Tag Archives | nuclear weapons

Death by idealism

India cannot ingratiate itself with China through placation.

Shortsightedness, misguided idealism and a false sense of stature in the world contributed to the debacle 50 years ago against China, the wounds of which are yet to completely heal.  When realization hit home and the sandcastles in the sky finally crumbled, it was too late.  One has only to remind oneself of the two desperate “Eyes Only” letters that Jawaharlal Nehru dispatched to JFK on November 19 to realize the enormity of India’s miscalculations.

However, while steps were taken to correct India’s military posture after the 1962 war,  the sense of idealism and misguided assessments of India’s place and stature in the world continued to dominate years after.  We had learned little in the years immediately succeeding a catastrophic defeat.  Inder Malhotra’s op-ed on nuclear debates in the Lal Bahadur Shastri era following China’s “596″ nuclear test in 1964 reveal as much (emphasis added):

WELL before the All India Congress Committee (AICC) could meet to pronounce its verdict on the raging controversy over whether or not to make the atom bomb to meet the Chinese nuclear threat, Lal Bahadur Shastri had made up his mind not to go for nuclear weapons. Instead, he had resolved to rely on international nuclear security guarantees, particularly from the United States and the Soviet Union. How this was to be achieved was far from clear; indeed, the whole idea seemed tentative and half-baked.

Faced with [an] onslaught [to build an atomic bomb], Shastri decided to counterattack, which succeeded because other top party leaders, principally Morarji Desai and Krishna Menon — an odd couple, considering their intense mutual dislike — rallied to the PM’s support. They fully endorsed his moral and economic arguments for sticking to “the Mahatma’s teachings and Nehru’s legacy” and using atomic energy for peaceful purposes only. The high cost of nuclear weapons (Shastri questioned Homi Bhabha’s estimates and the AEC chairman later agreed that he had understated them) also helped the PM’s argument. Desai buttressed it by adding that the Rs 1,000 crore defence budget was already causing great hardship to the people. The huge additional cost of nuclear weapons would be “crushing”.

Eventually, the AICC passed the official resolution to the effect that India “would continue to utilise nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and that India would not enter into a nuclear arms race”. For his part, Shastri made a last-minute concession to his critics by declaring: “We cannot at present think in terms of making atomic bombs in India. We must try to eliminate the atomic bombs in the world”. (Emphasis added). The press called this outcome Shastri’s “triumph”, the Hindustan Times going so far as to hail it as “nothing short of a miracle”. [Indian Express]

The slow and meandering course that this political idealism took in our national security discourse (particularly as it relates to nuclear weapons) was somewhat corrected — first through action in 1974, and later intellectually in the 1980s.  For this, India stands in gratitude to the political backing provided to the evolution of realism in our collective strategic thinking, perhaps best articulated by Rajiv Gandhi’s speech at the UN General Assembly in June 1988.

However, to employ a phrase that Mr. Nehru would appreciate — we have “promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.”  Nuclear weapons may deter direct Chinese aggression against India, but cannot assist us in the ever-expanding projection of Chinese power in East Asia, the subcontinent, and the Indian Ocean.  Our political leaders will need to learn that India cannot ingratiate itself with China through placation.  Dialog with China has its place, of course, but cannot be a substitute for India’s own development of capacity.

We must be more ambitious (not to say, unapologetic and focused) in developing capacities beyond our own shores.  Our delivery systems must continue to mature, rapidly. And our border infrastructure needs to be urgently developed to counter developments on the other side of the border.  But none of these can be effectively achieved without a concerted effort to correct the negative trajectory of the Indian economy.

Being able to balance China requires both the development of military capabilities and sustained economic growth.  While many articles and op-eds reflecting on the 1962 debacle argue (and quite rightly) for need to focus on military growth and better regional engagement to balance Chinese influence, these efforts will be impaired if India is unable to sustain its economic growth.  We have been witness to a faltering economy, caused largely due to political inaction.  A continuation such inaction will impact not only the lives of our citizens, but also jeopardize our influence in the region.  And the Chinese will tell us as much.  India cannot lose sight of the ball in Asia.  There is simply too much at stake.

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All-weather doormat

Old Chinese proverb say: Beggars can’t be choosers.

As relations between the U.S. and Pakistan deteriorate, Pakistan’s prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani referred to China as an “all-weather” friend who has stood by Pakistan through thick and thin.  The truth of course, is that China has used its weight to allow the Pakistanis to be naughty when it suited China’s purpose.  There are endless examples, the most significant being supporting Pakistan’s illicit nuclear program.  After the bin-Laden raid, the Pakistanis are keen to promulgate the notion that they have the ability to choose their primary benefactor, and that China can quite easily replace the U.S. in this regard.

But the facts speak for themselves.  The U.S. has contributed more than $20 billion to Pakistan since 2002.  It also gave Pakistan over $150 million in aid of last year’s flood victims.  China, almost belatedly, perhaps embarrassed by its own absence among the philanthropic few, donated $18 million.  For those under any illusions that China can effectively substitute the U.S. as Pakistan’s primary patron, a read-through of Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa’s September 2010 article is warranted (excerpts):

In Pakistan, most people view China as a saviour and time-tested friend – one that, unlike the US, will never abandon their country. According to former diplomat Tariq Fatimi, this is the only one of Pakistan’s links that can be considered truly ‘strategic’. To a great extent, however, this relationship is based on the transfer of military technology. Beijing played a key role in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, and was also a source of weapons to fill the gaps left by the US arms embargo on the country until the blockade was lifted in 2001. China also provided military supplies when none were assured from the West.

Beyond the general perception that China is an all-weather friend there is also some negative opinion, particularly in the business community. The corporate sector has been badly affected by the dumping of cheap Chinese goods in Pakistan’s markets, but the high-stakes relationship between the two states means that the business community has not been able to protest too loudly. A senior official at the Ministry of Finance in Islamabad conceded that there is substantial informal trade in the form of smuggling of Chinese goods into Pakistan. However, Islamabad seems to consider it almost suicidal to broach the matter openly, given the importance of the defence ties with Beijing.

More interestingly, the second group that privately expresses reservations about China is the military personnel directly involved in weapons procurement. Junior and mid-ranking officers who come in contact with Chinese manufacturers express shock and disappointment at how Chinese businesses negotiate as ruthlessly as the weapons manufacturers of the West. In the minds of these military officers, this present-day reality clashes with the memory of China as a friend that provided Pakistan with free weaponry during the war with India in 1965. Although there is no proof to support this view, many continue to believe that China could play a decisive role as Pakistan’s saviour in case of an escalation of conflict with India.

According to an intelligence source who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Pakistani authorities go to great lengths to hide actions taken to appease Beijing. The source claims that a significant number of Pakistani citizens were caught between 2004 and 2009 by various intelligence agencies for alleged involvement in fomenting rebellion in China’s Xinjiang province, and were actually handed over to the Chinese intelligence agencies.

Likewise, in June 2007, President Pervez Musharraf reacted to the threat posed by clerics and seminary students aligned with the Lal Masjid in Lahore only after they attacked some Chinese citizens based in Pakistan, including the owner of a massage parlour in Islamabad. The Chinese ambassador in Islamabad at the time warned the government over the security of Chinese citizens, and many believe that this pressure contributed directly to the action eventually taken against the Lal Masjid clerics. Interestingly, Islamabad was silent when the Lal Masjid’s ‘burqa brigade’ had kidnapped a female professional escort and took a few police officials hostage who had come to rescue the woman. Reportedly, the Chinese ambassador had forcefully demanded protection of Chinese citizens.

In the long run, the relationship between China and Pakistan could be adversely affected if the increased militarisation and radicalism in the latter continues. Pakistan’s incessant political instability, the corruption and administrative inefficiency of its political leadership and problems of democracy are some of the many problems that feed into the inability of the China-Pakistan relationship to shift from a tactical to a strategic gear in a way that would be more beneficial to Pakistan than in the past. According to Yuqun Shao, from the Shanghai Institute of Strategic Studies, President Asif Ali Zardari does not have much credibility in Beijing, despite the fact that he is keen to further strengthen and expand bilateral links. This is hardly surprising, given Beijing’s culture of top-down authoritarian rule that emphasises political stability as a driver for economic growth. As such, the shift towards radicalism in Pakistan is bound to further negatively influence the relationship with the Pakistan government.

Ultimately, undermining the development of a more holistic relationship with China will prove disadvantageous to Pakistan, particularly now that Beijing’s strategists are reconsidering the relationship with India. In any case, Beijing seems willing to apply the model of Sino-US relations to its relationship with India as well. This means that while tensions with India – over Arunachal Pradesh, the potential strategic rivalry in the Southasian neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean, and competition for petroleum and mineral resources worldwide – could continue, it will not hamper the development of greater economic ties between the two states. But such conditions also mean that Sino-Pakistani relations could become even more tactical from Beijing’s point of view. Chinese officials, who are more concerned about improving relations with India and view the new set of relationship as an economic opportunity, will probably be averse to getting too distracted by the constant rivalry between Pakistan and India. [Himal South Asian]

After the bin-Laden raid, we have been victimized by cacophony emanating from Pakistan about how it can pick and choose its benefactors and that it doesn’t need the U.S. because it has China’s “support.”  The U.S. would do well to call Pakistan’s bluff.  Let the world see how much of a substitute China can be for the U.S. in Pakistan.  And when realization finally hits Islamabad, the U.S. should deal with Pakistan on its own terms.

Updated: Quote courtesy a friend: “Did it matter if a grain of dust in a whirlwind retained its dignity?” –  CS Forester’s “Horatio Hornblower” series

 

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The worst offense

The U.S. is doing itself a disservice by holding on to tedious “arms race” narratives about India and Pakistan.

Tom Ricks’ The Best Defense ran a blogpost this morning entitled “The most likely apocalypse in our future: An Indian-Pakistani nuclear exchange.”  As a fan of the blog, I was disappointed with the sort of arguments put forth in the blogpost, peppered as it was with pedestrian and illogical arguments (many sourced from discussions at a recent Carnegie event) . My INI colleague Dhruva Jaishankar has exceptional rebuttal to the above blogpost, but this post will try to touch on a couple of other points.  Let us examine some of these arguments put forth in the blogpost (emphasis added as needed):

The fuse to ignite a war has been lit before — at Kargil in 1999, after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, and most recently, after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 — but a nuclear exchange has been prevented each time. With each of these incidents, though, the fuse has been cut shorter.

Way to use the passive voice.  But it begs the question, “who lit the fuse exactly?” If memory serves one right, during Kargil, it was Pakistan’s COAS, the good Gen. Musharraf, who moved his nuclear assets to the border with India at a time when India responded with limited conventional force in the face of extreme provocation from Pakistan.  Similarly, during the Mumbai attacks, it was Pakistan — not India — that tried to sell the rest of the world the story of an impending nuclear war with India. But such Pakistani hullabaloo is only to be expected — conveying the threat of a nuclear fallout is  a vital component to insulating itself, while continuing to use sub-conventional warfare against India — a “derivative of nuclear deterrence,” as K. Subrahmanyam called it.

The blogpost further states:

The greatest risk for nuclear war in our time is the scenario in which a Pakistan-based terror group with ties to ISI launches another attack on India. It’s nearly happened before. Aparna Pande, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, described the strong pro-nuclear strike faction in Indian politics after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and the common sentiment of, “if Pakistan can cross the border and hit us, why can’t we hit back?”

I would submit that Ms. Pande’s quote is presented out of context.  When one state continues to use terrorism as an instrument of policy against another, isn’t it only logical that the victimized state would assess its response options?  Why does the blogpost assume that India’s response would necessarily be nuclear?  In fact, given India’s conventional superiority wrt Pakistan, why would India ever consider such an option?  “Pro-nuclear strike faction” indeed!

And the pièce de résistance:

A journalist for the Pakistani Spectator, in worried and urgent tones, told the panel that, with the prevailing popular opinion in Pakistan, the United States is “pushing Pakistan in the corner, and they are depending more on the weapon because Pakistan is literally collapsing.” It will be up to the international community, and largely the United States, to help buttress Pakistan’s faltering democracy. The success or failure of stabilization efforts in the next several years will determine which cliché the Pakistani bomb will become: common ground, bargaining chip, or loose cannon.

First, this blogger would like some clarification on what corner Pakistan is being pushed into, who is pushing it into said corner, and what all this pushing-about business has to do with its accumulation of nuclear weapons.  Are we to understand from the Pakistani Spectator’s journalist that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are no longer India-centric and that it is now acquiring nuclear weapons as a contingency against the U.S. (the alleged entity pushing Pakistan into a corner)?  And second, how would Pakistan’s continued accumulation of nuclear weapons save it from collapsing?  Nuclear weapons, after all, are built to destroy, not built to build.

As this blogpost has pointed out previously, Pakistan sees value in portraying itself an an irrational and unstable state. A nuclear-armed Islamic state teetering on the precipice is bound to attract Washington’s attention, and benevolence. There is simply no link between the sort of assurances that the U.S. seeks to obtain on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons project and the emergence of true democracy in Pakistan.  In fact, Pakistan’s proliferation track record under the leadership of the likes of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto should worry D.C. even more.

But if you think you have heard this sort of spiel somewhere before, it’s because you have.  Many in D.C. are so captivated by the theme of India and Pakistan — each apparently as equally likely as the other to initiate a nuclear attack — endangering the region unless the U.S. steps in to resolve their disputes, that they have long forsaken much required rational assessments of the situation in the subcontinent.

Yet, that these sorts of dangerous arguments are perpetuated in high profile opinion pieces does the world no favors. In a recent, carefully articulated op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Messrs. George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Hunn, wrote as follows:

Fifth, we recognize that for some nations, nuclear weapons may continue to appear relevant to their immediate security. There are certain undeniable dynamics in play—for example, the emergence of a nuclear-armed neighbor, or the perception of inferiority in conventional forces—that if not addressed could lead to the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and an increased risk they will be used. Thus, while the four of us believe that reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective, some nations will hesitate to draw or act on the same conclusion unless regional confrontations and conflicts are addressed. We must therefore redouble our efforts to resolve these issues. [The Wall Street Journal]

Thinking in the U.S. will hopefully evolve to understanding the nature of Pakistan’s nuclear brinkmanship and its impact on India, the U.S. and the world.  This will require folks in D.C. to truly examine what Pakistan is seeking to achieve and depart from the tedious narratives about a non-existent regional nuclear arms race.  Not altering the current trajectory of thought, and not doing so quickly, will be the worst offense.

 

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After Salmaan Taseer

Five questions for us to answer on liberalism in Pakistan.

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer has rightly triggered introspection and discourse in Pakistan on identity — social, religious and national.  Of these, articles written by the likes of Raza Rumi, Huma Yusuf, Ayesha Siddiqa, Yaseer Latif Hamdani and Shehryar Taseer deserve special mention and commendation.  There is, however, no dearth for the alternative narrative in Pakistan.  PML-N’s spokesperson claimed (اردو) that Mr. Taseer would have been assassinated by someone else had Mumtaz Qadri not done so. Irfan Siddiqui suggests (اردو) that while Mr. Taseer’s assassination cannot be condoned, it was expected, given the governor’s “liberal extremist” views.

A parallel discourse is also occurring in the West and in India.  Declan Walsh laments on the fate of the liberal Pakistani; Shekhar Gupta qualifies and clarifies; Seema Mustafa foretells of further doom and gloom. An overarching theme in many commentaries is that a liberal Pakistan is in India’s interests; that a “liberal” Pakistani civilian government would (not to say “could”) radically alter its worldview, foreign policy objectives and how it seeks to achieve them.  The trouble with this argument of course, is that a liberal Pakistani civilian government has never existed.   Even so, some commentaries point to Benazir Bhutto and her administrations of the late ’80s and ’90s as  approximate models.

However, liberal though Ms. Bhutto may have been, Pakistan’s worldview did not undergo material change during her leadership. Bilateral relations with India did not improve. If anything, Ms. Bhutto’s reign coincided with the height of the Jammu & Kashmir insurgency fomented by Pakistan, and proliferation of nuclear technology.  Indeed, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and the motivation to match India to the detriment of all else took shape  under the leadership of her charismatic father, the wine-drinking, UC Berkeley-educated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (“We will eat grass…”).

It would therefore be a worthy exercise to ponder over these five questions on what a model for a liberal Pakistan would look like, and whether a liberal dispensation in Pakistan is a sufficient condition to alter the trajectory of its relationship with India.  For us in India, would the ascendancy of a liberal narrative in Pakistan’s internal discourse  lessen our own threat perception of our neighbor?

  • Could a liberal government in Islamabad effectively end the hold that the military-jihadi complex has on Pakistan’s formulation and implementation of foreign policy objectives?
  • Would it still maintain that India poses an existential threat to Pakistan?
  • What will its position be towards Kashmir? Specifically, towards the insurgency and state-sponsored sub-conventional warfare?
  • What will its position be on terrorism?  If another Mumbai were to occur, would this liberal regime disavow these groups? Actively confront them? Prosecute them? Extradite them, where permissible, to India? Cooperate with India’s own investigation?
  • Would it continue to maintain, by extension of #2, that Pakistan’s conduct in Afghanistan is just and only expected, given India’s commercial and political ties to Kabul?

Tough questions no doubt, but ones that need to be answered in India, as an internal battle for identity rages on in Pakistan.

UPDATE: My op-ed in The Pioneer has a more complete analysis of liberalism in Pakistan.


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