India and Pakistan need to pursue realistic confidence building measures which help contain crisis
The recently concluded two days expert-level talks on military, both conventional and nuclear, Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan in Islamabad, was a non-event as it lacked political weight. According to news reports, the singularly important CBM sought by Pakistan was the need for mutual withdrawal of artillery guns 30km away from the Line of Control (LC). Two other once-again CBMs suggested by Islamabad were the need for a ‘strategic restraint regime’, and bilateral fissile material cut-off treaty. India, on the other hand, asked Pakistan to adopt a no-first-use nuclear weapons policy. Given the military dynamics between the two, all proposals were unrealistic and hence, unacceptable.
Ten truisms define military dynamics between the two adversaries. One, while Pakistan is a military threat for India, the latter is national security obsession for Pakistan. Two, as Pakistan does not accept status quo on Kashmir, it will continue with its support of terrorism into India until a mutually acceptable Kashmir resolution is found. Three, given Pakistan’s successful proxy war, India, and not Pakistan has reasons to start a conventional war.
Four, the Indian Army (IA) has advantage of large numbers in Jammu and Kashmir, and hence have options to get the better of Pakistan Army (PA) in this theatre. Five, as IA has more offensive forces, it’s possible gains in the Rajasthan sector (opposite Pakistan’s Punjab) can only be checkmated by PA with an undefined nuclear weapons policy. Six, given limited military capabilities on both sides, deterrence works best with lack of transparency. Seven, both militaries are professional and not expected to behave irrationally. Eight, both sides have learnt to live with a certain level of crisis. Nine, unlike the superpowers during The Cold War, chances of a conventional war and nuclear weapons exchange commencing simultaneously are naught. And ten, India’s strategic arsenal — fissile material, and delivery vectors — is meant to cater for two adversaries, Pakistan and China.
Given these realities, the Kashmir resolution is the only CBM worth chasing seriously. The ceasefire on the Line of Control has held since 26 November 2003, and is expected to last well into the future. A tranquil LC helps PA to remain focused on its western front in Afghanistan, as well as allows Chinese (civilians and soldiers) to continue with their increased developmental activities unhindered inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. This is not all. A peaceful LC encourages trade and people to people contact between the two Kashmirs and the PA will be loath to discourage this. The PA, therefore, is utilising the delay in Kashmir resolution to both strengthen its hold in Afghanistan, and to ballast Chinese stakes in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
In the interim, both sides would be willing to consider bolstering those CBMs which prevent crisis resolution. The need is to build redundancy in bilateral army communication. While both director general military operations are supposed to talk with one another once a week, unfortunately, during crisis, making contact first is viewed as a sign of military weakness. There have been instances when a particular DGMO does not attend call from the other. Another channel of the Indian vice-chief of army staff and his PA counterpart should be opened. The Indian military communication has to be with the PA and not with its air force or navy as it has a limited role in deciding matters of war and peace. In this context, a bilateral exchange of senior army officers ought to be encouraged. Unfortunately, the Indian external affairs ministry is against giving an overt diplomatic role to the armed forces. It has instead suggested hotlines between the two foreign secretaries.
Another CBM worth considering will be a joint verification centre (JVC). This idea was first mentioned by former Pakistan chief of army staff, General Jehangir Karamat in FORCE, October 2003 issue. He wrote that: “Nuclear weapons need to be seen realistically. There cannot be transparency on the state of preparation, assembly, locations and readiness.
Segregation of nuclear capable delivery systems would make Pakistan’s limited assets vulnerable. There could, however, be agreement not to move to a red-alert or mated status without notification to the JVC that could then initiate crisis control measures.” While he had suggested representatives from both countries and the UN in the JVC, this could mutually be restricted to a bilateral arrangement. In addition, there could be a CBM to not issue war threatening statements or conduct ballistic missile tests during a crisis.
The above specific CBMs will help build meaningful trust. Once done, the two sides could engage in consultations on security concepts, nuclear doctrines, and avoidance of arms race as agreed under the memorandum of understanding signed as part of the 1999 Lahore Declaration. This will require involvement of both military and civilian personnel, something which will not be easy for India which has kept its armed forces at bay.