Asia
Commentary

Complexities of Risk Reduction in South Asia

in Program

By Michael Krepon – The Indian electorate has now voted into office a very strong
coalition government led, once again, by the Congress party. Pakistani
domestic politics, on the other hand, have produced a weak civilian
government that faces extraordinary internal security challenges. In
due course, dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi will resume, but
it will be hard for leaders to make significant progress on bilateral
disputes given existing disparities in domestic political circumstances
and the certainty that new acts of mass casualty terrorism will occur.

The
strategic calculus facing national leaders in India and Pakistan has
changed radically over the past decade. Kashmir, one of the most
dangerous of all international disputes — a witches brew of
territorial, religious and inheritance grievances produced by Great
Britain’s abrupt withdrawal from India in 1947 — is no longer the
“nuclear flashpoint” of old. Calls for a plebiscite in Kashmir and a
redrawing of maps are now relics of the past.

The outlines of a
settlement are now widely understood. Before General Pervez Musharraf
reached the predictable conclusion that he was politically
indispensable — and thus could dispense with judicial checks on his
authority — his emissaries reportedly made headway in back-channel
talks with New Delhi on the Kashmir issue and on other long-running
disputes. Musharraf’s subsequent domestic difficulties put these talks
on hold. Earlier in his tenure, after stumbling badly in Kargil,
Musharraf adopted a series of bold policy shifts on Kashmir. But when
he was strong enough to make a deal stick, New Delhi’s timid coalition
government, beset by lingering doubts over Musharraf’s bona fides and
by domestic foes, was unwilling to seize the moment for a game-changing
settlement. The crux of the Kashmir dispute is now over politics rather
than substance.

To be sure, infiltration across the Kashmir
divide and acts of violence directed at the Indian State of Jammu and
Kashmir will continue to be of great concern, but for some time now,
the primary targets of high-consequence acts of terrorism have been
elsewhere. According to data collected by the U.S. National
Counter-Terrorism Centre, the brunt of these attacks has shifted, with
Pakistan now victimised far more than India. (According to these
figures, Pakistan suffered 3,628 fatalities to terrorist acts in 2007
and 2008, compared to 2,206 in India.) The logic of Pakistan’s domestic
military campaign to reclaim national territory — if sustained —
certainly points to an accentuation of this trend. But India will
surely not be spared wretched explosions, as well.

New Delhi
understands weak civilian governments in Pakistan, but it has no prior
basis for dealing with one that appears to recognise and is willing to
address, however imperfectly, the internal security challenges that
previous governments have abetted. It took no great gift of prophesy to
predict where Pakistan’s prior support for the ISI’s clients would
lead. (The same could easily be said for U.S. support for the
“mujahideen” in Afghanistan.) What matters now is the recognition of
new realities, one of which is the commonality of the threat now facing
Pakistan, India, and the United States.

Under such novel
circumstances, military rejoinders and standard political rhetoric in
the face of terrorist acts are of limited utility. Less than eight
years ago, the Indian and Pakistani armies mobilised at fighting
corridors in response to an attack by wild men on the Indian Parliament
building. Many grievous acts of terror against symbolic venues,
religious shrines, and innocent bystanders have occurred since. These
attacks, including those directed against Mumbai in 2008, elicited no
such mobilisations, perhaps in recognition that military options would
likely achieve little and could risk much.

After the Parliament
attack, the Indian armed forces reportedly adopted smaller scale
military plans, but these, too, have apparently been found wanting.
Stern warnings backed up by military options are not particularly
effective when directed against a weak government that has forged an
uncertain alliance with Pakistan’s military hierarchy to counter
internal enemies. Granted, there may well be lingering ties between
some elements of the security apparatus and those who wish “regime
change” in Pakistan. But New Delhi appears to have recognised that the
most direct way to strengthen these ties and to suspend a domestic
military campaign against terrorists would be to respond militarily to
severe provocation emanating from Pakistan.

Another compelling
reason against military mobilisations is that they would likely place
more of Pakistan’s nuclear assets in motion, where they would be less
well protected against domestic enemies of the state. The guardians of
Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal currently sit on the horns of a dilemma:
Consolidation of Pakistan’s nuclear assets would protect most
effectively against insider threats, while dispersion of Pakistan’s
nuclear assets would protect most effectively against preemption by
external threats. This dilemma does not lend itself to a solution,
although the resumption of Indo-Pakistan dialogue on contentious issues
would surely help. It would also help if poorly informed U.S.
commentators would stop talking about the imperatives of snatching up
Pakistan’s nuclear assets before the on-coming hordes of the Taliban.

Overriding
nuclear concerns on the subcontinent now revolve around the safety and
security of nuclear capabilities in Pakistan that are growing alongside
internal security challenges. Very few individuals in Pakistan (and
presumably no one outside of Pakistan) have exact knowledge of where
all of these assets reside. Therefore no one who speaks of such matters
can say with certainty how secure Pakistan’s crown jewels are. What can
be presumed is that Pakistani military authorities have come a long way
since entrusting A.Q. Khan with security measures at Kahuta. It is also
evident that nuclear assets are safest when they are not in motion —
but this is a luxury that the guardians of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal
cannot completely embrace.

Growing nuclear capabilities are part
of the changing strategic calculus in Pakistan, India and China.
Nothing clarifies Pakistan’s unsettled nuclear mindset more than its
construction of two new Plutonium production reactors. India’s nuclear
options have now been unencumbered by civil nuclear cooperation
agreements, and Beijing is at last stepping up the pace of its
strategic modernisation programmes. Nuclear-capable cruise missiles are
joining ballistic missiles in the arsenals of all three states, and
initiation of a fissile material “cutoff” negotiation in Geneva, which
Pakistan no longer appears to oppose, is unlikely to crimp bomb-making
capabilities anytime soon.

The next crisis sparked by a grievous
act of terrorism on the subcontinent will therefore occur against the
backdrop of increased nuclear options of no discernible battlefield
utility and an uneven effort by the Pakistani military against domestic
foes. New Delhi’s options will be greatly constrained by the challenges
of dealing with a weak government in Pakistan. Under these
circumstances, the key to nuclear risk-reduction on the subcontinent
may now lie in the ability of governments to trust each other
sufficiently to share intelligence against common terrorist threats.

 

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