of Pakistan's problems, nor can it act as a deterrent to foolhardiness.
Empty Stomach May 26, 2013 07:34am
This ranting and beating drums of nuclear war is not much helpful either for India, China or Pakistan ( 3rd world countries).. The sooner the Ghairat brigade of Pakistan understands this, it is better for South & East Asia. There is not much to gain for India by nuking Pakistan which is already on its self destructive mode. There is not much to gain for China by nuking overly populated India which is struggling for better standard of life for its citizens. There is not much to gain for India by nuking China as it will be MAD for both India and China. Period...
harhaf May 26, 2013 09:29am
Bang on target Ambassador Munir. You did a marvelous job in UN for Pakistan as well. Its sad that you have been retired and Pakistan doesnt take advantage of your knowledge as a all seasoned diplomat. Thanks for all of your services you rendered for people of Pakistan
zoro May 26, 2013 10:19am
"Such a vast programme was not needed for Pakistan-India deterrence. The demonstration of their respective nuclear capabilities was sufficient for the purpose" The authors above statement negates the whole purpose of this opinion... India has already declared that it can take on two fronts is really something to ponder upon ... I think China has already done that ... Hope Pakistan too does that ...
American May 26, 2013 11:35am
Dear Mr. Ambassador, the jihadists and their supporters (apologists?) in Pakistan are scaring the daylights out of every neighbor of Pakistan...they really don't know what to do with Pakistan, even as Pakistan doesn't know how to put the jihadist genie back into the bottle. Under those circumstances, anything is possible, and that doesn't exclude a nuclear war -- whether accidental or intentional... So..the best way out is for Pakistan to behave like a civilized society that exercises control over its territory and not allow non-state actors to act in the name of Pakistan or Islam. Don't blame India or Afghanistan for being prepared...
markk May 26, 2013 11:48am
Dear author. Wake up. Get a life!
candid1 May 26, 2013 01:18pm
Right on! Thank you for exposing Indian and global hypocracy on this issue. In face of such duplicity, unfortunately Pakistan is left with no choice but to continue developing and reinforcing its own nuclear deterent.
Anjaan May 26, 2013 01:22pm
Yeh, the author seems to live in denial ..... India's nukes, according to him, is only meant for Pakistan ....... and according to him, India should join Pakistan to make South Asia nuke free ....... !!
xhizer May 26, 2013 01:29pm
Pakistan dismembered by Indian aggression? Really? what about the background to this dismemberment? any comments there Mr. Ambassador? A little too simplistic don't you think?
madhugiri ramesh May 26, 2013 02:30pm
Mr. Munir Akram claims that Pakistan was dismembered by Indian military aggression. I thought the Bengalis were fed up with west Pakistan for treating them as second class citizens and nullifying the election results and the ensuing civil war dismembered the nation. India has in reality one unreliable enemy, Pakistan, and must use all resources to assure that no sudden and unprovoked attack occurs.
Jayant May 26, 2013 02:53pm
the word India counts to 43 times in this article. Writers obsession with India.
iam he May 26, 2013 04:00pm
Mutual Nuclear Deterrence is indeed! Civilizing Deterrence, Civiliized Deterence, Civil Deterrence.
Robert May 26, 2013 05:08pm
There are reasons why Munir Akram is not in UN and now writing news columns that will get him support from anti-India population in Pakistan. Mr. Akram, the world has moved since you left UN. The world sees India-Pakistan relations to significantly improve in the years ahead even if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not attend Nawaz Sharif's oath taking. The writings like yours will simply delay this process of improved and improving relations, not stop it. In the interim, follow Shyam Saran to manage this conflict until the inevitable happens. In the meantime, Mr. Akram, consider another line of work such as vending fruits and vegetables on the roadsides of Karachi and Rawalpindi.
Shrirang, Navi Mumbai May 26, 2013 05:17pm
Is it a quality of a former Pakistani ambassador to the UN.
Ravi May 26, 2013 05:32pm
"early 1950s, when India faced no threat from Pakistan" Really wow, amnesia anyone?
Dinesh May 26, 2013 06:53pm
Why is the author so worked up. China bullies us, we bully Pakistan, Pakistan bullies Afghanistan (and maybe even us sometimes). It is a dog-eat-dog world and considering the history of the subcontinent, I don't expect things to change in foreseeable future. Lets enjoy the ride.
Mustafa Razavi May 26, 2013 10:53pm
Jayant; And what is your obsession with Pakistan that keeps bringing more bloggers to Pakistani sites than Pakistanis?
Mustafa Razavi May 26, 2013 10:55pm
Why do you have to Yawn on Pakistani sites? Yawn in your own country.
caz May 26, 2013 11:55pm
The reality is dawning on pakistan that it cannot even hope to match India. This is very difficult to swallow for the corrupt military led ruling elite of pakistan
Mushtaq Ahmed May 27, 2013 12:03am
India is not going to resolve any issue with Pakistan , be it water sharing , Siachin, Sir Creek or Kashmir. Indian hegemony in the region is their aim. Pak Govt should very clear and unless Indians resolve these issues , no MFN and no passage to Afghanistan , period.
BRR May 27, 2013 12:55am
No enemy of Pakistan need take any trouble, people like this writer can do enough damage on their own.
aditya May 27, 2013 01:31am
u have the eat grass
Sam Kapi May 27, 2013 02:10pm
Change the title to Dangerous Dreams