Nuclear Issues in South Asia

28 Jun, 1998    ·   121

Gen. Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.) summarizes two discussions on Indo-Pakistani relations since the recent nuclear tests.

1. Two discussions at the India International Centre in New Delhi on 16 & 20 June 1998 highlighted the dilemmas facing Indian policy in the coming years. It also brought out the different views and perceptions of different political parties and personalities. The first discussion was on "Nuclear India —What Next?" The panelists were Salman Khurshid (former Minister of State for External Affairs in the Congress Government until 1996), Shri J. N. Dixit (former Foreign Secretary), HE Ashraf Qazi (High Commissioner of Pakistan in India ) and Shri K. Subrahmanyam (well known defence analyst). The second was on "Indo-Pak Relations", which was addressed by HE Ashraf Qazi, Shri N. N. Jha (Coordinator Foreign Policy Cell BJP) and Mani Shankar Aiyar (Congress Party member). This report highlights relevant issues raised during these presentations, but is not an authoritative or comprehensive summary.



Shri Salman Khurshid



2. Khurshid said that it was a pity that the present government decided on a serious issue such as the nuclear test without broader consultation with other political parties. The immediate public approval rate of this decision was merely a knee-jerk reaction. His impressions in rural Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in recent months were that the people were simply unaware of this event. Recent election results also reflected that it had no favourable impact on the BJP vote.



3. Historical experience is that the cost of a bomb was merely 8 per cent of the total cost. Remainder went for delivery systems, command and control, weaponisation aspects and others. Did we factor all this into our cost calculations? Again, going nuclear was the easy part. Having got the bombs, what are we going to do with them? Are they of any use at all? Where was India 's moral dimension in this decision? Have we not compromised on Gandhi? After this our voice in support of global nuclear disarmament will be hollow.



4. Finally, he said that not having deliberated on the utility of the bomb, our leaders made irresponsible statements on its possible use. This has queered the pitch in Kashmir . There is a danger now of its being internationalised, something that we had avoided for the last twenty-six years. Lastly, our test allowed Pakistan too to go nuclear, thus equalizing our capabilities.



J. N. Dixit



5. Dixit prefaced his remarks by saying that possessing the bomb was morally wrong, but then the world was an amoral place. He wished to deliver no value judgement on acquiring nuclear capability. However, the decision was not predicated on a rational working out of options.



6. The question now was, what next? First, we must speak to Pakistan , whenever and wherever the opportunity presented itself. It was immaterial whether it was based on the agenda worked out at Maldives or in Dhaka . Next, we must discuss all issues including nuclear confidence-building measures and no-first-use.



HE Ashraf Qazi



7. Ashraf Qazi mentioned that the bombs had changed everything, yet had changed nothing. The reality of India-Pakistan as neighbours had not changed. Mutual antagonistic positions had not changed. Pakistan was not interested in a nuclear arms race. It was more interested in an economic race with India . Pakistani response to India was a security response and a carefully considered one. Chances for a breakdown of peace remain, only the consequences were now potentially catastrophic.



8. He said that Pakistan was willing to talk to India on the basis of the agreed eight-point agenda. Yet, we had not worked out the modalities. The root cause was Kashmir . It is one issue, which has made our relations abnormal. It was now more important than ever to resolve it. If talks remain moralistic and sterile, how do we guarantee that the results now will not be catastrophic? The threats to peace today were immensely greater. An arms race was already in progress and horrendous conflict scenarios were being conjured up. How do we stop this? CBMs work only in a state of stability and resolution of Kashmir was central to this. We cannot have a sterile conversation any more. There must be progress on core issues, however slow it may be.



9. He mentioned that even though the likelihood of nuclear war was small, its consequence would indeed be large. Nuclear innocence like virginity, once lost cannot be restored. We need then to evolve codes of conduct to ensure that there is no possibility of conflict. In the context of CBMs, he said that it was important to take an honest look at our differences and Kashmir was central to this. We need to work out a modality to work it out. We need mutual friends to help us in this process. Else, policy paralysis may lead to disaster.



K. Subrahmanyam



9 Subrahmanyam welcomed the Pakistani High Commissioner's presence in the discussions. He said this represented how our approach to nuclear weapons was different from others. We can have a civilised discussion and there are no possibilities of a conflagration. No other country has agonised over nuclear weapons as long as India , especially over morality. But, when we undertook the IGMD programme under Mrs. Gandhi, the decision to nuclearise was virtually taken. Mrs Gandhi wanted a test in 1963. She went down the shaft to inspect arrangements.



10 Pakistan had nuclear weapons since 1987 and India from 1990. It is not then a new situation. We have lived through the risks for the last eight years. We have been through the worst years in Jammu & Kashmir and prevented escalation. There are no costs to further weaponisation. Defence expenditure has remained virtually the same. An arms race is totally irrelevant in our context. There should be a guaranteed "no-first-use" policy.



N. N. Jha



11.   Jha provided first a résumé of Indo-Pak relations over the last forty years. The present position was that both countries had come out in the open. Now we need to discuss outstanding issues. It has to be done bilaterally; even the UN has come out in its support.



12.  In the aftermath of the nuclear explosions, India proposed a voluntary moratorium on tests followed by its de jure formalisation, agreed to discuss FMCT, and announced a policy of "no-first-use", both bilaterally and collectively.



13. The BJP policy was against nuclear apartheid. Now that both India and Pakistan were nuclear weapon powers, they should jointly aspire to the nuclear weapon club. They should jointly work out a strategy for countering global sanctions.



Mani Shankar Aiyar



14.   Mani Shankar mentioned that the high point in Indo-Pak relations was March 1998. But that was now over. The key in mutual relations lay in trust. We are now in an era of mistrust. Does Pakistan find it easier to talk to us? Definitely not.



15.    He said that the BJP leadership had talked of a "new position of power". What was it? Weaponisation of the Armed Forces was yet to take place. Do we have a balanced deterrence? Against China we have a built-in asymmetry.  We have now converted China into an enemy. There is now a growing Sino-Pak axis. The issue of Kashmir has been set back to 1965. Until now, the Soviet Union/Russia had not voted against us on Kashmir in the last 50 years.



16.    He said that he did not know where we stood on nuclear disarmament now. It is time to resurrect the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan of 1988. It still provided the best plan for global nuclear disarmament. He then suggested, first, a talk about talks which should be uninterrupted and uninterruptible; next, to address the consequences of the recent explosions. At the same time accept that a solution to the Kashmir problem will elude us for a long time.