RED DIRT REPORT EDITOR’S NOTE: Right now, at the United Nations, 120 non-nuclear nations are holding a conference to draft a treaty that would banish all nuclear weapons on the planet. A rather quixotic endeavour, at least at this moment in time, but a necessary one as tensions rise around the world. We featured this opinion piece this week and are proud to also feature Dr. Nyla Ali Khan’s scholarly opinion on the situation facing India and Pakistan in the realm of nuclear arms and the continuing tension between the two nations.
EDMOND, Okla. — During the decade of the 1990’s, each military crisis between the two nuclear powers in South Asia, India and Pakistan, has been followed by attempts at diplomatic rapprochement, which have turned out to be fiascos.
The two countries go through sporadic peacemaking efforts, characterized by negotiations. For instance, in January 2004, the then Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, agreed “to the resumption of a composite dialogue” on all issues “including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides.” Musharraf assured the Indian government that he would not permit “any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner” (“Text of PM, Musharraf Statement,” The Hindu, 6 January 2004). But this joint statement could not mitigate the existing skepticism.
Pakistan won the disapprobation of international powers by adopting the policy of fighting proxy wars in the early 1990s, which reinforced New Delhi’s confidence that the internationalization of the Kashmir dispute would not get unwieldy. India also believes that the restraint it exercised during the 1998 nuclear tests has given it the reputation of a responsible nuclear power.
Despite international pressure, the India–Pakistan crisis has not been defused; on the contrary, it is highly volatile. Given their interests in South Asia, Russia and China have expressed their concern about the brinksmanship between the two countries. In order to facilitate a rapprochement, President Vladimir Putin of Russia offered to play the role of mediator between former Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee andformer Pakistani President Musharraf at the scheduled regional summit conference in Almaty, Kazakhistan. Both Putin and the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, held talks with Vajpayee and Musharraf in order to create a space for political negotiations.
But the two heads of state continued to remain aloof and uncompromisingly condemned each other’s belligerence. The one positive outcome of the summit talks, however, was the proposal of the Indian government for joint patrolling of the Line of Control (LOC) by Indian and Pakistani forces. But the Pakistani government was quick to reject this proposal and expressed the requirement for building a third-party force instead. Subsequently, the lethal and hitherto readily adopted practice of maneuvering a dangerous situation to the limits of tolerance mellowed, due to Vajpayee’s and Musharraf’s judicious approach to nuclear warfare. But the simmering grievances between India and Pakistan, and the distress of the Kashmiri people remained unredressed .
In 1999, the Pakistani military reinforced western concerns regarding nuclear proliferation in South Asia. In reaction to Pakistan’s aggressive transgression of the Line of Control (LOC) India exercised political tact and restraint, winning international support for its diplomacy. Washington’s political volte face became apparent when it explicitly demanded that Islamabad withdraw from occupied Indian positions and maintain the legitimacy of the LOC in Kashmir. It was implicit in this demand that it saw Pakistan as the egregious aggressor.
The attempt by the US to mitigate Pakistan’s aggression also implied that it would not reinforce the status quo in Kashmir. Washington’s incrimination of Pakistani aggression mitigated New Delhi’s fear that internationalization of the Kashmir dispute would spell unambiguous victory for Pakistan. India took recourse to limited conventional war under nuclear conditions, prior to former President Clinton’s March 2000 visit to New Delhi. At this point in time, proliferation was relegated to the background in Indo–US relations.
Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta underlined the further recession of this issue to the background during the Bush administration. The neo-conservatives in that administration zeroed in on India as a country in the Asia–Pacific region that would offset China’s burgeoning economy, which I see as an attempt to reconstruct the cold-war paradigm (‘US–South Asia Relations under Bush’ 2001).
US strategic ties with New Delhi were further consolidated in the wake of 11 September 2001, when the links between militant groups and Pakistan’s military and militia forces were underscored. As one of the consequences of the decision of the Bush administration to eliminate Al-Qaeda and its supporters in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s former General Pervez Musharaff found himself with no option but to sever ties with the Taliban. Following the pervasion of Islamophobia in the West and this drastically changed policy decision to withdraw political and military support from the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Islamabad found itself unable to draw a clear line of distinction between “terrorists” in Afghanistan and “freedom fighters” in Kashmir. Islamabad’s quandary proved New Delhi’s trump card.
New Delhi’s strategy was validated by US military operations in Afghanistan, and the deployment of US forces in and around Pakistan to restrain Pakistani aggression. India was assured by the US that it would stall any attempt by Pakistan to extend the Kashmir dispute beyond local borders, which might disrupt its operations against the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The result of India’s policy of coercive diplomacy was that the Musharraf regime was pressured by the US to take strict military action against the mercenary and militant groups bolstering the insurgency in Kashmir (PBS interview with US Undersecretary of State, Richard Armitage, 30 August 2002).
The Indian administration decided that in the event deterrence measures failed, the Indian army would have to fight a limited conventional wars under nuclear conditions. The possibility of fighting a war has driven the Indian government to contemplate a nuclear response to Pakistan’s deployment of nuclear weapons (see Chengappa 2000). India and Pakistan routinely brandish their nuclear capabilities to intimidate each other. The two countries have also resorted to direct nuclear signaling through ballistic-missile tests. Such strategies emphasize the military and political volatility in South Asia (“Delhi Positions Missiles on Border,” Dawn, 27 December 2001). Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has given its military the prowess it requires to exploit the disgruntlement of the Muslim population of the Kashmir Valley.
In effect, one of the ramifications of India and Pakistan climbing the ladder of nuclear proliferation has been a tottering stability, maintained amidst the continuing conflict in Kashmir.
Regardless of the nuclear restraint in South Asia, a resolution of the Kashmir dispute would put a monkey wrench in the drive in both countries to beef up their nuclear arsenals.
Nyla Ali Khan member of Scholars Strategy Network. She is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. She is editor of the Oxford Islamic Studies’ Online’s special issue on Jammu and Kashmir. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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