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Nuclear weapons and Kashmir — A composite dialogue with Pakistan

G. Parthasarathy

Even as the Pakistan President, Gen Pervez Musharraf, upped the ante on peace by harping on Kashmir, New Delhi can propose a set of confidence-building measures that Islamabad, as a "responsible... nuclear restraint regime", will find it difficult to reject. India should also go ahead with its moves to normalise relations with Pakistan by promoting people contacts and enhancing economic cooperation, says G. Parthasarathy.

THE Pakistan President, Gen Pervez Musharraf, pulled no punches at the India Today conclave on March 13. He made it clear that "everything would slide back to square one" unless there was progress in resolving the Kashmir "dispute". Gen Musharraf repeated this theme over a dozen times during the question and answer session that followed his address. He did not hesitate to make the Kashmir issue as one concerning the rights of Muslims, by acting as a self-appointed spokesman for taking up the causes of alleged Muslim grievances worldwide. He added that he saw little prospect for progress in improving trade and economic relations, promoting people-to-people links and formulating nuclear and conventional Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) unless he was satisfied of progress in resolving the Kashmir issue.

The more ominous part of his argument lay in his assertion that he did not regard the events in Jammu and Kashmir as terrorism, but as a "freedom struggle".

The message was that unless India satisfied his expectations on Kashmir, he could not rule out the continuation and escalation of terrorist violence. He has now set a deadline of July/August for India to meet his expectations. It was ironical to hear Gen Musharraf, who had earlier asserted that because India was a "hegemonic" power, the low-intensity conflict with India would continue even if the Kashmir issue was resolved, repeatedly speak of the "centrality" of Jammu and Kashmir, as a pre-requisite for peace in the subcontinent.

While Gen Musharraf has now laid his cards on the table, New Delhi still seems to swallow the American line that he is our best bet in Pakistan. Enlightened public opinion in Pakistan realises that the jehad in Kashmir, support for the Taliban and unrestrained transfer of nuclear knowhow has led the country to the brink of disaster. But time alone will tell whether Gen Musharraf and the military establishment he heads genuinely share this view. In the meantime, New Delhi should go ahead with its efforts to promote people-to-people contacts, enhance trade and economic cooperation and reduce tensions with Pakistan, through a series of imaginatively crafted CBMs.

The opening of the Khokrappar-Munabao rail route along the Sind-Rajasthan border will help in promoting people-to-people contacts. New Delhi should supplement this by unilaterally offering to promote group tourism from Pakistan to places like Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Ajmer. Gen Musharraf has no interest in establishing normal trade and economic relations with India. It is, thus, important to move ahead on establishing the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), compelling Pakistan to ease trade restrictions. New Delhi should not be in a hurry to agree to such projects as the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline till such time Islamabad is ready to establish normal trade, business and investment relations with India.

The Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan are scheduled to meet again in May/June for discussions pertaining to peace and security, and Jammu and Kashmir. These talks are to be preceded by expert level discussions on nuclear CBMs at the level of Additional Secretary.

It is at these talks that New Delhi should call Pakistan's bluff and expose its propensity to indulge in crude nuclear blackmail of both India and the international community. Pakistan is the only country to use the threat of use of nuclear weapons to further its territorial ambitions (on Jammu and Kashmir.) It has constantly harped on the theme that Kashmir is a "nuclear flashpoint", thereby signalling that there could be a nuclear conflict unless this issue is settled to its satisfaction.

It has also sought to deter India from taking military action by threatening that any Indian retaliation against cross-border terrorism would result in nuclear escalation. But all sensible Indians know that this is a bluff. The Pakistan army may be adventuristic. It is not suicidal.

Pakistan has not officially enunciated a comprehensive nuclear doctrine. It uses ambiguity as a tool for nuclear blackmail. But the Director-General of the Army's Strategic Plans Division, Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai, recently stated that Pakistan would resort to the use of nuclear weapons if India attacks it and conquers a large part of its territory, or if India renders it defenceless by destroying a large part of its land or air forces. Lt Gen Kidwai also spoke about the possibility of Pakistan resorting to the use of nuclear weapons if India attempts to economically strangulate Pakistan, or plunges Pakistan into political destabilisation by internal subversion.

The Pakistan nuclear arsenal is India centric, though the possibility of it being used as an asset of the "Islamic Ummah" cannot be ruled out. India should insist that if Pakistan desires to follow a policy of "nuclear restraint" it should incorporate Kidwai's comments in an official nuclear doctrine and stop using nuclear weapons as a tool of diplomatic blackmail. As Gen Ved Mallik noted, there is considerable "strategic space" for Indian responses between a low-intensity conflict waged on Pakistan's terms and its escalation into a nuclear conflict.

New Delhi can propose a number of CBMs that Pakistan will find it difficult to reject in view of its professions of being a "responsible" nuclear power committed to a "nuclear restraint regime". There should be no difficulty in finalising an agreement for advance notification of missile tests and for the avoidance of untoward incidents in international waters between the two navies. There is also scope for avoiding untoward incidents leading to escalating tensions by establishing direct communications between the Operations Directorates of the two air forces and between counterpart field commanders.

The deployment of short-range nuclear capable missiles close to the border/Line of Control can be source of concern, should tensions escalate. New Delhi would do well to propose that neither its short-range "Prithvi" missiles, nor Pakistan's Chinese supplied M-11 missiles should be stored or deployed at any location that is less than 500 km from the border/LoC. This arrangement can be later extended to suitably cover India's "Agni-1" missiles and Pakistan's Chinese supplied M-9 missiles, christened as "Shaheen-1" by Pakistan.

Partly out of considerations of developing a "feel good" factor, because of the forthcoming general elections, New Delhi has built up high public expectations from recent moves to normalise relations with Pakistan. While it is right to claim that we should not be prisoners of history, it would be dangerous to ignore its lessons. Gen Musharraf's comments on March 13 have, hopefully restored a sense of balance and realism. People in Pakistan do want good neighbourly relations. But the entire process of normalisation is going to be long-drawn and accident prone.

Given the American decision to label Pakistan a "major non-NATO ally" Gen Musharraf could well infer that the Americans need him too much to inhibit him from escalating support for the so-called jehad in Jammu and Kashmir. The humiliating setbacks and heavy casualties that the much vaunted Pakistan army recently suffered at the hands of a small group of Pashtun tribals, Chechens, Uzbeks and Chinese Uighurs, in the tribal areas of the NWFP could well tempt the army establishment to divert attention, by reinvigorating its support for jehad in Jammu and Kashmir.

While hoping that its efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan will succeed, New Delhi has to be realistically prepared for this. We should also avoid demoralising our security forces by constant public sermons about "human rights". The Indian Army has traditions that any nation can be proud of.

(The author is former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

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