Last week, India and Pakistan held talks over conventional confidence-building measures (CBMs). The joint statement issued at the end of the meeting iterated the usual homilies. These CBMs should be seen in the context of wider, nuclear, strategic misconceptions prevalent in the Pakistani elite.
In recent years, Pakistan has been aggressively expanding its nuclear stockpile. This rapidly growing mass of nuclear material is not safeguarded. It is the sole country holding out the finalization of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. In this, India’s behaviour has been one of remarkable restraint. Most of its civilian nuclear reactors are covered by strict International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. This is also true of future reactors, planned and those under construction. It has a transparent nuclear doctrine that calls for no first use. Pakistan has stridently refused to agree to a no-first-use posture.
Islamabad’s nuclear fears are, more or less, of an imaginary nature. The standard excuse for its nuclear recklessness is India’s so-called Cold Start doctrine that Pakistan fears is designed to make use of the threshold between conventional military operations and a strategic nuclear exchange. This is a fantasy that no amount of CBMs can eliminate. India’s conventional military posture—in spite of all the wars with its western neighbour—remains defensive.
There is, however, method in Pakistan’s madness. Its refusal to a no-first-use policy of nuclear weapons, coupled with its fascination with tactical nuclear weapons, explains its rapidly proliferating stockpile. This is nothing but nuclear adventurism and that of a dangerous variety. In fact, if anything, it is Pakistan that has tried to exploit the gap between conventional operations and a nuclear exchange. The Kargil war is a good example of such ideas.
This is a strategic challenge that India has so far not been able to meet. In the years ahead, there is a good chance this will come back to haunt us. The futility of conventional and nuclear CBMs must be seen in this light. It is no one’s case that such CBMs not be initiated or implemented. But given the thinking behind Islamabad’s quest for security and military edge at the same time, nothing much will accrue to India from such steps. Ceasefire violations in Jammu and Kashmir will continue and so will the search for advantages, irrespective of their cost to peace in South Asia.
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