welcome commitment made by General Pervez Musharraf to "permanently"
stop infiltration of jehadi militants across the Line of Control
in Kashmir, and the "calibrated", but tiny, steps announced
by New Delhi in reciprocation, have created a new, positive situation:
The grim threat of war has receded somewhat; and there is reason
to hope that India and Pakistan could begin serious bilateral efforts
for peace and reconciliation. This is arguably the first significant
thaw in India-Pakistan relations since they were badly vitiated
after September 11. India must seize the moment and convert the
new opening into a breakthrough. To do so, Indian policy-makers
must disabuse themselves of a few half-truths and fallacious beliefs.
of these are important. First, that a "determined"
India, acting independently and ignoring the global counsel for
restraint, made Pakistan blink. India's "coercive
diplomacy" worked only because it was backed by 700,000
troops all ready to strike. Second, New Delhi not only called
Islamabad's "nuclear bluff"; it has itself dramatically
broken out of the "mental block" imposed by nuclear
deterrence. Finally, India should capitalise on its advantage
by shifting the goalposts in its Pakistan relationship. It can
now act in Kashmir as it likes, unfettered by "cross-border
reality is more complex and many-sided. Pakistan has indeed executed
a major shift of stance. Not only did it admit to something that
it has strenuously denied for 13 years: its support for cross-border
infiltration. It agreed to cease this permanently and verifiably – without
conditions. This came about more through mediation or "facilitation"
by the US and the UK than directly, through Islamabad's
capitulation before India's show of strength.
mediation, by whatever name, has been rather visible: with US
officials talking turn by turn virtually daily to Mr Atal Behari
Vajpayee and Gen Musharraf, or shuttling between their two capitals,
carrying or delivering messages, including the specific language
in which de-escalation formulas are couched.
Musharraf blinked. It is not New Delhi which stared him down.
It was Washington. Once Islamabad saw the tide turning against
it at the end of May, it brandished the nuclear sword – through
senior diplomat Munir Akram's statement that "India
should not have the licence to kill with conventional weapons
while Pakistan's hands are tied…" This only
strengthened the tide. Pakistan was widely seen to have overplayed
its hand. It lost whatever sympathy it enjoyed.
be fair, India's massive show of military strength did play
a role in the drama. But that role was at best minor. International
opinion favoured India not because it was impressed by its military
might or nuclear brinkmanship, but because it saw India as the
"aggrieved party" (Armitage), a country where scores
of civilians are routinely killed by fidayeen militants
with utter contempt for life. It is because India was able to
produce some evidence of Pakistan's routine, general involvement
in the infiltration of such militants through the ISI – and because
it invited the US to verify this – that Washington mounted intense
pressure on Islamabad to stop the border crossing.
is open to question if India could have persuaded the international
community to intervene with non-military means, including resort
to the United Nations Security Council, and to further diplomatic
measures, instead of expensive and risky military muscle-flexing.
But it is beyond question that both India and Pakistan indulged
in rank brinkmanship to the point of alarming and frightening
the world about the likelihood of war breaking out in "the
world's most dangerous place". Pakistani official statements,
as well as the peculiarity of the sub-continent's military balance
and the logic of conflict escalation, convinced many in the world
that war, once it broke out, would escalate to the nuclear level.
the final instance, it is because nuclear war is everybody's
business that the world, specifically the US, intervened to defuse
the situation. This is nuclear "deterrence at a distance",
working indirectly, circuitously – but perhaps even more unstably
and fallibly than Superpower deterrence during the Cold War. Call
it what you will, but the crucial importance of the nuclear factor
in the subcontinent cannot be denied.
can it be claimed that India successfully "called Pakistan's
nuclear bluff". Pakistan, as this Column argued last week,
was not bluffing. Its nuclear doctrine, and its strategic
asymmetry with India, predisposes it towards a nuclear first attack – within
a "use-them-or-lose-them" calculation. Thus, each
one of the war-gaming exercises by strategic think-tanks – including
India's own – concludes with a nuclear exchange scenario.
people in South Asia have become smug and insensitive to this
dangerous likelihood – simply because they are unaware of just
how destructive nuclear weapons are, and also because India and
Pakistan did actually fight a conventional conflict at
Kargil three years ago; nuclear war didn't break out then.
Ergo, it isn't likely to happen now!
reasoning misreads both history and the deterrence doctrine. Even
in conventional military thinking, wars are premised not upon
high probabilities, but mere possibilities. States maintain big
armies and spend billions on them every year not because wars
happen every year but because they might – some time.
Kargil came very close to the nuclear precipice. In 1990 too,
Pakistan threatened a nuclear strike in case India launched a
conventional attack in retaliation to Operation Zarb-i-Momin.
deterrence is flawed not because it never works, but
because it works unreliably. Its failure has unspeakably disastrous
consequences. Deterrence can break down because of miscalculation,
misperception of the adversary's intentions, by accident,
or simply because combatants have divergent perceptions of how
much damage they can inflict/bear and how much is "unacceptable".
We cannot assume that not only our generals, but theirs
too, will always think rationally. I have interviewed Pakistani
officers who think their country can "absorb" one,
two, ten Hiroshimas, and still survive!
has summed up the widespread adverse perception of the India-Pakistan
stand-off better than novelist Salman Rushdie. He says: "Both
sides are locked into old language, old strategies and an old
game of chicken that's currently playing itself out across
the LoC. Like two aged wrestlers fighting on a cliff, India and
Pakistan are locked together, rolling ever closer to the edge.
…These old pathetic fighters must be pulled apart, and soon."
precisely what happened. Rather than foolishly claim triumph for
our "coercive diplomacy", we must thank our stars
that war didn't break out. The next time around, we may
not be so lucky. To prevent being all reduced to radioactive dust,
we must enlarge the opening provided by last fortnight's
events. New Delhi can best do so by rapidly de-escalating the
border build-up, and fully restoring diplomatic relations and
communication links with Pakistan. Any indication that it is dragging
its feet, or cannot decide how much is "too much too soon"
and how much "too little too late", will erode sympathy
issues have now become critical: who monitors and verifies that
there is no cross-border infiltration, and what stand India takes
on Kashmir once a dialogue with Pakistan begins, as is inevitable.
India can't be both the complainant and the judge as regards
the cessation of infiltration. It must allow neutral, external,
multilateral monitoring and verification. Here lies the crunch.
India is proposing joint patrolling with Pakistan, but Islamabad
sees that as a prelude to making the LoC a permanent boundary,
thus cheating it of a negotiated deal on Kashmir. It rejected
that idea 30 years ago. Pakistan would like the UN Military Observer
Group (UNMOGIP), set up in 1948 and now reduced to a token existence,
to be expanded to play that role. New Delhi sees that as a way
to "internationalise the Kashmir issue", something
it has opposed tooth and nail.
the best compromise lies in creating a multilateral body, composed
of a number of governments and non-governmental organisations
like Verification Technology Information Council and International
Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. This does
mean some external involvement. But it would be ostrich-like to
pretend that Kashmir now remains a purely bilateral issue. It
has become "everybody's issue". Unlike in the
past, the Indian position on Kashmir is no longer viewed with
universal suspicion or hostility. The "multilateral solution"
is far preferable to proposals like US-UK Special Operations surveillance,
with their obvious political-military biases.
New Delhi must evolve a well-considered Kashmir policy: halting
armed repression of dissent, demilitarising daily life, rebuilding
popular trust, and promoting a culture of peace. It shouldn't
cite the Shimla agreement to insist on bilateralism, and then
refuse a serious dialogue with Islamabad – as it has done for 30
years, including the 18 years when "cross-border"
militants weren't breathing down its neck.
must the Central and state governments play political games to
thwart truly free and fair elections in which all currents of
opinion take part. On this, the indications so far are largely
negative: witness Syed Ali Shah Geelani's arrest under POTA, journalist
Iftekhar Geelani's harassment, and the toughening official posture
against a dialogue with the Hurriyat. If India doesn't get its
Kashmir act together, today's sustained gains will be quickly
Bidwai is a New Delhi-based political analyst and peace activist,
a columnist with twenty-five Indian newspapers and co-author (with
Achin Vanaik) of New
Nukes: India, Pakistan and Global Nuclear Disarmament.
He shared the International Peace Bureau's Sean MacBride International
Peace Prize for 2000 with Vanaik.