Jul 31, 2009

Strategic stability in South Asia

By Tariq Osman Hyder
The launch of India's first missile-capable nuclear submarine, the latest proliferation of lethal WMD in the region, has serious implications for South Asia and beyond. It poses response choices for Pakistan to avert strategic imbalance. India must also reflect on what kind of an overarching architecture of relationship it wishes in the long term to evolve with Pakistan. How far is India's strategic and conventional build-up a consequence of its threat perceptions or motivated by the objective of threat projection and hegemony. Furthermore the international community must reassess its responsibility for this deterioration and how it should act in future to support peace and security in South Asia. Pakistan continues to perceive that, while socio-economic progress and combating extremism constitute core objectives, its main existential threat continues to emanate from India. An India in which core policy makers and influential segments continue to regard the creation of Pakistan from "mother India" as a historical mistake, which at best may still be undone and till then Pakistan should be dealt with so that it gives up its support for Kashmiri self-determination and acquiesces to a subordinate role in South Asia.Pakistan, though a significant middle order country, has always faced an asymmetrical imbalance and threat in the conventional field from a much larger India. Pakistan's hard won nuclear capability has kept the peace by providing, through a credible minimum nuclear deterrent, strategic stability in South Asia.The peace process, the composite dialogue which was set in motion between the two countries in 2004 was an effort to manage the different facets of this difficult relationship with the objective of resolving disputes in a peaceful manner acceptable to both sides so that both countries could increasingly concentrate on improving the lives of their peoples in a region which had increasingly fallen behind the rest of the world.As part of the composite dialogue expert level talks were initiated on both nuclear and conventional CBMs. In the first Nuclear CBMs meeting in June 2004, both sides agreed that the nuclear capabilities of each other, which are based on their national security imperatives, constitute a factor for stability. Two main agreements on pre-notification of ballistic missile tests and reduction of risks of accidents related to nuclear weapons were signed. Even before India broke off the peace process after the Mumbai incident, the peace process had slowed down. There was no concrete movement on the core issue of Kashmir and no promise of movement on Siachin, Sir Creek and the Indus Waters which provide Pakistan's life blood. While the nuclear CBMs agreements continue to hold, there was no forward movement and India wanted to de-link itself from Pakistan even in this nuclear CBMs field in which India reversed the maxim of thinking globally and acting locally.In this India has been encouraged by a number of developments. The US-Indo nuclear deal was the high water mark of this bilateral strategic partnership. The United States lost the opportunity of encouraging nuclear restraint in South Asia while providing civil nuclear power to both fossil fuel deficit countries. The agreement enhanced India's strategic capability, freeing its limited uranium reserves for military use and keeping eight reactors out of safeguards with the ability to produce fissile material for 280 nuclear weapons annually, apart from its equally un-safeguarded 13 breeder reactors programme.The US, Israel and Russia agreed to cooperate with India for its ABM programme which would further destabilise the strategic balance and force Pakistan to increase its missile throw weight. India rejected and the international community did not support Pakistan's proposal for a Strategic Restraint Regime with its three interlocking elements of conflict resolution, nuclear and missile restraint, including non-introduction of ABMs, and conventional balance, to avoid an unnecessary arms race.Russia over almost two decades supported India's nuclear submarine project through technology, technical advice and leasing of nuclear submarines. India's cruise missile Brahmos was jointly developed with Russia.The first stage of India's nuclear submarine project is to build five submarines carrying 12 nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles at first with a range of between 300-700 kilometres and then of 3500 kilometres. The two Akula class submarines to be leased from Russia would carry some 48 ballistic missiles between them. Hence, this submarine-based part of the ambitious India nuclear triad of land-, air- and sea-based nuclear weapons would have some 100+ nuclear weapons at its disposal. The other air launched gravity nuclear weapons, land launched ballistic missiles, tactical nuclear weapons and land, air and sea launched cruise missiles would make up a formidable nuclear delivery capability.India justifies this build-up as it claims that it faces potential threats from China as well as from Pakistan. While US wants to build up India as a counter to China's growing influence, and Russia may wish to do so to a lesser degree apart from maintaining its strategic partnership with India in the face of growing American influence, given the growing economic and political relationship between India and China, no objective strategist has been able to postulate any credible conflict scenario between the two countries. On the other hand, 95 percent of India's military potential is targeted against Pakistan. The planned nuclear submarine fleet with its short range ballistic missiles or cruise missiles is Pakistan-specificDespite policy statements of wanting better relations with Pakistan, India's "Cold Start" or proactive military doctrine aims at giving India the ability of rapidly seizing parts of Pakistan while remaining under the nuclear threshold. Hence, while the nuclear submarine-based fleet has been justified to provide India with an assured second strike capability, which it claims is necessitated by its "no-first-use" doctrine, it will be used to reinforce the "cold start" objectives by reinforcing pressure on Pakistan not to use nuclear weapons, tactical or strategic, to deter or counter any Indian thrust into Pakistan.Pakistan's response has been that it will take all steps to safeguard its security and to maintain strategic balance in the region. What should Pakistan do? First of all develop its own second strike nuclear submarine based capability on which it must have given some thought having been long aware of the Indian programme. Secondly, equip its conventional submarines with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. Thirdly, as the Russian assistance to India for this project, and the lack of any objection from the US or any other party has shown that both leasing of nuclear submarines and technology for their production are completely compatible with the global non-proliferation regime, Pakistan should explore such possibilities. Fourthly, the most important lesson for Pakistan, a latecomer by necessity as a nuclear state, is that while it does not have to match India, nuclear weapon by nuclear weapon, even so, to maintain strategic stability in these changing and adverse ground realities, it will need to continue its modest fissile material production in the foreseeable future and cannot brook any developments or negotiations counter to this vital national security requirement. Hence, faced with these escalating threats Pakistan must oppose the initiation of negotiations on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, which countries, with their own comfortable fissile material stockpiles and who have also helped arm India, want to begin and prioritise in the conference on Disarmament in Geneva, specifically at Pakistan's expense, and if negotiations begin, not to accept any outcome detrimental to Pakistan' strategic and energy security. If our policy makers and negotiators in Geneva do not live up to this task they will never be forgiven by the nation.The writer, a former diplomat, headed Pakistan's delegation in talks with India on nuclear and conventional CBMs (2004-2007). Email: ambassador.tariqosmanhyder@ gmail.com

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