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CBMs in post-Cold War South Asia

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Written by P.R. Chari for the Regional Center for Strategic Studies, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Reprinted with permission.


General.CBMs are recognizable as “arrangements designed to enhance…assurance of mind and belief in the trust-worthiness of states…confidence is the product of much broader patterns of relations than those which relate to military strategy. In fact the latter have to be woven into a complex texture of economic, cultural, technical and social relationships.”(1) This suggests military and non-military initiatives undertaken by antagonistic states to reduce tensions and enhance mutual confidence. CBMs are designed essentially to increase understanding by reducing suspicions. They are separable into military and non-military CBMs and into those having a unilateral, bilateral or international content. Military CBMs are also classifiable into transparency, communications and constraint measures to perform the related functions of information, notification, observation and stabilization.(2)CBMs can further be catalogued into provisions enabling information exchange, mutual access to observation or arrangements to handle incidents and crises.(3)A counsel of perfection suggests their pursuit in all these separate directions. But, negotiating and implementing CBMs requires political will, but only modest amounts of capital need be expended to begin the process… [CBMs] have met the minimal requirements of not worsening any state’s security and not increasing existing levels of hostility.”(4)

At this stage it bears notice that CBMs are unique to regions since they possess distinct particularities. The borrowed experience of other regions is relevant but of limited value. Two examples would substantiate this belief.

First, the superpowers detente initiated during the Bush-Gorbachev era accelerated after the Cold War eased; it catalyzed an array of CBMs envisaged by the Stockholm (1986) and Vienna (1990 & 1992) Agreements, and enlarged the scope of the Helsinki Accord (1975) and Madrid (1983) Agreement.(5) Unhappily, this spirit of detente has yet to permeate South Asia, which remains mired in ancient animosities and tensions.

Second, Israel and Egypt/Syria established demilitarized zones in 1974, wherein forces and armaments were limited, under separate Disengagement Agreements.(6)Multinational peacekeeping forces monitor these zones, reinforced by joint aerial inspections to investigate developments of concern; this reassures these adversarial states against surprise attacks or accidental war. But they cannot be contemplated yet in South Asia to ameliorate the contentious Kashmir dispute, which underlies the basic hostility between India and Pakistan. Kashmir has witnessed fierce artillery duels across the line of control in recent years, and savage fighting in the Kargil-Drass sector in 1999, which is continuing at the time of this writing, and could trigger a wider conflict with conventional and nuclear dimensions.

Still, the global experience has influenced the adoption of CBMs in South Asia.

First, the ‘hotline’ established between Washington andMoscow after the Cuban Missile Crisis persuaded India and Pakistan to situate them between their Military Operations Directorates after the Indo-Pak war in l965.(7)

Second, the agreement between NATO and the Warsaw Pact within the Helsinki Accord to provide prior information of military exercises above defined limits within specified border zones in Europe, was incorporated into the ‘Agreement on Advance Notice of Military Exercises, Maneuvers and Troop Movements’ reached by India and Pakistan in April 1991.(8)

Third, the two countries had decided in the Lahore Declaration to “to notify each other immediately in the event of any accidental, unauthorized or unexplained incident that could create the risk of…an outbreak of a nuclear war between the two countries”(9). This wording replicates the exact language of Article 2 of the ‘Agreement on Measures to Reduce the Risk of Outbreak of Nuclear War’(10)between the United States and Soviet Union.

Forging “Security Consensus” in South Asia. Empirical experience informs that a foundation must be laid for negotiating CBMs before such commitments are made. This is crucial in South Asia where abiding suspicions require meaningful communications being established between States before negotiating conflict-avoidance and confidence-building measures. Indubitably, the region comprises a discrete geo-strategic region. But: ” Crucial to the success of regional approaches [to meet security threats] is the forging of a security consensus in each region”.(11) The significance of CBMs and regional dialogue for constructing this “security consensus” cannot be over-emphasized. By way of analogy a web of CBMs and regional dialogues have succeeded in fostering peace and tranquility in Southeast Asia and Latin America.

But synthesizing a “security consensus” in South Asia has proved difficult since four seminal factors lie at the roots of insecurities in the region. They are:

  • Firstly, the bitter hostilities and tensions distinguishing Indo-Pak relations that have sparked several conflicts, overt and covert in the past, which casts a pall over the region. These enmities are deeply inter-twined with their domestic politics and have now acquired a palpable nuclear dimension.
  • Secondly, the preponderance of India in the South Asian polity is unique; its Indo-centricity erects a psychological barrier that aggravates the insecurities of its small neighbours since marked differences in politico-military weight between states is hardly conducive to building confidence between them.
  • Thirdly, the region is replete with socio-economic and ethno-political strife manifested by caste, class and sectarian conflicts, communal violence and armed struggles against central authority. Inter- and intra-state insecurities are linked and spill across national borders; they have often been fomented by the regional countries against their neighbors.
  • Fourthly, the newer security threats in South Asia ” largely arise from nonmilitary causes like cross-border movements of population; ethno-political, socio-economic, and communal-religious politics; terrorism, with its seminal linkages to money- laundering operations, and drugs/arms smuggling; environmental degradation, spawning its related problems of deforestation and desertification; internal migration; chaotic urbanization, and so on”.(12) But regional elites are focused on traditional/military sources of insecurity.

Nature of CBMs in South Asia. Utilizing the CBM modality to stabilize adversarial state relations reveals several paradoxes. Before illustrating them, four characteristics of the CBMs established in South Asia may be noticed.

  • First, their almost exclusive pursuit in the bilateral Indo-Pak context; this ensures a disproportionate emphasis on military CBMs. They have generally been emplaced following serious military crises like those associated with the Brasstacks Exercise (1987)(13)and the Kashmir-related Spring crisis (1990)(14). The CBMs negotiated consequently included an agreement not to attack each other’s designated nuclear facilities and installations (1988); advance notification of military exercises, maneuvers and movements (1991); prevention of air space violations and permitting overflights/landings by military aircraft (1991); upgrading hotline communications between the Directors General of Military Operations (1 991); and joint declaration not to use, produce, or stock chemical weapons, or transfer related technology to others (1992)(15). It should be added that important non-military CBMs have also been negotiated between India and Pakistan; they include the much-esteemed Indus Waters Treaty (1960)(16), and the Tashkent (1966) and Simla (1972) Agreements(17).
  • Second, inadequate recognition obtains of several momentous non-military CBMs established between India and its small neighbors. They include the agreement between India and Bangladesh (1997) to share the Ganges waters; India and Bhutan (1974) to construct the Chukha hydro-electric project and establish a power sharing arrangement; India and Nepal (1996) to undertake the integrated development of the Mahakali river; India and Sri Lanka (1998) to institute a free trade zone; and a decision to negotiate the sale of surplus power by Pakistan to India (1998).
  • Third, Indo-Pak relations imperatively need stabilization after their sequential nuclear tests in May 1998; several nuclear CBMs were listed in the Memorandum of Understanding accompanying the Lahore Declaration (February 1999)(18). These impulses lie buried presently on the snowy heights of Drass and Kargil, but they chart a future path for stabilizing Indo-Pak nuclear relations whenever the opportunity becomes available.
  • Fourth, the belief obtains that dominant single issues must first be resolved before the CBM process could proceed. The Farakka dispute was one such issue, which has been addressed by the Indo-Bangladesh Accord in 1997. The Kashmir issue continues to frustrate the normalization of Indo-Pak relations. Pakistan identifies Kashmir as the core’ issue to be settled first before the bilateral CBM process can evolve. India favors a multi-track approach in which Kashmir is included within a broad agenda. Further, India insists that Kashmir be bilaterally discussed, whilst Pakistan favors external mediation. In the overall India finds Pakistan’s proposal for re-introducing the UN Military Observers Group to monitor the line of control in Kashmir unacceptable. The conversion of the line of control into an international border is anathema to Pakistan. This impasse on Kashmir will come up again whenever the two leaderships resume their bilateral dialogue, but it is clear they have long run out of ideas.

Paradoxes in pursuing the CBM Modality. Proceeding further, three unresolved paradoxes can be identified in South Asia that afflict the practicability of the CBM modality; they also have relevance for other conflict-prone regions.

  • First, CBMs admittedly ” provide the atmospherics for improving inter-State relations, and providing the instrumentality to proceed further with an arms control and disarmament process”(19). They can establish trust between adversarial states; but the paradox obtains that trust is required before CBMs can be negotiated. The need for some limited confidence between adversarial states is therefore essential before CBMs can be negotiated.
  • Second, CBMs are difficult to establish, but easy to disrupt. Continued adherence to them requires adversarial states to perceive the balance of advantage to lie in not abrogating them, particularly during crises. Experience reveals, on the contrary, that the hotline established between the Directors General of Military Operations became non-functional during the Indo-Pak war of 1971 due to telephones being either left unattended or manned by junior officers with no real authority. In addition, during the Brasstacks crisis (1987), “…information shared through the hotline was deemed unreliable because of mutual suspicions; hence, information supplied on Pakistani request was only minimally complied with”.(20)Obviously, hotlines can only be relevant in crises if trust obtains. They are known to work satisfactorily in times of peace. Hence the paradox that states may abide by CBMs in normal times, but ignore them in emergency situations.
  • Third, public declarations can serve as useful CBMs to alleviate tensions and promote stability; they “can take the form of joint summit statements, negotiated agreements of a declaratory nature–such as non-attack pledges–and/or unilateral statements”.(21) The historical record shows that national leaders in India and Pakistan routinely make conciliatory statements, but they are either meant to garner domestic support or impress international audiences or lower the Other’s guard. The paradox then emerges: “Rather than promote security and confidence building, such declarations have often exacerbated existing regional tensions.”(22)

Lessons & Recommendations. In the light of these considerations in South Asia the following recommendations can be suggested.

  • First, it would be unwise to conclude that military CBMs should be preferred to non-military CBMs or vice versa; both serve the laudable purpose of improving relations between antagonistic states. Military CBMs are designed to avoid or prevent conflict; they are prophylactic in character. Non-military CBMs can soften the edges of suspicion, and generate an atmosphere conducive to peace and stability by enlarging the areas of cooperation pertaining to the newer sources of insecurity like migration, transnational crime and so on. A realistic prognosis of their threats to national security would inform which CBMs should preferentially be sought in South Asia.
  • Second, a pledge by the regional states that they “shall prevent the organization, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations”(23) is of supreme importance. It is no secret that subversion and covert intervention in the internal affairs of their neighbors is national policy in South Asia. Numerous instances can be provided; hence, it is recommended that SAARC leaders issue a joint statement at their next summit meeting that they will discourage such activity in future, which could prove a very useful declaratory CBM.
  • Third, past experience reveals that CBMs are best sought in an incremental fashion since; “An evolutionary step-by-step approach seems to work best, at least until core security issues must be tackled”(24) A building block approach commends itself; hence the military CBMs established between India and Pakistan could be enlarged before more radical measures are sought. Thus:-
      (a)The agreement not to attack each other’s nuclear facilities and installations could be extended to identified population and economic targets.

(b)The agreement on providing advance notice of military exercises could be broadened to associating military observers with major field exercises, and establishing crisis management centres.

    (c)The agreement on preventing air space violations could be enlarged into an ‘open skies’ arrangement to allow joint aerial reconnaissance of the line of control, which has been activated after the Kargil-Drass conflict.

  • Fourth, greater attention needs being given to non-military CBMs that can, in a low-key manner, improve relations between India and its smaller neighbors, but also between India and Pakistan. Article III of the Simla Agreement provides a framework for such measures. It proposes:
      (i) Steps shall be taken to resume communications, postal, telegraphic, sea, land including border posts, and air links including overflights.

(ii) Appropriate steps shall be taken to promote travel facilities for the nationals of the other country

(iii)Trade and cooperation in economic and other agreed fields will be resumed as far as possible.

    (iv) Exchange in the fields of science and culture will be promoted.

    The potential of this holistic agenda to pursue a range of non-military CBMs in South Asia is apparent; it provides the blueprint for a cooperative and comprehensive approach to national security.

  • Fifth, the need for India and Pakistan to negotiate nuclear weapons related CBMs is both immediate and vital. They had pledged under the Lahore Declaration to provide each other with ” advance notification in respect of ballistic missile flight tests”; notify any ” accidental, unauthorized or unexplained incident”, maintain a ” unilateral moratorium on conducting further nuclear test explosions”; ” conclude an agreement on prevention of incidents at sea”; ” review the implementation of existing Confidence Building Measures”; ” review existing communication links.. .with a view to upgrading and improving these links”; and ” engage in bilateral consultations on security, disarmament and non-proliferation issues”.(25)There are several complex technical issues involved in converting these expressions of intent into concrete agreements that could inspire confidence. In the absence of dialogue the resulting nuclear uncertainty is the single largest source of instability in South Asia. This has been accentuated by the long-range artillery duels and intrusions in Kargil that have perturbed the line of control in Kashmir casting serious doubts on the alleged stabilizing role of nuclear weapons. This is especially alarming since, as the earliest nuclear interactions between the United States and Soviet Union inform us, “nuclear equations are most unsettled and tension-producing at the outset of any such pairing.”(26)
  • Sixth, the”Graduated Reduction in Tensions (GRIT) strategy offers the best hope of successful incremental implementation of non-military CBMs between India and Pakistan,”(27)since taking unilateral conciliatory steps could be politically difficult. The GRIT strategy would “encompass initiating a positive action in order to elicit an appropriate reciprocating move from the adversary.”(28) An example would be lowering tariff walls in respect of specified goods for a limited interval to explore the possibility of this gesture being reciprocated. This modality could be extended to military CBMs e.g. by reducing troops in a designated border zone with further reductions being predicated on similar troop re-deployments being effected by the adversary.
  • Seventhly, a larger engagement between the South Asian countries through regional and sub-regional cooperation should be sought through commerce and joint economic development agreements. This process is important, which suggests vigorous exploration of the areas of cooperation identified by SAARC, promoting the transformation of SAPTA into SAFTA, and exploring infra structural schemes like the establishment of oil pipelines, power projects, communications, and exploitation of water resources. The extension of the Indus Waters Treaty into a spatial development plan forthe integrated development of the Indus river basin is one such visionary concept that could be explored for its potential as a fruitful CBM.

Conclusions. Structural factors are important and have undoubtedly retarded the establishment of CBMs in South Asia. Nevertheless, CBMs can become the harbingers of peace and stability in the region. History reveals they have usually been negotiated following serious bilateral crises and/or the mounting of external pressures. The international community is seriously concerned with India and Pakistan entering the nuclear weapons community, but remaining unable to deter the savage Kargil conflict in the politically explosive area of Kashmir. International pressures can reasonably be expected to be exercised on India and Pakistan to revive the CBMs process and ensure against a nuclear conflagration.

There are other systemic factors, which encourage optimism that the political will can be generated in South Asia to negotiate CBMs. They include the progressive assertion of civilian control over the military establishment; initiatives taken by the SAARC Chambers of Commerce to enlarge trade relations; the multiplicity of Track II efforts that are proceeding; apart from attempts being made by common citizens to re-establish trans-border personal and familial linkages. This encourages the belief that the people of South Asia are ahead of their governments in appreciating the need for peace and stability in the region. Besides, a third post-Partition generation is reaching positions of responsibility in these countries; they would be more largely concerned with their economic betterment, rather than dwelling on memories of bitter past conflictual history.


1.Johan Jorgen Hoist, “Confidence Building Measures: A Conceptual Framework”, Survival, Vol.25, No.1, January/February 1983, p.2 & 4.

2. Ibid.

3. U.N. Centre for Disarmament, Report of the Secretary General, Comprehensive Study on Confidence-Building Measures, (New York: United Nations, 1982), p.52.

4. Michael Krepon, “Conflict Avoidance, Confidence-Building, and Peacemaking”, in Michael Krepon, Khurshid Khoja, Michael Newbill, Jenny S. Drezin Eds. A Handbook of ConfidenceBuilding Measures for Regional Security, 3rd Edition, The Henry L. Stimson Center, Handbook No.1, March 1998, p.4.

5. A gist of these Agreements may be seen in Ibid. pp.277-79.

6. Ibid, pp.77-80.

7. Based on personal interviews.

8. Text of Agreement may be seen in Michael Krepon, Amit Sevak, Crisis Prevention, Confidence Building and Reconciliation in South Asia, (New Delhi: Manohar, 1996), pp.255-57

9. Cf. Memorandum of Understanding accompanying the Lahore Declaration signed on February 21, 1999. Text may be seen in The Hindu, February 22, 1999.

10. This Agreement entered into force on September30, 1971. Text available in Arms Controland Disarmament Agreements: Texts and History of Negotiations, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Washington, D.C. 1996 Edition, pp.88-9.

11. Jayantha Dhanapala, “Conclusion”, in Jayantha Dhanapala, Regional Approaches to Disarmament: Security and Stability, (Cambridge: University Press, 1993), p.271

12. P.R.Chari, Newer Sources of Insecurity: The Crisis of Governance in India, RCSS Policy Studies 3, (Colombo: Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, January 1988), p.2.

13. See Kanti P. Bajpai, P.R.Chari, Pervaiz lqbal Cheema, Stephen P. Cohen, Sum it Ganguly, Brasstacks and Beyond: Perception and Management ofCrisis in South Asia, (New Delhi: Manohar, 1995).

14. See Devin T. Hagerty, “Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia: The 1990 Indo-Pakistani Crisis”, International Security, Vol.20, No.3 (Winter 1995-96). This will be the subject of a forthcoming study by P.R.Chari, Pervaiz lqbal Cheema, Stephen P. Cohen and Devin T. Hagerty.

15. Text of all these Agreements may be seen in Michael Krepon & Amit Sevak Eds. Crisis Prevention, Confidence Building, and Reconciliation in South Asia, (New Delhi: Manohar,1996), pp.254-61.

16.Ibid, pp.245-250.

17. Ibid, pp.250-3.

18. Op Cit, N. 11.

19. P.R. Chari, Navnita Chadha, Maroof Raza, Confidence-Building Measures in South Asia, (New Delhi: Centre for Policy Research, January, 1995), p. 10.

20. Op Cit, N. 13, p. 41.

21.Michael Krepon and Jenny S. Drezin, “Introduction”, in Michael Krepon, Jenny S. Drezin, and Michael Newbill, eds. Declaratory Diplomacy: Rhetorical Initiatives and Confidence Building, Report No.27, April 1999, p. xi.

22. P.R.Chari, “Declaratory Statements and Confidence Building in South Asia”, in Ibid, p.130.

23. Cf. Article I (ii) of the Simla Agreement. Op Cit, N. 17.

24. Michael Krepon, Dominique M. McCoy and Mathew C.J. Rudolph, A Handbook ofConfidence-Building Measures for Regional Security, The Henry L. Stimson Centre, Handbook No.1, September 1993, p. 10.

25. Op Cit, N. 9

26. Michael Krepon, “South Asia: A Time of Trouble, A Time of Need”, in Jill R. Junnola and Michael Krepon, Eds. Regional Confidence Building in 1995: South Asia, the Middle East,and Latin America, The Henry L. Stimson Centre, Report No.20, December 1995, p.5.

27. Arun P. Elhance and Moonis Ahmar, “Nonmilitary CBMs” in Michael Krepon and Amit Sevak, Crisis Prevention, Confidence Building and Reconciliation in South Asia, (New Delhi: Manohar, 1996), p. 146.

28. Ibid, p.147 citing Alexander L. George, Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice in Foreign policy, (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1993), p. 52.

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