India and Pakistan need to understand and signal nuclear thresholds
The postponement of the first formal discussion on nuclear-related Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan has provided the Manmohan Singh government with the needed opportunity to re-define the parameters of these crucial talks. Unlike the previous Vajpayee government, Pakistan and the US accord high priority to nuclear related issue between Delhi and Islamabad. This is evident in the composition of the two delegations which would now meet before the foreign secretary level talks in June. The Pakistani delegation will have senior military officer from its Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which provides the secretariat to Pakistan’s National Command Authority and is located in the Joint Service Headquarters command by a three-star general. The Indian delegation to the talks will comprise officials from the external affairs ministry and technocrats from the Defence Research and development Organisation without any military officer. India does not have an equivalent of the SPD, and the tre-service Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (SIDS) and the Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command are only partially in the nuclear weapons thinking loop headed by the National Security Advisor (NSA).
According to a recently retired Indian foreign secretary, the Vajpayee government’s approach was premised on the thinking that, “We (India) do not want to go offensive with Pakistan. The nuclear weapons are needed for own territorial integrity. We believe that neither side will use nuclear weapons,” (Never mind the Indian Army doctrine’s talk of fighting the next war in enemy territory) “Therefore, “he continues, “India would ideally want nuclear CBMs to be part of the composite dialogue. Moreover, unless we know the exact nature of Pakistan nuclear proliferation (to Libya, Iran and North Korea), a bilateral ‘strategic restraint regime’ may not be possible. However there could be a limited transparency in the from of additional hotlines between the two countries.” On the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) issue, the previous government felt no immediate requirement to discuss it with Pakistan.
Pakistan’s approach, on the other hand, is focused and professional. Within hours of the May 1998 nuclear tests, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had offered talks on a ‘strategic restraint regime’ to India. Even as it attaches high importance to bilateral talks on the Kashmir issue, Islamabad appears willing to discuss the nuclear issue separately and urgently. The reason for doing so has been best given in an exclusive article to FORCE by Gen. Jehangir Karamat, the army chief responsible for Pakistan’s nuclear tests. He writes, “Thresholds (nuclear) must be signaled and understood”. This essentially underlines three things: dedicated lines of communications during times of crises, a regular interaction between military officers and technical people from both sides to constantly assess and monitor the threshold level, and that nuclear-related CBMs must precede any arms control measures, Once both sides agree on the fundamental need regarding threshold, the rest is a matter of details. For instance, both sides could agree on some sort of Nuclear Risk Reduction Centres. The broad framework is listed in the February 1999 Lahore declaration, whose operative part is the Memorandum of Understanding which tackles four security related issues:
To give advance notice in respect of ballistic missile fight tests.
To discuss respective nuclear doctrines and security concepts for confidence building in nuclear and conventional fields aimed at conflict avoidance.
To set up a nuclear risk reduction centre to minimize risks of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.
To better existing channels of communications.
To discuss the above issue threadbare, there is a need for a pool of military officers, besides others, who are well-versed on these issues. Until a Chief of Defence Staff is appointed, these officers should necessarily come from the CIDS.
Moreover, because pf the China factor, there is a need for India to start discussions on the BMD with Pakistan. India has a National Technical Facilities organization under the NSA which coordinates all National Technical Means (NTM) including the Technical Experimentation Satellite (TES). The latter is a dedicated military satellite in the Low-Earth Orbit with a resolution of one metre. There are plans to have a total of nearly two dozen such satellites to form an indigenous constellation like the Ground Positioning System. China, however, is also making rapid progress in this area and hopes to achieve a Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) capability. It is obvious that with such a real time GPS capability needed for MIRVs, China would assist Pakistan in its ballistic missile launch accuracy and Circular Error Probability, which is the measure of a missile’s consistency. At present, China is not willing to discuss nuclear and ballistic missile issues with India, as it refuses to accept India as a state with nuclear weapons. Therefore, it is both a challenge and an opportunity for India and Pakistan to grasp mutual understandings on BMD, which would influence the sub-continental and Asian security in the decades ahead. Moreover, after a certain trust has been established, India could share with the US and learn about the interaction between China and Pakistan on the matter.
Indo-Pak nuclear talks could be extended to another important area of exports control. For the moment, it is unrealistic to expert Pakistan to discuss its nuclear proliferation with India. However, with time, once Pakistan is sure of its nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis India, the two sides could discuss export control measures, something that the US does with both separately, Once started, this could provide a boost to initiate talks on the composite dialogue should necessarily be held under the Shimla agreement with no role for a third party. Even as the Vajpayee government acknowledged the US role as a facilitator, the present government would not openly encourage this. However, on the issue of nuclear CBMs which could lead to arms control, India is likely to accept the US, with its enormous NTM, as a facilitator between India and Pakistan.
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