Kargil and BJP's Nuclear Agenda

11 Jun, 1999    ·   202

PR Chari reckons that the accentuation of India's dependency relationship on the United States contradicts the independence it sought with its nuclear tests; this further underlines the fecklessness of the BJP's Pokharan II adventure

Press comments on the Pokharan tests on its first anniversary this year were less than ecstatic, even sombre and defensive. Many editorials noted with relief that India had weathered the economic sanctions, and was not politically isolated. A cautious optimism prevailed that the worst was over, and that India had got away with its nuclear audacity. That sense of national well-being lies buried now on the snowy heights of Kargil in Kashmir .



It is increasingly clear that the Pokharan tests were meant to serve the BJP's internal political agendas. But it secret enterprise shattered the domestic consensus that existed on India 's nuclear policy of keeping its option open. The Congress is determined to deny the BJP any political advantage by displaying India 's nuclear and missile prowess.



An overall deterioration has occurred in India 's security environment. A state of non-weaponized deterrence, based on strategic ambiguity, was existing earlier between India and Pakistan ; it had succeeded in defusing two serious Indo-Pak crises in 1987 and 1990.  This deterrent state has undoubtedly acquired greater certainty after the Pokharan and Chagai tests. Thus India 's extreme caution in not violating the LoC, despite Pakistan 's intrusions into the Kargil area, is partly occasioned by the need to isolate Pakistan and firmly place it in the wrong. But this caution is also informed by Pakistan having established strategic parity with India . This was surely an unintended consequence of the Pokharan tests.



Besides, the no-holds-barred conventional conflict in Kargil reveals that it could not be deterred by nuclear deterrence. So what have the nuclear tests accomplished? How have they added to India 's security? On the contrary, the Sino-Pak linkage has encrusted into a nuclear axis; this is evident from the consultations between the two countries that preceded Pakistan 's tests and have proceeded during the Kargil crisis.



Turning to Sino-Indian relations of China 's identification in Prime Minister Vajpayee's famous letter to President Clinton as " a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962", which " has materially helped another neighbour of ours to become a covert nuclear weapons state" rankles in Beijing . India-China relations had steadily improved over the last decade; they are back in the freezer. The last much-hyped Joint Working Group meeting held in Beijing produced little more than a decision to resume their dialogue. Whether the impending Foreign Minister's visit to Beijing will yield any greater understanding remains to be seen.



In truth, India 's case that China presented a nuclear threat to its security is hard to explain. There was no direct nuclear threat, although fanciful scenarios can always be conjured up. Besides, the India-China Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (1996) pledged both sides not to use their military capability against each other. It also visualised a reduction of forces along the line of actual control. This has been effected by India , and is difficult to square with the Chinese threat.



The indirect nuclear threat from China derives from its assistance to Pakistan 's nuclear and missile programmes; this was officially brought to China 's attention, but apparently to no avail. India could have retaliated by developing a military relationship with Vietnam or Taiwan . By exploding nuclear devices and proclaiming itself as a nuclear weapons power, India has constructed a strategic milieu where it faces two nuclear adversaries. Attack vectors can be visualised from the Northern Territories/Tibet that would make identifying the attacker difficult. How this likelihood can be countered will trouble military planners, but admits of no facile solution. Here, too, India 's security milieu has worsened after Pokharan II.



That brings us to Indo-U.S. relations. There is much satisfaction in New Delhi with the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks; a relaxation has occurred in the sanctions regime imposed after its tests. But there is nothing to suggest that India would gain access to the high technology that it wants in sensitive areas. These talks are, in essence, a damage-limitation exercise to discuss how India will implement the 'benchmarks' stipulated by Security Council Resolution 1172.



The most immediate 'benchmark' is that India joins the CTBT. Synthesizing a domestic consensus on this issue would be unrealistic given the political passions unleashed by the impending elections. Fortunately, there is no consensus either in Russia or the United States to ratify the CTBT. So India could postpone its decision to sign the Treaty as long as possible, then sign, and await its ratification by Russia , United States and China before proceeding further. An iffy ploy perhaps, but one which the BJP must consider to keep Indo-US relations in some state of repair, especially necessary after the Kargil conflict started.



The accentuation of India 's dependency relationship on the United States contradicts the independence it sought with its nuclear tests; this further underlines the fecklessness of the BJP's Pokharan II adventure.