Strategic Games

Print edition : February 05, 2000

The United States' game plan in the current India-Pakistan context is to play the role of a mighty intervener and pressure India into signing the unequal Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. For its part the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government, whil e projecting an excessive keenness to win U.S. support for its position on Pakistan, also hopes to use the opportunity to facilitate its weaponisation drive.

AS the "security dialogue" between India and the United States has run its meandering course, few authentic details have really emerged about the intent or purpose of the exercise. It has been generally believed that the principal American objective is t o limit and ultimately to reverse India's nuclear capability. Correspondingly, India's purpose has been to minimise the fetters upon its autonomy and ensure that any concession made would not be devoid of an element of reciprocity - whether real or imagi ned.

Indications of the general approach of the two sides are available from a few utterances on the peripheries of the dialogue. The Indian Government has sought to advertise the country's virtues as a stable democracy wedded to free-market principles, a vit al link in global flows of commodities and finance. It would also like the U.S. and the global community to take cognisance of the serious threat posed to this developing idyll by right-wing fundamentalist terror.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh. For the BJP-led Government to put possible accession to the CTBT on the table as part of the new bargain it is making with the U.S. is a clear departure from India's time-honour ed commitment to global disarmament as an irreducible goal.-ANU PUSHKARNA

The U.S. for its part has affected some sympathy but remained aloof from India's most critical concerns. Clearly, American perceptions are still moulded overwhelmingly by the single-dimensional view of India as a recalcitrant element in its global crusad e against nuclear proliferation.

In an effort to accommodate these reservations, the Indian government has sworn allegiance to a minimal nuclear- security doctrine and promised longer-term restraints upon the development of its nuclear weapons capability. Opposition groups in India have wondered aloud whether the bargain is really worth the price the country will have to pay for accommodation within the global nuclear imperium.

At the core of the new American engagement in the South Asian region is the U.S. obsessive need to win global endorsement of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) - a corollary to the grossly flawed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In its phras ing the CTBT entails an equal set of obligations for all its signatories - whether they are nuclear weapons states or otherwise. But the lapse of 30 years since the NPT was signed has ensured that the CTBT only reinforces the inherent biases of its prede cessor. The CTBT may have been a good idea if it had been formulated at the time the NPT was signed. But three decades of skewed obligations between nuclear weapons states and the rest have rendered the CTBT practically worthless as a nuclear disarmament treaty.

For the BJP-led Government to put possible accession to the CTBT on the table as a part of the new bargain it is seeking with the U.S. is clearly a departure from India's time-honoured commitment to global disarmament as an irreducible goal. It betrays a n undue desire to win approval from the U.S. and to create the conditions propitious to the visit to this country of U.S. President Bill Clinton.

President Bill Clinton. A year away from retirement, securing the accession of both India and Pakistan is high on his list of priorities as he prepares to fly to the subcontinent.-JAMAL WILSON/ REUTERS

The deeper purpose of the bargain is obviously to secure American sustenance in meeting the challenge of terrorism that Pakistan poses. But this gain, even if it is won, could prove transient. More durable would be the dent that unconditional accession t o the CTBT would cause to India's global posture on disarmament.

Ultimately, the reality of the moment is that the BJP-led Government is seeking accession to the CTBT only in order to proceed with its nuclear weaponisation programme. This is as good a comment as any on the efficacy of the CTBT as a disarmament obligat ion. Campaigners for a world free from weapons of mass destruction may see some value in the suspension of nuclear explosive testing. They overlook the fact that the global climate for the disarmament dialogue is perhaps at its worst in decades, followin g the U.S.' reckless decision to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to the doorsteps of Russia and its resumption of tests on an anti-ballistic missile system.

A further corollary to the NPT-CTBT duet would be the formulation of an agreement cutting off production of fissile material. A Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), in fact, is in the process of negotiation at the Conference on Disarmament (C.D.) in Ge neva - the very forum that drafted the CTBT. In stark contrast to the role it has usually played, India today is an ally of the U.S in the C.D. The two countries have made common cause in insisting that existing stockpiles of fissile material should be e xcluded from the scope of a cutoff treaty. In the unseemly haste with which it has embraced this concession and dropped its insistence that the disarmament agenda should have priority over all else in the C.D., India has caused serious damage to its glob al credentials.

After the tenth round of discussions in what has proved an opaque and open-ended "security dialogue", India and the U.S. announced the formation of a joint working group (JWG) to deal with the problem of global terrorism. The JWG will reportedly hold its first meeting in Washington in early February.

General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's Chief Executive.-B.K. BANGASH/ AP

Official circles could barely conceal their sense of gratification at the recognition that the problem that India confronts in Jammu and Kashmir has won entry in the U.S. government's register of global terrorism. The acknowledgment of common interests i s, in the official Indian perception, the first step towards crafting the practical instruments to achieve a shared purpose - eliminating fundamentalist terror.

This joint initiative was followed within days by the visit of a high-power team of U.S. State Department officials to Pakistan. Though the reading in India of the outcome of this visit tended towards hyperbole, there is evidence that Pakistan was clearl y put on notice that certain organisations operating on its territory were beyond the pale of legitimate political activity.

In India's expectations, it was only a short step from this recognition of fact to the characterisation of Pakistan as a state sponsoring and supporting terrorism - a "terrorist state" in U.S. political parlance. But for reasons clearly connected to the historic depth of its engagement in Pakistan, the U.S. seemed at the very threshold of this momentous step to pause and then pull back.

Categorisation as a "terrorist state" would be a traumatic setback for Pakistan, already reduced to parlous economic circumstances. The choking off of all financial sustenance from the U.S. - an action mandated by law for all states characterised as supp orters of terrorism - would in all probability precipitate a rapid meltdown of the Pakistan economy.

If the eruption of animosity against Pakistan following the December 1999 hijack of an Indian Airlines aircraft were to be momentarily set aside, there could be serious anxieties about the consequences of a catastrophic economic collapse in the neighbour hood. But in the current mood, these subtleties of perception are unlikely to have much bearing. The Indian Government today seems anxious to secure American endorsement for its campaign to ostracise Pakistan in global councils. And in the bargain it see ms more than ever willing to sign on to the status of a junior member of the American nuclear imperium.

But substantive action from the U.S. for the ostracism of Pakistan appeared unlikely a whole month after the conclusion of the hijack drama. The focus then shifted to securing a symbolic gesture from the U.S. India is eager to receive Clinton in Delhi in the next few weeks and ensure that there is no similar benediction bestowed upon Pakistan. Pakistan's omission from the presidential itinerary would be definitive affirmation that the military regime currently ensconced in Islamabad is devoid of politic al legitimacy and undeserving of the status of an interlocutor in bilateral dialogue.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott: on with the 'security dialogue'.-KAMAL NARANG

To cast the Musharraf regime out of the circle of legitimate political engagement would be a happy outcome for India. In his first major interview with an Indian newspaper since seizing power in October 1999, Musharraf directly identified Kashmir as the "core issue" in any future engagement with India (The Hindu, January 17). This of course is a routine reiteration of a position that nobody in Pakistan can afford to repudiate. But Musharraf went further. He identified the weak and anaemic tone of the references to Kashmir in the Lahore Declaration of February 1999 as a serious irritant in the Pakistan Army's relations with the government of Nawaz Sharif. Increasingly, it is clear that the military in Pakistan has set itself up as the ultimate ar biter of relations in the subcontinent. A civilian government, even one bolstered by a mammoth parliamentary majority, cannot afford to make even the slightest verbal concession on Kashmir, without inviting upon itself the wrath of the Army.

International ostracism of the Musharraf regime would spare India the onus of dealing with Pakistan in the foreseeable future. This is an end that the foreign policy establishment in India has sought with great ardour to achieve since the military takeov er in Pakistan. The U.S. administration, despite a torrent of media comment, remains divided in its counsels. And to win the ultimate prize of American endorsement, the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government seems willing to sign away India's long-standing comm itments in the global nuclear dialogue.

Since the days of the Bush administration, the U.S. has tended to look at Kashmir in the wider context of its global nuclear non-proliferation concerns. India and Pakistan are not merely two states with a legacy of mutual animosity, they are the most lik ely to disrupt the global nuclear order that the U.S. has been painstakingly seeking to assemble since the end of the Cold War.

A year away from retirement, Clinton would dearly like to take away as a trophy a peace agreement between Syria and Israel. Ranking only slightly lower in his list of priorities is securing the accession of both India and Pakistan to the CTBT. But since the two objectives have been conjoined by the peculiar circumstances prevalent in South Asia, the President probably believes that no useful purpose would be served by eliminating Pakistan from his travel itinerary. Rather, by touching down briefly for a dialogue with Musharraf, he may well win Pakistani accession to the CTBT.

THE Indian Government's stance on the CTBT changed radically when it decided to detonate five nuclear devices in the Rajasthan desert in May 1998. Eager to contain the tide of global outrage against the act, the Government announced a moratorium on furth er nuclear testing and promised to convert voluntary restraint into a de jure obligation. This was as clear a signal as any from Prime Minister Vajpayee's inner circle that he would be willing to put his signature to the CTBT, provided domestic po litical opinion proved acquiescent. This matched the U.S demand that India sign on unconditionally and then seek redress for its other grievances in the realm of national security.

This seemingly easy option has never found any takers in India. A growing body of political opinion now believes that the nuclear option is integral to national security and cannot be subject to any manner of restraint at this stage in the development of India's capability. The more principled opposition comes from the Left, which believes - for good reason - that the CTBT is an imperfect instrument of global disarmament. Far from serving the common purpose of securing the world against weapons of mass destruction, it would only make the world safe for nuclear blackmail by a few countries. Indeed, at the decisive phase of the negotiations, India relied upon this position - rather than the more narrow purpose of "national security" - in order to justify its rejection of the CTBT.

The Government, under the guidance of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), has sought to efface this record of commitment to the cause of nuclear disarmament and cut through the various irreconcilable postures that have emerged on the CTBT by pro posing a draft Indian nuclear doctrine (dIND). Formulated in August 1999, the dIND comprises a conglomerate of principles that seeks to be all things to all people. It commits India to the maintenance of a credible nuclear deterrent force and forswears t he first use of nuclear weapons. It places emphasis on "survivability" and "second-strike capability", with all its attendant technical requirements - a space-based surveillance and early-warning system and a triad of land, sea and air-based platforms fo r launching nuclear weapons. And after all this, the dIND, rather incongruously, reaffirms India's commitment to global nuclear disarmament.

Expectedly, the dIND was the least welcome news in Washington, where it was described as "unhelpful" to the cause of nuclear arms control. On the parallel track, the security dialogue had been proceeding through periodic meetings between External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Clearly, from the Government's point of view the objective was to secure favourable terms for accession to the CTBT. On current evidence, though, the security dialogue would appea r to be an exercise in futility.

As far back as November 1998, Talbott had outlined the principles that were guiding the U.S. in the new phase of its engagement in South Asia. Far from being defined in terms of the CTBT, these principles were framed in reference to the NPT. The goal, sa id Talbott, was "universal adherence" to the NPT. The U.S. would not, in other words, "concede even by implication that India and Pakistan have established themselves as nuclear weapons states under the NPT... Unless and until they disavow nuclear weapon s and accept safeguards on all their nuclear activities, they will continue to forfeit the full recognition and benefits that accrue to members in good standing of the NPT."

This did not mean that the U.S. was about to embark upon a course of coercion to obtain the immediate application of the NPT to India and Pakistan. The approach rather was more subtle, since the U.S. recognised that "any progress towards a lasting soluti on must be based on India's and Pakistan's perceptions of their own national interests". It was a heartening feature, though, that both countries had pronounced their willingness to remain constrained within "minimal" nuclear postures. The U.S. objective , then, was to ensure that this commitment was honoured - to see that burgeoning geopolitical rivalries did not occasion a destabilising nuclear and missile race in the South Asian region.

In essence, these principles are no different from those spelt out by Talbott in a recent interview to The Hindu (January 14). He said: "In a nutshell, the question is whether India chooses to move towards the international mainstream on a variety of non-proliferation and security issues. Setting aside our preference that India not acquire nuclear weapons, will it engage in a destabilising arms race by dint of its nuclear and missile posture? Will its approach to the question of defence posture b e interpreted by others as provocative and open-ended or as consistent with a common sense definition of minimum credible deterrent... How (India) addresses these questions will influence the decisions others make about their own interactions with India. "

THIS picture of virtual stagnation in American perceptions of the nuclear question in South Asia is reinforced by the two-stage plan recently outlined by John Holum, head of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), to deal with the proliferat ion problem in South Asia. The first was to use President Clinton's visit to persuade India to sign the CTBT. The second was to bring diplomatic pressure to bear, so that India would accede to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state, subject to all the li mitations and constraints associated with that status. Any concession that may have been made by Talbott to India's sovereign right to determine its own nuclear posture was no more than verbal. Holum was absolutely clear that "India's security requiremen ts are best served without a nuclear capability". Further, said Holum, the Clinton administration did not "acquiesce in or accept" India's aspirations to be accorded the status of a nuclear weapons state.

The evidence indicates that India is no nearer an accommodation with the U.S. on nuclear strategic matters. By all indications, though, its anxiety to secure the international isolation and ostracism of Pakistan is very much more acute now than at any ti me in the past. There is an obvious effort under way to reinforce the moral advantage gained during the Kargil conflict with the adverse notice that Pakistan has attracted since the military takeover and the hijack drama of December. The divided counsels within the U.S., though, may well render this strategy ineffective. And the politically tenuous situation in Pakistan and the radical situation of institutional instability that prevails there may well prove hazardous in the extreme.

U.S. Republican Senator Sam Brownback in Islamabad.-B.K. BANGASH / AP

The U.S. is subject to conflicting pressures as far as Pakistan is concerned. There is, on the one hand, the tacit acknowledgment of American complicity in the growth of the parallel system of political legitimacy in Pakistan that the religious seminarie s and fundamentalist militias embody. And there is, on the other hand, the realisation that the public branding of Pakistan as a terrorist state would only destroy whatever residual influence the U.S. has in that country.

Looming over all these is the gloomy prognosis made by the veteran analyst of South Asian affairs, Selig Harrison, that Pakistan could be on the verge of another drastic shift towards the fundamentalist right. Harrison has identified two senior Army offi cers, Lt.Gen. Mohammad Aziz and Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed - respectively the Chief of General Staff and the Director-General of Inter Services Intelligence - as the elements most likely to pose a threat to the Musharraf dispensation. This should be rather b leak news for India, since both were intimately involved in the planning and execution of Pakistan's Kargil adventure. In fact, they were specifically identified by Musharraf in the celebrated telephone intercepts obtained by Indian intelligence as the o fficers who should handle all political briefings since they alone were aware of the "ground situation" in Kargil.

For India, the price of seeking the ostracism of the Musharraf regime could well be the emergence of an even less acceptable variant of the militarist face of Pakistan. In spurning bilateralism and seeking the tutelage of the U.S. in neighbourhood affair s, the Vajpayee Government could be setting the stage for still greater acrimony, mutual suspicion and violence. Defence Minister George Fernandes' definition of a new doctrine of a "limited war" may in this context be unduly optimistic, since the furies of fundamentalism, once unleashed, are not quite so easily limited.

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