Bottomline | Nuke of the Matter

India, Pakistan successfully cross the first hurdle

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

A good beginning has been made by India and Pakistan in the recently concluded two-day meeting on nuclear issues. The masterstroke of the joint statement, purportedly worked out by India’s National Security Advisor, J.N. Dixit and his Pakistani counterpart, Tariq Aziz, is the acknowledgement that respective nuclear weapons capabilities, which are based on individual national security imperatives, constitutes a factor for stability.

This formal statement has three implications: One, a nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles arms race is ruled out as both sides will decide for themselves what constitutes a credible minimum nuclear deterrent based upon their national security needs. This dispenses the requirement for matching nukes and their delivery systems numbers with one another as is the case with conventional capabilities. Both sides, however, will continue to better their nukes arsenal to enhance its credibility. For this reason, Pakistan has agreed to consider the Indian proposal that technical parameters be included in pre-notification of testing of ballistic missiles. Chances are that it may not be acceptable to Pakistan as its testing of acquired missiles is basically a show of strength.

Two, by accepting that their nukes constitute mutual stability, both sides have ruled out an outside mediation in this matter, and tacitly affirmed that nuclear Confidence Building Measures will be a continuous process. This is indeed a welcome break from the past when military CBMs were usually considered only during a crisis, and the US was asked by both sides to help tide over the situation. Consequently, India has accepted the US as a ‘facilitator’, while Pakistan desires the US to become a ‘mediator’ between the two. Moreover, there is now a possibility that both sides may agree to de-link nuclear talks from the composite dialogue whose progress depends both on the Kashmir issue and the US’ relationship with India and Pakistan. At present, Islamabad is averse to this idea, but as nuclear talks progress, both sides will see the merit of talking on this issue in one voice at international forums.

And three, from New Delhi’s perspective, China will now be more amenable to discuss nuclear matters with India. China is the only nuclear weapon power under the NPT that refuses to talk nuclear issues with India, and insists that India and Pakistan abide by UN Security Council resolution 1172 of 6 June 1998, which demands both states to give up their nuclear weapons for stability in the region. In the changed situation, what objection can China have after India and Pakistan have agreed that their nuclear weapons constitute a factor for stability? Moreover, India and Pakistan have also expressed a desire for regular working level meetings with nuclear powers. Considering that other nuclear weapon powers already have consultations with India and Pakistan on this matter, China will find it difficult to swim against the tide.

Regarding the tangible outcome of these talks, both sides have agreed to establish a hotline between the two foreign secretaries, and upgrade the existing one between the director general military operations. Even as this is a good step, there is a need for a dedicated and secure hotline between the two National Security Advisors. Unlike in the case of Pakistan, the NSA in India is the top non-political person who is completely in the know of nuclear weapons issues. In his capacity as the head of the executive council of the National Command Authority, the NSA is the bridge between the political leadership and those who will deliver nuclear weapons on receipt of orders. It is no secret that Dixit meets the Prime Minister regularly to apprise him of national security matters, and from India’s viewpoint, is the best person to prevent misunderstandings and reduce risks pertaining to nuclear weapons.

Buoyed by the outcome of talks, analysts have gone into an optimistic overdrive. There are suggestions that both sides consider moving their Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM) away from the border, formally agree to de-mate nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and discuss nuclear and conventional war doctrines aimed at arms reduction. These suggestions are unlikely to be accepted by both sides in the foreseeable future. The SRBMs can only be moved backwards from the present locations if both sides agree not to use ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. Irrespective of their capabilities, this would make all ballistic missiles unusable weapons, which in itself would be a major nuclear risk reduction measure. On the issue of formal de-mating of nuclear weapons, Pakistan would not be agreeable to the suggestion as it makes a nonsense of its suggested first-use nuclear policy. Furthermore, there is little possibility of both sides discussing their nuclear and especially conventional war doctrines as long as the insurgency continues in Jammu and Kashmir. Both sides, after all, are preparing for a conventional war should the need arise. And the last thing they can afford is transparency in war-fighting doctrines. However, both sides could initiate consultations on Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD), especially after it is agreed that both sides alone will decide the size of their respective nuclear arsenal based upon national security imperatives. Considering that the two extra-regional powers, the US and China, have accorded high priority to this issue, Indo-Pak discussions on this matter would contribute to regional stability.


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