KASHMIR is generally described as a nuclear flashpoint. Reference to Pakistan and India being nuclear-armed neighbours is often cited in times of heightened tension between the two countries and as a reminder that they must avoid an all-out conflict. The Aug 5 Indian move to annex India-held Kashmir (IHK), the draconian lockdown in the Valley since that date, and reckless Indian claims to Azad Kashmir have created a radically new and dangerous situation which has been the subject of extensive comment.
In a recent Dawn article, my respected senior colleague ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi pointed to an impending genocide in the Valley and suggested that “if the people of the Valley are threatened with genocide, as indeed they are, Pakistan’s [nuclear] deterrent must cover them”. The concept of nuclear deterrence has an inbuilt ambiguity, but given the gravity of the subject matter, it needs further scrutiny.
Two questions readily come to mind. Will the post-Aug 5 conditions in IHK morph into a genocidal crisis and how should Pakistan respond to such a situation? Second, what broadly underpins Pakistan’s thinking on resort to its nuclear deterrent and how will it apply to Kashmir?
Arguably, the lockdown of eight million Kashmiris represents a most reprehensible human rights violation that deserves the severest international condemnation, but despite the danger, in the general perception, genocide is tied to large-scale massacres, mass exodus and international outrage. The Indians appear to be avoiding that tipping point and are attempting to pursue calculated repression to tire the Kashmiris out and entice pliable Kashmiri individuals to acquiesce in the new diktat. They are embarked on a long haul.
The Aug 5 move has so poisoned the well that it is difficult to see a path to normal relations with India.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is waiting to see how Kashmiris react to repression when they find some breathing space. This policy dilemma is at play in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning to those intending to cross the Line of Control. The current impasse is fraught and nothing is clear about its denouement. If, however, the situation deteriorates and there is bloodshed and people start fleeing the Valley, Pakistan’s restraint will come under great stress and become untenable. A stage may come when beyond exhausting diplomatic options, Pakistan would be unable to withhold material assistance to the Kashmiri struggle.
That scenario can precipitate a conflict for which Pakistan must be fully prepared.
In all probability, conflict would draw international intervention and activate the United Nations Security Council to call for a ceasefire and dialogue for a political settlement of Kashmir. This could become a new basis for dialogue, since the heart of a meaningful dialogue on Kashmir provided by the Shimla Accords, the Lahore Summit Declaration and subsequent bilateral pronouncements has been knocked out by the Aug 5 move of the Modi government. This could usher in a period of tenuous peace and another status quo over Kashmir. But conflicts can have unpredictable trajectories and far worse, and disastrous consequences cannot be ruled out, which makes the talk of nuclear deterrent relevant.
Pakistan developing a nuclear deterrent was a necessary and understandable response to rectify the qualitative force imbalance created by India’s 1974 nuclear test. Pakistan obviously had no outside nuclear umbrella available and had to rely on its own capacity. Since 1998, Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine has maintained that its deterrent is entirely defensive and meant to be a shield against any intended aggression to destroy its territorial integrity.
India’s Cold Start Doctrine forced further fine-tuning of Pakistan’s thinking as to the practical applicability of its deterrent. Because the Cold Start Doctrine contemplated incursion and lopping off a vulnerable part of Pakistani territory, Pakistan responded by developing tactical nuclear weapons to be deployed against an invading force inside Pakistan. India has reacted by declaring that use of a nuclear weapon, however limited, anywhere (including inside Pakistan) would draw a massive nuclear retaliation. Regardless of the debates swirling around these scenarios, they provide the clearest indication of Pakistan’s determination to go to any extent to defend its territorial integrity.
How does all this apply to Kashmir? In practical terms, Pakistan’s deterrent cannot protect people in the Valley or prevent mayhem in IHK. But a genocide can lead to a conflict between Pakistan and India with its own dynamic and risks, thus Kashmir becoming a nuclear flashpoint. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent must however cover Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan to thwart any Indian designs to capture any part of that territory. Many among the current BJP leadership mince no words about their covetous intentions and claims over the territory. It is imperative that we leave no one in doubt that we will defend Azad Kashmir and GB as we will defend any part of Pakistan. We cannot tolerate a repeat of Siachen.
Islamabad must also brace itself for Indian-sponsored subversion and disaffection in Azad Kashmir and GB, and, recognising their special status, ensure well-being, development, rights and opportunities for the people of these areas.
The Aug 5 move by the Modi government has so poisoned the well that it is difficult see a path to normal relations with India. Imran Khan’s Kartarpur initiative and his call to curb any jihadist impulse along the LoC are laudable. These measures, or any other similar gestures or initiatives, are unlikely to compel India to change course to some form of a policy reversal that respects Kashmiri sentiment and restores an environment for purposeful interaction with Pakistan. Much will depend on the Kashmiris and sensitivity of the international community to their predicament and to sane voices within India. Meanwhile, barring further deterioration, Pakistan has little choice but to maintain only a circumspect functional relationship with its eastern neighbour without expectations of normalisation any time soon.
The writer is an author and a former foreign secretary of Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2019