It is inherent in the nature of India and Pakistan that all problems and issues become intertwined and the simplest can affect the most complicated and vice versa. The latest, and now widely trending, issue in this spat is the death at the hands of fellow (Pakistani) inmates of Sarabjit Singh, whose confession about masterminding bomb blasts in Pakistan puts him in the league of Ajmal Kasab. Interestingly, not only was he accorded a hero’s funeral back home, but was immediately avenged through a replica attack on a Pakistani incarcerated for years in a Jammu prison because of illegal border crossing.
The moral of this fable, Aesopian or not, is never to let lose an opportunity to avenge and always pay the adversary in the same coin. Pakistan, which has more often been labeled the brash, immature state, slipping in the hands of Taliban, upping the nuclear ante through its tactical nuclear weapons and perceived aggressive posture, and terrorising India through its mad cap ideas, has actually shown more restraint and commitment to the continuity of the bilateral peace process. However, the process remains a dialogue opportunity at best, rather than seen as moving towards any meaningful conclusions.
With substantial domestic problems, and engagement for the first time on the Western front, any active confrontation with India is the last desirable option for Islamabad. But this does not at any point imply that in case of an unfortunate development, such as the initiation of the much talked about Cold Start doctrine or akin, Pakistan would shy away from refocusing its attention to the Eastern front. Despite a semblance of peace, skirmishes across the LoC and the resulting political and media frenzy are an indication of the extremely taut and fragile relations between the two.
So, if Krepon provocatively aims to race the South Asian hare and tortoise, would it imply that both neighbours have the same goal posts, and race for a singular gain? Pakistan is not on an ego trip, trying to merely win the nuclear race, nor seeks to take advantage of India’s proverbial catnap. Pakistan’s nuclear program and preparedness has and remains purely driven by its genuine security needs. With no viable bilateral mechanism or external support in resolving long standing disputes and conflicts ranging from Sir Creek, and water sharing, to Kashmir, a growing conventional (weapons) asymmetry and deliberate apathy towards concerns voiced by Pakistan; whether with regards to an Indo-US strategic partnership, a de-hyphenation of India and Pakistan’s nuclear status, or turning a blind eye to Pakistan’s energy needs compel the country to adopt indigenous measures towards protecting and safeguarding its interests, like any other country would do in similar circumstances.
With regards India, the US conveniently keeps its eyes wide shut and feels fatigued each time Pakistan brings up these genuine concerns. For the US, India is all about containing the next containment adversary - China! After all, the clash of civilisations theory has now more or less run its course, and there is always a need for a new flavour of the month as well as better allies. Little do they realise that Beijing will never behave like the USSR, nor would it be in the interest of any of the countries in this equation, vying for each others’ jugular to draw the first blood, as economic interdependence and geostrategic realities wisely suggest otherwise.
Secondly, India will never be the amiable ally that Pakistan despite all its problems has been in the past and present. Although China, by its very nature, is not easily provoked, Krepon’s marathon should have Beijing as a very important player in this game, as China’s nuclear testing and the brief border skirmish compelled today’s tortoise to behave as a hare of yesteryears and expedite its quest for nuclear muscle at any cost. If we take overt nuclearisation as an indicator of reaching the first goal post, then Pakistan was twenty four years late in responding to the smiling Buddha. India’s China factor gels in perfectly with US assessments, however any of the policy pundits sitting in DC must not overlook the fact that the bulk of India’s strategic arsenal, its force posturing, military doctrines, and procurement trends are primarily Pakistan-centric. With Afghanistan as a new proxy turf, the situation could become grimmer in the coming years. Equating India’s weapons’ development and acquisition as a Gandhian notion is totally absurd. Even the tiniest of upset in this precariously balanced nuclear equation, which by no means amounts to a race, would add to Pakistan’s concerns and compel Islamabad to re-adjust the threshold of its credible minimum deterrence.
Both Pakistan and India are well aware of the costs of an inadvertent nuclear strike. Pakistan has virtually survived on grass to seek this security guarantee, and no amount of solicitations can convince either of the neighbours to review their policy options (although the bulk of these friendly advices have been Pakistan-centric alone). What is required, and can be facilitated by friends such as the US primarily, is helping India and Pakistan strengthen their nuclear risk reduction and restraint regime, as well as in addressing the concerns that are at the root of the entire problem.
To follow the rest of the debate, click:
• PR Chari, IPCS Commentary #3879
• Professor R. Rajaraman, IPCS Audio Commentary
• Vice Admiral (Retd.) Vijay Shankar, IPCS Commentary #3881
• D. Suba Chandran, IPCS Commentary #3882
• Rabia Akhtar, IPCS Commentary #3892
• Michael Krepon, IPCS Commentary #3896
• Original Commentary by Michael Krepon, International Herald Tribune, 4 April 2013