"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016

India, Pakistan Conduct Missile Tests

On October 4, Pakistan tested its Hatf-4 (Shaheen-1) surface-to-surface missile, which can carry a 500-kilogram payload 750 kilometers, followed by a second Haft-4 test October 8. The last time Pakistan tested a ballistic missile was in May 2002, when it tested three nuclear-capable missiles. (See ACT, June 2002.)

Hours after the October 4 test, India tested an Akash surface-to-air missile with a range of 25 kilometers. Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said that India would not respond to Pakistan’s second test, Agence France Presse reported October 8.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said October 4 that Washington was “disappointed” by both countries’ tests because they could contribute to a “destabilizing nuclear and missile arms race.”

India and Pakistan each accused the other of having strategic and political motivations while claiming that its own tests were driven by other considerations. Pakistan said it conducted its tests for technical reasons, a Foreign Office spokesman said in an October 7 press conference, while Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon accused India of engaging in an arms race, according to Agence France Presse October 4.

Indian Defense Ministry spokesman P. K. Bandhopadhyay stated that India was testing “different parameters of the missile,” the Associated Press reported October 4. Another government spokesperson dismissed Pakistan’s tests as politically motivated, saying they were “targeted at the forthcoming general elections” in an October 4 statement.

India held elections in its portion of Kashmir—a territory India and Pakistan have repeatedly fought over—in September and October to elect a new regional state assembly. Pakistan held national parliamentary elections October 10 for the first time since President Pervez Musharraf took power three years ago.

In a potentially positive sign for the region, India announced October 16 that it would withdraw some troops from the international border with Pakistan, and Pakistan followed with a similar announcement the next day. Neither country, however, announced plans to reduce the number of forces stationed along the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the two countries.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Daryl G. Kimball

As tensions mounted in recent months between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir, massive troop deployments, cross-border shelling, and tough talk in New Delhi and Islamabad brought the two nuclear-armed rivals to the brink of war. Though leaders in both countries had professed confidence that neither side would deliberately resort to nuclear weapons, they have said in recent days that they were prepared to wage nuclear war.

The international community, including the United States, realized the danger of a deliberate or accidental nuclear exchange between the rival states and sought to remind both sides of the grave consequences of such a war. Mindful of the possibility that Pakistan might be tempted to use nuclear weapons to counter India’s overwhelming conventional forces, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he told the leaders of both states, “I can see very little military, political, or any other kind of justification for the use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons in this day and age may serve some deterrent effect, and so be it. But to think of using them as just another weapon in what might start out as a conventional conflict in this day and age seems…to be something that no side should be contemplating.”

Despite the wisdom of Powell’ s words, the Bush administration apparently subscribes to a different set of rules for its own nuclear arsenal. The Pentagon’s recent nuclear posture review asserts that nuclear weapons “provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and large-scale conventional military force.” The review calls for contingency plans for nuclear strikes against non-nuclear weapon states or in conflicts that may begin as conventional wars. It calls for new nuclear weapons capabilities to destroy targets, such as deeply buried bunkers.

Worse still, in a speech this June President George W. Bush said that the United States will take the battle “to the enemy…and confront the worst threats before they emerge.” This implies that President Bush may be willing to use nuclear weapons not only in retaliation for a WMD attack but also to pre-empt possible WMD attacks. These attempts to reinforce the believability of U.S. threats send mixed and dangerous signals to allies, adversaries, and would-be proliferators.

Current U.S. efforts to enhance the credibility and range of options for the use of nuclear weapons blur the bright line that has separated nuclear and conventional warfare since the bombing of Nagasaki. Coming from the United States, the world’s pre-eminent military and political power, such policies only undermine nonproliferation efforts by suggesting to other states that nuclear weapons are legitimate and necessary tools that can achieve military or political objectives.

To date, no nuclear-weapon state has declared as a matter of national policy that it would respond to or pre-empt the use of chemical or biological weapons with nuclear weapons. It is one thing to threaten a “devastating response” to a biological or chemical weapons attack. It is quite another to say explicitly that the United States is prepared to counter or attempt to pre-empt such attacks by striking with nuclear weapons.

When preventive diplomacy and arms control fail to head off proliferation (and from time to time they will), military force backed with the rule of law and supported by the international community can be the option of last resort. But force should not become the sole or even the primary policy option, and in no case should nuclear weapons be employed. As a primary solution, all nations must work to strengthen, effectively implement, and universally adhere to the nonproliferation norms established by the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

If the Bush administration fails to follow through on U.S. NPT disarmament commitments, and if it renounces its longstanding pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states in good standing with the NPT, some states may see that the rule of law is breaking down and conclude that they too need nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons to ward off attack. And if the United States asserts that pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons against terrorist-related WMD threats is justified, a state such as India might assert the same right and consider launching its own pre-emptive strike against Pakistan.

Rather than explore new roles for U.S. nuclear weapons—even in the name of WMD counter-proliferation—American leaders have a practical and moral responsibility to practice what they preach. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said last month, “These are not just larger weapons, they are distinctively different weapons.” Consequently, the role of nuclear weapons, until they are eliminated, must be strictly limited to deterring a nuclear attack by other nuclear-weapon states.

Avoiding Another Close Call in South Asia

Lee Feinstein

Nuclear weapons have yet to bring about a hoped-for period of détente and stability between India and Pakistan. So far, the subcontinent’s nuclear era has been marked by chronic crises and close calls: India and Pakistan have come close to war three or four times since 1990 and edged toward nuclear war at least twice. The disputes have grown more intense and more frequent with time.

The Bush administration’s skillful crisis diplomacy has reduced tensions in the latest dispute, triggered by last December’s attack on the Indian parliament by Pakistani-based insurgent groups. But the peace is tenuous, and India and Pakistan will continue to test each other’s limits. Sustained American diplomatic engagement needs to supplant crisis management as the main tool for reducing the possibility of war between these two nuclear nations.

A place to begin is to remake the U.S.-sponsored stability talks with India and Pakistan that began after their nuclear tests in May 1998. These talks ran out of steam after President Clinton’s landmark trip to India and Pakistan in March 2000, and they have been in limbo since President Bush took office, although the administration has begun to show more interest since September 11.

America’s transformed relationships with both India and Pakistan would give the United States strong leverage in recalibrated and re-energized talks on regional confidence-building and restraint. In any event, the importance of stability in South Asia to the success of the U.S. anti-terror campaign makes resumption of these negotiations a national security priority, even amid the heavy agenda already facing the administration’s foreign policy team.

Past Nuclear Brushes

The nuclear era on the subcontinent began sometime in the late 1980s or in 1990, depending on who is doing the bookkeeping. India had demonstrated its nuclear capacity with a nuclear test in 1974, and in the fall of 1990 the United States officially acknowledged for the first time that Pakistan had acquired a nuclear capacity. At that time, the first Bush administration effectively cut off U.S. assistance to Islamabad by failing to certify its non-nuclear status, a congressionally mandated condition of U.S. aid at the time.

The first close call of the subcontinent’s nuclear era also took place in 1990, in the first half of the year. Indian interference in Kashmiri politics in the mid-1980s, including the ousting of elected state government representatives and vote-rigging, helped foment a popular uprising in the Vale of Kashmir in 1989, which the Pakistani government actively supported. India wanted to stem infiltration of insurgents into the Indian-held portion of Kashmir and claimed Pakistan was preparing to use the militant attacks to support a broader military intervention. Pakistani charges centered on Indian tank mobilizations and troop reinforcements, which Islamabad alleged were being readied for an attack on Pakistani Kashmir, using a spontaneous insurgency as the pretext. Mobilizations and countermobilizations were scrutinized amid a war of words, including nuclear threats that alarmed Washington.

In May 1990, President Bush dispatched his deputy national security adviser, Robert Gates, to the region. His meetings with Indian and Pakistani officials helped to defuse the situation. India announced the withdrawal of some units that had been deployed earlier in the year, and the crisis passed within a couple of weeks. Subsequent accounts by senior Bush administration officials described the crisis as having edged close to nuclear war.1

The second close call took place in 1999, when Pakistani regular troops seized Indian positions at Kargil, a remote location in the Himalayan mountains, that had been evacuated for the winter. Like the earlier brush with war, this one also required U.S. diplomatic intervention. Bruce Reidel, who was the senior White House adviser on South Asia, has written a compelling account of President Clinton’s personal negotiations with then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that culminated in a dramatic July 4 meeting at Blair House, at which Clinton warned that Pakistan was playing with nuclear war.2

The result of the summit meeting was a short public statement in which a reluctant Sharif agreed that Pakistani troops would return to positions behind the Line of Control, the de facto international border separating Indian- and Pakistani-held Kashmir. Asked to comment about Reidel’s account of the nuclear peril, former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who led U.S. talks with India and Pakistan following the 1998 tests, said the Kargil dispute “had the potential of going all the way.”

There is disagreement about the lessons the Indians and Pakistanis have drawn from the Kashmir crises of 1990 and 1999, but it is clear that they were testing one another’s limits and that the presence of nuclear weapons on both sides bracketed their actions. In the 1990 standoff, India faced a credible nuclear threat from Pakistan for the first time, and the case can be made that Pakistan’s nuclear capacity ultimately tempered India’s reaction. In the second crisis, Pakistan may have acted believing that nuclear weapons would restrain Indian military responses. Pakistan may have also counted on U.S. and world support in light of the risk of nuclear war. It turned out that the United States and almost every other significant power, including Pakistan’s ally, China, laid blame at Islamabad’s doorstep. Isolated and dependent on international goodwill, it was Pakistan’s turn to relent.

The Latest Round

The current crisis has had two phases. The first was triggered by last December’s attack on the Indian parliament. Tensions intensified after a May 14 attack by militants that killed 32 people in Jammu, mostly the families of Indian soldiers. Islamic militants also killed Abdul Ghani Lone, a long-time Kashmiri voice of moderation. Meanwhile, sectarian violence by Hindus against Muslims in the western Indian state of Gujarat stoked tensions further. By the spring, one million Indian and Pakistani troops had been facing off for six months, amid the daily exchange of artillery fire and increasingly inflamed rhetoric on both sides. As in 1990 and 1999, the United States intervened diplomatically to avert war, making George W. Bush the third U.S. president in a row to be drawn into the Kashmir dispute.

By the third week of May, when Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said in a speech to soldiers that the time was right for a decisive battle, the full weight of U.S. diplomacy had swung into action. Secretary of State Colin Powell dispatched his deputy, Richard Armitage, to the region in June and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited the region the following week. President Bush also made a rare call to both leaders. A supporting international cast backed the parade of U.S. officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The flurry of emergency activity yielded a commitment by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to stop permanently infiltration by Islamic militants into India and a pledge to dismantle the camps out of which the militants train and operate. India responded to Musharraf’s guarantee after having satisfied itself that he had, in fact, delivered the order to stop infiltration and that it was being carried out. The modest, but significant, Indian response has so far included resumption of commercial flights between India and Pakistan, reassignment of a high commissioner to Islamabad, and reduction of Indian naval forces in the region. Major troop reductions are not expected on either side before Kashmiri elections in October and national parliamentary elections in Pakistan the same month. By that time, it is hoped, the onset of winter will chill the war fever.

We will have to wait for a future former administration official to tell us how close the U.S. government believed both sides came to nuclear war. Many U.S. officials, including Rumsfeld, publicly downplayed the risk of nuclear war. Powell was more circumspect, saying that “to think of using [nuclear weapons] as just another weapon in what might start out as a conventional conflict in this day and age seems to me to be something that no side should be contemplating.” What we do know is that the State Department authorized the withdrawal of nonessential embassy personnel and their dependents from India and that for the first time it advised Americans traveling in India to leave. (American visitors to Pakistan had been warned and nonessential personnel withdrawn from Pakistan months earlier because of terrorist threats.)

The impact of the latest crisis on Indian and Pakistani official thinking also remains uncertain.

Musharraf may well conclude that—particularly in the current climate—the world will not support terrorist tactics even to redress the legitimate human rights and democracy grievances of Kashmiris. Hopefully, the combined effect of Kargil, where the world community opposed aggressive tactics by Pakistani regular troops, and the current crisis, where the world denounced attacks by militants, will demonstrate to Pakistan that an honorable outcome can be reached only through diplomatic means. It is significant that Musharraf took the first step since he is the Pakistani official widely believed to be the architect of the Kargil operation.

Recent statements by the Pakistani leadership also point to a possible softening of Islamabad’s earlier rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons. In a June 1 interview with CNN, Musharraf said, “I don’t think either side is that irresponsible to go to that limit. …[A]ny sane individual cannot even think of going into this unconventional mode, whatever the pressures.” A senior Pakistani embassy official said this statement was meant as a signal to India: although Pakistan would not adopt a nuclear no-first-use policy, as India had demanded, it was prepared to lower the nuclear threshold and make clear Pakistan would not resort to nuclear war under the current circumstances.

In New Delhi, the current crisis has further opened India’s eyes to the benefits of an international—and particularly an American—role in Kashmir now that the world has again taken its side in the dispute. India, in fact, may now have excessively high expectations about what U.S. diplomacy can deliver, depending on Washington to bail it out when things get hairy. Many believe India’s ratcheting up of the war rhetoric in April and May was a pressure tactic aimed as much at Washington as at Islamabad. That said, India is still placing conditions on direct talks with Pakistan on Kashmir, and it continues to resist a supportive third-party role for the United States or others in establishing a political process to deal with the 55-year-old dispute.

Many Indian officials continue to deride international concern about the risk of nuclear war in South Asia as if India and Pakistan, unlike the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, are somehow immune from nuclear risks. The fact that Pakistan has not used nuclear weapons and has backed down in the most recent standoffs seems also to have encouraged aggressive rhetoric in some public Indian statements. Remarks by Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes and Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani implying that India would not be daunted by Pakistan’s nuclear capability were especially worrying.

In the long term, the persistent instability over Kashmir will increase pressures for an arms competition between India and Pakistan. The Indian government will argue a strong and ready nuclear capability is necessary to convince Pakistan of New Delhi’s seriousness and to deter it from launching a nuclear attack. Pakistan, in response, will want to maintain nuclear parity with India so as not to be intimidated.

The Stability Talks

If we are lucky, the most recent close call in South Asia will give impetus to a renewal and recalibration of U.S.-sponsored stability talks in the region. The Clinton-era talks were pathbreaking but produced limited concrete results and, at first glance, seemingly little incentive to continue them into the next presidency. A closer look, however, suggests their potential, particularly given Washington’s strong relations with both India and Pakistan since September 11.

From 1998 through President Clinton’s visit to Pakistan and India in March 2000, the first by an American president in a generation, the Clinton administration conducted an intense and unprecedented series of high-level talks with India and Pakistan on stability in the subcontinent.

The talks were ignited by India’s nuclear tests conducted in the Pokhran desert on May 11 and May 13. The United States had long been concerned about the prospect of Indian nuclear tests but two months earlier had received high-level public and private assurances that the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government “would continue to show restraint in the nonproliferation field, and would do nothing to surprise us.”3 As a result, the timing of the tests took the intelligence community by surprise, and the seventh floor of the State Department learned of the explosions on the morning of May 11 from a public announcement by the Indian government.

After the tests, President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright asked Strobe Talbott, with long arms control expertise in and out of government, to lead an interagency effort to develop the American response. Talbott commanded the authority and prestige that would prove particularly important with a status-conscious Indian Foreign Ministry and a BJP government hungry for international recognition. He assembled a core group of State Department and White House officials, whose first agenda item focused on persuading Pakistan not to respond in kind to India’s nuclear tests—a difficult task given a decade of deterioration in U.S.-Pakistan relations.

The focus of the two-week campaign was a high-level delegation to Islamabad, led by Talbott, that also included General Anthony Zinni, who had fostered good relations with Pakistan as head of U.S. Central Command; Bruce Reidel of the National Security Council; Robert Einhorn, who directed the administration’s nonproliferation policy; and Rick Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. The team offered Islamabad a substantial aid package and a promise of closer ties if it would forgo testing. But the U.S. delegation was unable to sway Pakistan, despite what appeared to be genuine misgivings about testing by Nawaz Sharif, as well as by Pakistani diplomats in Washington.

The die had already been cast, and Pakistan soon declared that on May 28 and May 30 it had conducted six nuclear tests, one more than India had announced earlier that month.

U.S. policy then shifted to promoting restraint on the subcontinent through a series of high-level and expert meetings with India and Pakistan. India selected Jaswant Singh to be Talbott’s partner at the talks. Ultra-urbane and personally close to Vajpayee, Singh was a worthy interlocutor for Talbott, one of Bill Clinton’s roommates at Oxford. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s designated envoy to the United States would change over the course of the discussions, and Washington would use different channels to convey its message.

In Washington, Talbott’s core group settled on a strategy of pursuing five goals, or “benchmarks,” for India and Pakistan backed by a diplomatic strategy to build international support behind them. In the weeks following the nuclear tests, the UN Security Council, the G-8, and a supporting group of states that had ended or renounced nuclear programs, ranging from Argentina to Ukraine, also embraced the pursuit of these goals in South Asia:

  • signature and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which had been negotiated three years earlier;
  • an end to production of fissile material for weapons;
  • stricter export controls;
  • nondeployment of nuclear weapons and the missiles and aircraft to deliver them; and
  • confidence-building measures to reduce the risk of war over Kashmir.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Shortly after they conducted their nuclear tests, both India and Pakistan adopted voluntary moratoriums on further nuclear testing, which still remain in effect. On the basis of the voluntary halts, and in light of the fact that the test ban treaty would arguably allow either side to resume testing if the other broke its obligations, administration officials judged this to be one of the easier benchmarks to reach. Moreover, it was possibly the most important benchmark politically because it would illustrate that India and Pakistan had taken visible steps toward restraint in deference to world opinion.

The test ban remained out of reach, however. It was generally expected that Pakistan would not go first, unpersuaded by an American appeal to Islamabad to seize the moral high ground. The BJP government told American negotiators that it needed to build a national consensus on the question, given the negative associations surrounding the CTBT, which India opposed at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, where the agreement was finalized. Numerous domestic crises delayed the promised effort to build consensus, and a scheduled debate in the Indian parliament never took place.

The U.S. Senate’s rejection of the CTBT in 1999 then dimmed the prospects for Indian action, and presidential candidate George W. Bush’s opposition to the CTBT further undermined U.S. diplomatic leverage.

Fissile Material Cutoff

Pakistan temporarily removed procedural blocks it had imposed at the Geneva negotiations on a fissile material cutoff. Nonetheless, Islamabad never seriously considered agreeing to a moratorium on production, despite a public declaration by its leading nuclear scientist that Pakistan had already produced sufficient stockpiles of fissile material.

India never seriously entertained a moratorium, either. It was engaged in an effort to expand its capacity to produce bomb-usable materials. India rejected proposals to agree to a halt conditioned on Pakistani agreement. It dismissed a proposal to agree to a cutoff when the other six states that had tested nuclear weapons—the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, and Pakistan—also agreed. And it rejected a proposal to halt production on a “date certain” to be set by India itself.

Export Controls

Neither country has agreed to adopt control lists consistent with international standards governing the export of sensitive items, although there has been a series of important negotiations at the expert level on these issues. India frequently describes its export control procedures as “impeccable,” although they fall short of international standards.

Reports of Pakistani nuclear scientists traveling to the Persian Gulf region, North Korea, and Afghanistan have raised the most serious questions as to the security of Pakistani nuclear and missile secrets. China’s support to Pakistani nuclear programs, directly or through third parties, also remains a concern. China has yet to fulfill its November 2000 commitment to the United States not to assist Pakistan’s missile programs in any way.


Efforts to promote Indian or Pakistani voluntary statements about the future direction of their nuclear programs proved frustrating. The United States sought statements by India to define its self-declared aim of maintaining a “credible minimum deterrent” at the lowest possible levels. But the nuclear doctrine issued by India’s semi-official National Security Advisory Board in August 1999 suggested no end to India’s nuclear plans; in fact, it recommended an Indian triad of nuclear-capable submarines, aircraft, and missiles.

Pakistan exchanged detailed papers with U.S. negotiators on nondeployment of nuclear weapons, but they were never developed into concrete proposals. On this benchmark, as with the others, Pakistan declined to go first because of Nawaz Sharif’s tenuous grip on power.

Confidence-Building Measures

India and Pakistan may have come closest to making progress on confidence-building measures related to Kashmir. Prime Minister Vajpayee took a historic bus trip to Lahore in 1999, which culminated in a declaration that included a substantial list of measures to be adopted and a tentative framework for negotiating and implementing them. Progress toward these measures, however, was undone by the Kargil operation, which left Vajpayee feeling double- crossed. Musharraf’s overthrow of Nawaz Sharif was the final nail in the coffin.

The stability talks failed to make more progress toward the benchmarks for several reasons. The Indian government ran out the clock on the Clinton administration, which was almost halfway through its second term by the time of the May 1998 nuclear tests. In addition, nuclear security competed with other foreign policy priorities: forging a stronger relationship with India on one hand and dealing with the consequences of Pakistan’s crisis of governance—links to terrorism and a military coup—on the other. In addition, the improvement in U.S.-Indian relations was still in the trial phase, and U.S. relations with Pakistan were at a low point.

An earlier, more concentrated focus on the first benchmark—joining the CTBT—might have produced a better, if narrower, outcome for the United States, leading to Indian and Pakistani signature and possibly adherence to the test ban. That said, although the CTBT had high political visibility, some of the other benchmarks—notably, nondeployment and confidence-building measures—were more important in terms of promoting stability in the region.

No one realistically expected India or Pakistan to move quickly or easily to rein in their nuclear programs after tit-for-tat nuclear test explosions and amid recurring tensions over Kashmir. It took the United States and the Soviet Union many years to undertake commitments of substantially less reach, and it was clear that success toward the benchmarks would require patient diplomacy over a sustained period.

The stability talks did produce a qualified success in terms of international cooperation on proliferation issues. In addition to the UN and G-8 resolutions supporting stability and security on the subcontinent, the G-7 agreed in June 1998 to postpone most World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans (those covering “non-basic human needs”) to India and Pakistan until there was demonstrated progress toward the benchmarks. These multilateral sanctions, though continually tested and occasionally compromised, held longer than any other multilateral restrictions, including those imposed against China after the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The most important outcome of the talks, however, was that they created the foundation for the transformational improvement in relations with India and possibly with Pakistan as well. Like the early arms control talks between the United States and the Soviet Union, discussions between the United States and India on the narrow topic of stability secured an opening for a broader and deeper dialogue at high levels. This was critical not just for a deeper U.S.-India partnership, but also, in the end, the best route to achieving U.S. nonproliferation goals. By the time of President Clinton’s visit to India, the two countries had agreed to disagree on the nuclear issue. Relations would continue to improve on the basis of shared values and interests, including a commitment to democracy. That said, the nuclear issue would place an upper limit on the extent of bilateral cooperation.

Arguably, the intermittent communications with Pakistan—including President Clinton’s five-hour stopover in Islamabad to meet with Musharraf, during which cooperation on terrorism was discussed—helped sensitize Pakistan to U.S. concerns and eased its decision after September 11 to side with the United States in the anti-terror campaign.

The Potential of New Talks

The Bush administration entered office with a very different approach to conflict prevention in South Asia and around the world.

As a general principle, the administration views weapons proliferation as inevitable. It has judged diplomatic efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction to be, at best, well intentioned but unlikely to affect decision-making by leaders determined to acquire them. As a result, the administration has steered U.S. policy toward dealing with the consequences of proliferation, rather than preventing it in the first place. To this end, the administration has focused on missile defense, deterrence, and pre-emption at the expense of complementary diplomatic tools, including international agreements, bilateral understandings, sanctions, and political pressure.

In South Asia, this approach called into question the administration’s commitment to the stability talks, even though Washington continued to raise some of the benchmarks in bilateral discussions conducted in the first half of 2001. The Bush administration also began discussions early in its term on removing the nuclear-related sanctions on both countries, particularly India, and delinked this decision from progress toward the benchmarks. Of course, after the terrorist attacks, the United States correctly lifted all nuclear-related sanctions on both countries, leaving in place only limited missile- and democracy-related sanctions on Islamabad.

The Bush administration now has an unprecedented opportunity to promote stability and security on the subcontinent. For the first time since partition, the United States has good relations with India and Pakistan at the same time. U.S. leverage is reinforced by Pakistan’s need for U.S. and international assistance and India’s strong desire to maintain warm relations with the West and foster foreign trade and investment. The lifting of the sanctions can be used to increase Washington’s influence with New Delhi and Islamabad.

It is not too late to help shape the subcontinent’s political-military future. Although India and Pakistan have now both demonstrated a nuclear capacity, the future direction of their nuclear and missile programs is still very much open. Such key questions as how many and what type of weapons each plans to build; how they plan to deliver those weapons; what doctrines they will adopt to govern their potential use; whether they would be operationally deployed; and the type of command and control system each chooses to build all remain to be decided. U.S. and international diplomacy can still affect the outcome.

Refocused U.S. stability talks with India and Pakistan should focus on three goals: preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands; averting conflict between India and Pakistan and reducing the risk of a nuclear war; and mitigating negative side effects on countries outside South Asia that are flirting with the nuclear option.

Safeguarding Nuclear Weapons

This goal overlaps with the third benchmark of the earlier stability talks—establishing solid export controls in both India and Pakistan. In light of concerns about the stability of Pakistan and given the post-September 11 partnership between the United States and Pakistan, it is now also possible to consider U.S.-Pakistani and U.S.-Indian cooperation akin to the successful Cooperative Threat Reduction program with Russia. Cooperation might include a number of steps:

  • sharing of organizational “best practices,” including personnel reliability programs, site security, and rapid-response teams;
  • provision of nonsensitive equipment, including monitoring equipment for vaults, tracking equipment for nuclear weapons, and communications equipment; and
  • table-top exercises to assist in identifying potential vulnerabilities and requirements.4

Preliminary discussions along these lines have taken place between the United States and Pakistan, and pending legislation in Congress would require the administration to report on such cooperation and, possibly, provide money to support it.

Washington should continue to withhold certain technologies and components consistent with its legal obligations, including the prohibition in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty “not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapons State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” This prohibition would extend both to assistance that might help either country operationalize its nuclear weapons and to safety and security devices, such as permissive action links, intrinsic to advanced U.S. weapons designs. U.S. legal obligations necessarily complicate security cooperation with Pakistan and India, but they do not need to block it.

Of course, in Pakistan the best approach for preventing instability—and therefore weapons proliferation—is to address Islamabad’s long-standing crisis of governance through international assistance and the promotion of civil society, the rule of law, and democracy.

Averting War

The next U.S. goal is to develop policies to reduce the risks of conventional war between India and Pakistan; to dampen pressures for a nuclear and missile arms competition on the subcontinent; and to reduce the risks of deliberate, accidental, or inadvertent nuclear war. This objective incorporates two of the benchmarks from the earlier stability talks—nondeployment and confidence-building measures—and should incorporate a third dimension: expert and military-to-military discussions to share experiences and information about the routes to nuclear escalation.

The Lahore Declaration of 1999 contains a helpful list of useful confidence-building measures. However, the legacy of that document has made it a political hot potato. Prime Minister Vajpayee is leery because the “spirit of Lahore” was tainted by Pakistan’s military actions in Kargil. President Musharraf dislikes the Lahore Document because it was concluded by Nawaz Sharif, the man he ousted. Getting these confidence-building measures on track is critical.

The most important confidence-building measure, however, is continued U.S. engagement in the region to encourage direct talks between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. The United States does not want to mediate—and India will not permit it to do so—but the truth is the United States is, and must continue to be, deeply involved. Without a political process, India and Pakistan will approach the brink of war again.
To prevent accidental or inadvertent nuclear war, the United States should consider unclassified dialogues among retired officials to think through possible pathways to a nuclear crisis. Additionally, discussions between U.S. military officers and their Indian and Pakistani counterparts might clarify the issue of command and control in a crisis. Such talks would be especially timely in Pakistan, where there is a renewed relationship between U.S. and Pakistani military officers after a decade-long interruption.

Concerning nondeployment, Indian officials have said the ambitious report of the National Security Advisory Board is unofficial, but they should be encouraged to be more specific about their plans. In this regard, the United States should encourage India and Pakistan to define their professed goal of a “credible minimum deterrent” at the lowest possible level. There need not be a bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan, but a voluntary elaboration of each government’s views on its minimum deterrent posture would be useful. Pakistan might build on recent statements by President Musharraf to adopt a position that depicts nuclear weapons as “weapons of last resort,” borrowing language from NATO’s 1990 London Declaration. Another helpful step would be reaffirmation by both sides of their voluntary moratoriums on nuclear testing, although Washington should not exert much leverage on behalf of a pledge both sides continue to uphold.

Mitigating Side Effects

The United States is at a critical juncture in the effort to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and developments on the subcontinent will have a significant impact on the perceptions and decisions of other key states. The goal is to avoid a “cascading effect” whereby second-tier states feel increasingly exposed by their earlier decision to forego nuclear weapons.

In the Middle East, particularly in Iran and Egypt, policymakers have taken notice of Pakistan’s “defiance” of American pressure and Washington’s inability to reverse Islamabad’s decision and seeming unwillingness to make it pay a heavy price.5 In East Asia, India’s future actions will affect China’s strategic choices and could also reopen the door to wider nuclear and missile cooperation with Pakistan, which would affect and be affected by India’s reaction. China’s decisions will also impact decision-making in Japan, whose non-nuclear status is being tested in the context of contemplated changes to Tokyo’s post-war constitution. Finally, developments in South Asia could impact progress toward a unified and nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

The United States must not be perceived as dismissing these concerns in light of the priorities of the anti-terror campaign but, instead, adapt its approach to the new realities.

The Longer Term

To build stability in South Asia, Pakistan needs to keep its word in ending support for militants, preventing infiltration across the Line of Control, dismantling terrorist training camps, and taking other steps to crack down on terrorists. Perhaps most importantly, President Musharraf must take full advantage of the current international support he has to address his country’s deepening crisis of governance, including improving living and educational standards and making a commitment to democracy. Addressing Kashmir will require difficult compromises for Pakistan down the road. But painful tradeoffs can be compensated with the understanding that the best guarantor of Kashmiri dignity is a prosperous and stable Pakistan committed to the rule of law.

India cannot afford to reject direct talks with Pakistan about Kashmir for much longer. Washington should build on New Delhi’s new openness to internationalization of the issue by sustaining an active third-party role, with the backing of the world community, in pushing India and Pakistan toward a political process.

Finally, the United States must work with both countries to undertake measures to reduce the risk of war and escalation between nuclear neighbors. Crisis diplomacy has averted war in South Asia again, but the underlying problems remain. Sustained American diplomatic engagement needs to supplant crisis diplomacy as Washington’s main tool for reducing the risk of war between these two nuclear nations. Otherwise, if and when the next Indian-Pakistani crisis erupts, we may not be so lucky.

1. For a detailed account, see Kanti P. Bajpai, ed., Brasstacks and Beyond: Perceptions and Management of Crisis in South Asia (University of Illinois, 1995).
2. Bruce Reidel, “American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House,” Center for the Advanced Study of India, Policy Paper Series, May 2002.
3. Statement of Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs Karl F. Inderfurth before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, May 13, 1998.
4. For a comprehensive list of recommendations, see Lewis A. Dunn, “Balancing Nuclear Security and Nonproliferation in South Asia,” in Lee Feinstein, ed., A New Equation: U.S. Policy Toward India and Pakistan After September 11, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Working Paper No. 27, May 2002.
5. See Ibrahim A. Karawan, “Nuclear Temptations: The Middle East as a Case Study,” paper prepared for the 42nd Stanley Foundation Strategies for Peace Conference, Airlie House, Virginia, October 2002.

Lee Feinstein, former deputy director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, was a member of the deputy secretary of state’s team charged with developing the U.S. response to the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan. He will join the Council on Foreign Relations as a senior fellow in July.


Nuclear weapons have yet to bring about a hoped-for period of détente and stability between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan Tests Three Nuclear-Capable Ballistic Missiles

June 2002

By Alex Wagner

Pakistan tested three different nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in May—its first tests since 1999. The tests come during a tense standoff between the Indian and Pakistani militaries over the disputed province of Kashmir, prompting international concern that if war breaks out, it could result in a nuclear exchange.

On May 24, Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon announced that his country would conduct a series of “routine” missile tests that were “part of technical requirements” and unrelated to the military confrontation in Kashmir. Islamabad gave advance notice of the tests to India, the United States, and several other regional and European states.

The following day, Pakistan flight-tested for the third time its 1,300-kilometer-range, liquid-fueled, road-mobile Haft-V missile, also known as the Ghauri. At a May 25 press conference, Memon said the test “reinforced the effectiveness and technical excellence of Pakistan’s indigenous missile technology.”

However, a December 2001 CIA report implied that the missile is actually a North Korean Nodong-1. Shortly after the test, Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao also disputed Pakistan’s claim that it had indigenously developed the missile, claiming, “Pakistan has acquired the technology and the material for its missiles program clandestinely.”

On May 26, Pakistan tested its 290-kilometer-range, solid-fueled, mobile Hatf-3 missile, a first for that particular missile, according to Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations Directorate. The directorate said the missile is also called the Ghaznavi, a name that the U.S. Defense Department has previously attributed to a 2000-kilometer, solid-fueled missile that is similar or perhaps identical to Pakistan’s Shaheen-2.

Two days later, Pakistan completed its testing series by firing a 180-kilometer-range, solid-fueled, mobile missile known as the Haft-2, or Abdali.

India responded with a quick but relatively muted reaction. At a May 24 press conference, Rao downplayed the forthcoming tests, saying they were “missile antics, clearly targeted at the domestic audience in Pakistan.” Rao added, “One fails to understand why Pakistan has chosen this moment to deplete one of the ready-made missiles in its stock.”

Even though the tests came at a time of high tension, the South Asian rivals appear to have abandoned their previous tit-for-tat missile-testing cycle. India has yet to respond to this series of tests with missile flight tests of its own, and Pakistan did not conduct tests in response to India’s January 2001 and January 2002 missile tests.

Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed “disappointment” at Pakistan’s decision to conduct missile tests amid such high tensions. In a May 26 interview on CNN’s Late Edition, Powell acknowledged that although the testing series “doesn’t seem to have caused the crisis to get any worse,” the region “just didn’t need this kind of activity at this time.”

Two days before Powell’s remarks, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States will “continue to urge both sides to take steps to restrain their missile programs and their nuclear weapons programs.” These steps could include not deploying operational nuclear-armed missiles and restarting a dialogue on “confidence-building measures that could reduce the likelihood that any such weapons ever be used.”

The two sides suspended this dialogue in May 1999, when a military altercation in the mountains above Kargil, Kashmir, heated up. According to a recent paper by Bruce Riedel, a senior director in the Clinton administration’s National Security Council, U.S. officials had received information that Pakistan’s military was preparing to arm its missiles with nuclear warheads during that crisis, without the knowledge of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan Tests Three Nuclear-Capable Ballistic Missiles

Lugar Seeks to Expand Threat Reduction's Reach

April 2002

By Philipp C. Bleek

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced legislation March 18 that would allow the Defense Department to pursue Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) projects outside the former Soviet Union.

Under the terms of the legislation, the secretary of defense would be authorized to use up to $50 million in unspent CTR funds for “proliferation threat reduction projects and activities outside the states of the former Soviet Union.” Before undertaking such efforts, the secretary would have to determine that they would either help to resolve a “critical emerging proliferation threat” or allow the United States to “take advantage of opportunities to achieve long-standing…nonproliferation goals.”

Lugar foreshadowed the legislation’s introduction in a March 4 address to the Council on Foreign Relations in which he suggested “globalizing the Nunn-Lugar program,” the informal term for the CTR projects, which aim to help secure and downsize the nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union.

In his address, Lugar cited India and Pakistan as potential “future partners in…threat reduction programs focused on improving the safety and security of weapons, materials, and delivery vehicles of mass destruction.” Lugar explained that “under the right conditions and with the requisite transparency, such programs would be a great service to U.S. national security interests.”

Lugar said the pending legislation was only a “first step” and said that “a satisfactory level of accountability, transparency, and safety can and must be established in every nation with a WMD [weapons of mass destruction] program.” Recognizing that many nations are unlikely to allow the United States access to their sensitive facilities, Lugar said that when countries “resist such accountability…then NATO nations should be prepared to apply all their collective diplomatic and economic power, as well as military force.”

Asked whether Lugar was calling for prompt action against such states, a member of the senator’s staff said March 26 that, although Lugar would like to implement the proposals immediately and fully, he is cognizant that “the United States with all of its allies fully engaged could not apply these standards to every country in the world where they would need to be applied now or in the near future.” Instead, the staff member indicated the senator was arguing that the United States needs to “set priorities” and to “begin to apply all of our powers to these situations.”

 Lugar Seeks to Expand Threat Reduction's Reach

Šumit Ganguly’s Conflict Unending

J. Peter Scoblic

After languishing for a decade as the stepchild of post-Cold War American foreign policy, Pakistan became a top U.S. priority last fall as Washington sought to eliminate Pakistan’s support for terrorism and secure its help in the war against Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.

The renewed attention to South Asia’s strategic importance has also brought renewed attention to India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, particularly after December 13, when the bombing of the Indian parliament led to a dramatic increase in tensions between Islamabad and New Dehli. Even with the war on terror ongoing, the region Bill Clinton once referred to as “the most dangerous place on Earth” seemed as though it might still be just that.

Months later, thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops remain on high alert along the Line of Control, the de facto international border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Testifying before the Senate in February, CIA Director George Tenet said that the Bush administration is “deeply concerned” that if war broke out between India and Pakistan, it could quickly escalate into a nuclear conflict.

But for all the focused attention—indeed perhaps in part because of it—the sources of the India-Pakistan conflict often remain obscured to the nonexpert by the clouds of pressing crises. Into this vague understanding strides the refreshingly direct Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947, a book that manages to explicate the origins and evolution of South Asian political and military strife in a manner that is both straightforward and nuanced—accessible to the neophyte but valuable to the expert.

Written by Šumit Ganguly, a professor of Asian studies and government at the University of Texas at Austin, Conflict Unending opens by noting that existing explanations for the intractable conflict between India and Pakistan are wanting. Neither religion nor the legacy of colonialism nor the Cold War machinations of the superpowers can fully account for the inception and endurance of Indo-Pakistani animosity.

Ganguly argues that India and Pakistan’s rivalry is undergirded by a fundamental difference in their conceptions of state-building, with Pakistan envisioning itself as the home for South Asia’s Muslims and India trying to fashion a state based on civic nationalism. That dichotomy was illuminated and solidified by the first conflict over Kashmir in 1947-1948, in which both India and Pakistan saw not just land but their very identities at stake, and the region remains the focus of the countries’ antagonism to this day.

But as Ganguly points out, a difference in founding principles, although perhaps setting the stage for confrontation, does not explain why war broke out when it did four times over the next 50 years. War between India and Pakistan, Ganguly writes, has been most often precipitated by windows of opportunity that Pakistan found attractive because of a “false optimism” and the strategic miscalculation that resulted—miscalculation encouraged by the “inability of the Pakistani armed forces to engage in an open and honest discussion of Pakistan’s political limitations, its economic weakness, and its social flaws.” (The exception is the 1971 war, in which India took advantage of its own window of opportunity to engage Pakistan while it was in the midst of civil war.)

The book then explores the first and second wars over Kashmir; the 1971 war, which led to the creation of Bangladesh; and the 1999 crisis in Kargil. Throughout, the history presented is brought into relief not only by Ganguly’s thesis, which will deepen political scientists’ understanding of the region and of war in general, but also by his cognizance of how important it is for policymakers today to understand the sources of this conflict. The result is a book that is both scholarly and immediately pertinent.

One of the book’s clear raisons d’etre is the catastrophe that would result from even a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, and Ganguly devotes a chapter specifically to the nuclear aspect of Indo-Pakistani relations. But it is his analysis of the 1999 conflict in Kargil that most incisively explores the ramifications of nuclear weapons on South Asian conflict. Ganguly challenges the notion, often unquestioned, that the nuclear tests of May 1998 were destabilizing for the subcontinent, noting that they were simply a public affirmation of a capability India and Pakistan had had for many years.

Challenging arms control beliefs further, Ganguly suggests that the nuclear dimension may have actually generated an element of stability, explicitly discouraging both sides from full escalation. Yet he maintains that paradoxically because of that ceiling “[E]ach side may feel tempted to probe in peripheral areas to test the resolve of the other side, secure in the belief that the likelihood of escalation is both controllable and calculable.” Given the book’s emphasis on Pakistan’s repeated strategic miscalculation, this is a frightening prospect, and Ganguly rightly sees an important place for confidence-building measures between New Dehli and Islamabad.

More than 50 years after partition and independence, there has been little progress in the Indo-Pakistani relationship, and as Ganguly writes, “the vexed question of Kashmir persists.” But one changed variable is the renewed U.S. participation in the region, which Ganguly welcomes and which could very well alter the prospects for peace. Given the presence of nuclear weapons and the exigencies of the war on terror, the stakes of U.S. involvement in South Asia are high for both the region and the world, making Conflict Unending’s clear account of the core motivations at work both timely and significant.

In Bookstores
Author: Šumit Ganguly

Title: Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947

Publisher: Columbia University Press

Date: 2002

Pages: 190

List Price: $18.50


A Review of Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947 by Šumit Ganguly

U.S. Military Package for Pakistan Set

As part of its ongoing war against terrorism, the United States announced November 6 that it would supply Pakistan with $73 million in military aid to help Islamabad improve its border security. However, Secretary of State Colin Powell later ruled out the possibility that the United States would provide Pakistan with the F-16 fighter aircraft it has long sought.

A State Department official interviewed November 20 said the package, which will be administered by the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, would largely consist of five Huey utility helicopters, trucks, water tankers, communications and night-vision equipment, as well as some type of fixed-wing surveillance aircraft. The equipment will be transferred to nonmilitary units deployed along Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan and along the coast of the Arabian Sea. Another U.S. government official described the package as not being militarily significant and ventured that the equipment would not anger India, a longtime rival of Pakistan.

President George W. Bush cleared the way for delivery of U.S. arms and military assistance to Pakistan on September 22 and October 27 when he waived separate sets of sanctions prohibiting such exports to Pakistan. The United States had imposed sanctions on Pakistan for its development and testing of nuclear weapons, as well as for the October 1999 military coup by which current Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf took power.

Although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld emphasized November 6 that the United States is “interested in strengthening military-to-military ties with Pakistan and India,” Powell indicated November 11 that there were limits to what U.S. weaponry would be made available to Pakistan. Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Powell said the United States has “no plans now” to transfer F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan, even though Musharraf has requested them. Washington halted the delivery of 28 F-16 fighters to Islamabad in 1990, when U.S. legislation mandated sanctions because President George H. W. Bush could no longer certify that Pakistan did not have a “nuclear explosive device.”

Beyond the Nuclear Dimension: Forging Stability in South Asia

Šumit Ganguly

As the United States has prosecuted its war against the Taliban, worked to destroy al Qaeda’s network and assets, and tried to get its hands on Osama bin Laden, the world has turned its long-overdue attention to Pakistan’s own stability and domestic order and to the risks inherent in the nuclear weapons on the South Asian subcontinent. Among the concerns that have been expressed are deep misgivings about the security and safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.1 Such concerns are entirely understandable: Pakistan, like India, remains outside the ambit of any multilateral nuclear inspection or non-proliferation framework. Yet, popular commentary to the contrary notwithstanding, Pakistan is not yet on a nuclear precipice, and South Asia is not on the brink of nuclear catastrophe.

This is not to reject the existence of nuclear danger in South Asia, where two adversaries with incipient nuclear arsenals face each other over a disputed border. But, to the extent that there is a nuclear threat, it lies not in the vulnerability of Pakistan’s arsenal to domestic discord but rather in the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan over the fate of Kashmir. This problem has deep roots; to further its security goals and lower regional nuclear tensions, the United States must commit to a long-term engagement in the region—moving beyond its traditionally narrow focus on non-proliferation issues and encouraging fundamental political and civil reform that will permit a constructive dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Pakistan’s Precipice

Two fears about Pakistan’s nuclear control are most frequently expressed.2 The first suggests a breakdown of the politico-military order in Pakistan and the concomitant loss of control over the country’s nuclear weapons infrastructure. This scenario, although not completely implausible, is nevertheless unlikely. Unless the Pakistani military utterly fragments and a rogue element seizes control of the state, the likelihood of the unauthorized possession of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons infrastructure is extremely small.3 Personal and ideological differences do exist within the ranks of the Pakistani military. Nevertheless, unless a substantial number of the key corps commanders within the military challenge General Pervez Musharraf’s writ, the military’s firm grip on the state will remain in place. There is no evidence to suggest that such disaffection with Musharraf is rife, especially after his masterful, if not entirely ingenuous, performance during his November visit to the United States.

A variant of this scenario holds that radical supporters of the Taliban and of bin Laden within Pakistani society may seize control of these weapons. This possibility, too, is quite remote. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons infrastructure is quite dispersed and the facilities well guarded. Furthermore, even in the unlikely event that renegade groups managed to breach the security of one or more installations, they would, in all likelihood, lack the technical sophistication to use the weapons. Long before the events of September 11, about four months after his October 1999 bloodless coup against the civilian prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf had established a National Command Authority under the aegis of the military to maintain control over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons facilities. He also created a special Strategic Planning Division within the nuclear program, which is headed by a three-star general, to oversee operations.

Today, he and his cohort remain acutely attuned to the potential dangers of the country’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of renegade individuals or groups. Shortly after the events of September 11, it is now believed, Musharraf quietly ordered the relocation of critical nuclear weapons, fearing possible strikes against them.4 Even key U.S. officials long associated with non-proliferation policy concede that the Pakistani military has done a creditable job of securing its nuclear weapons infrastructure.5

The other dire prospect that many fear remains equally unlikely. This scenario holds that Indian decision-makers, peering across the border and seeing a Pakistan in chaos, may decide to carry out a series of devastating conventional strikes against Pakistan’s nuclear installations. Quite apart from the existence of a bilateral treaty that explicitly forbids such an attack, India’s decision-makers themselves are acutely cognizant of the terrible diplomatic and political fallout that would result from such an attack. More to the point, they also lack the requisite military capabilities to carry out such a decisive, decapitating strike, and anything short of an all-encompassing strike would result in the worst possible consequences for India.

First of all, India would have to countenance the distinct prospect of a ragged but assured Pakistani retaliation on its nuclear facilities, not to mention its population centers. Even if that dire consequence did not by itself deter thoughts of a strike against Pakistan, Indian leaders know that such an attack would shatter beyond repair India’s recent and careful attempts to forge a new and robust relationship with the United States. Indeed, the opprobrium that India would face would be worldwide and harsh, especially from the Muslim states of the Arab world and beyond. Finally, India has a fundamental interest in Pakistan’s political stability, for India would be the country most saddled by a breakdown of political order and a flight of refugees from chaos in Pakistan.

A More Compelling Concern: Kashmir

The real nuclear danger in the region stems from the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan over the disputed status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This predominantly Muslim state abutting both India and Pakistan has been the locus of a dispute harking back to the partition of the British Indian empire in 1947. Since then, India and Pakistan have gone to war four times, in 1947-48, 1965, 1971, and 1999. Three of these four wars have broken out over the question of Kashmir. The first three wars were of limited duration, involved mostly set-piece battle tactics, and were marked by important tacit and informal restraints on the use of firepower. The fourth and most recent war, that of April-July 1999 in the mountainous region around Kargil in Indian-held Kashmir, was unarguably the most sanguinary.

The origins of the Kashmir dispute are complex and are rooted in the divergent conceptions of nation-building in South Asia. The Indian nationalist movement, which was predominantly civic and secular, sought the incorporation of Kashmir into its domain as a way to demonstrate its commitment to those principles. For the Pakistani nationalist leadership, which had instrumentally used Islam as a device for political mobilization, the control of an adjoining Muslim-majority province was also equally crucial. The two states have only partially managed to uphold and realize these principles in the post-colonial era. Despite the attempt to unify Pakistan on the basis of religion, the state split into two separate countries in 1971 with the civil war and the emergence of Bangladesh. Later, in the 1980s the failure of the Indian state to firmly uphold stated constitutional principles raised fundamental questions about the practical status of India’s secularism. Their respective determinations to control Kashmir, however, did not diminish.

In 1989, Indian misgovernance coupled with the rise of a new generation of politically sophisticated Kashmiris contributed to the outbreak of an ethnoreligious insurgency in the state.6 Sensing an opportunity to deliver a coup de main to its archenemy, the Pakistani regime of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, in concert with the army, entered the fray in Kashmir, providing sanctuary to the insurgents, training them in guerrilla tactics, and giving them substantial material support.7 As the Pakistan-backed insurgents increased the levels of violence, Indian security forces responded with considerable fury. Kashmir became caught in the vise of a vicious civil war. Indian forces, despite their harsh tactics, could not militarily defeat the insurgents. By the same token, the insurgents, while wreaking havoc in Kashmir, could not wrest it away from Indian control. Ironically, by the early 1990s, owing to Pakistan’s increasing control over the bulk of the insurgent groups, the only genuinely indigenous and pro-independence organization, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, found itself militarily marginalized. Indeed, by the mid-1990s the insurgency had taken on a marked different character: no longer the spontaneous uprising of a victimized people, it had become a Pakistan-sponsored protection racket designed to bleed India.

Despite fitful efforts on the part of various Indian regimes to hold state-level elections and thereby restore some modicum of normalcy to Kashmir, Pakistan’s feckless support to the insurgents undermined most such endeavors. Consequently, tensions continued to wrack Indo-Pakistani relations throughout the last decade of the 20th century. Even after both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in May 1998 and outside pressure increased for the two states to improve their relations, all attempts at bilateral negotiations failed. The Kashmir question, which has dominated and poisoned Indo-Pakistani relations for more than half a century, is now much more than the danger of nuclear war, the precipice on which the two countries are poised.

A Nuclear Danger in South Asia?

The prospects of a full-scale war between India and Pakistan in the immediate future are remote, despite recent tensions along the Line of Control (the de facto international border) in Kashmir. Nevertheless, dampening Indo-Pakistani tensions over the longer haul remains a significant strategic interest of the United States.8 Unless the underlying sources of Indo-Pakistani discord, which are largely centered around Kashmir, are addressed, the problem of terror—aimed at both India and the West—emanating from South Asia and particularly Pakistan will remain an ongoing problem.

Consequently, the Bush administration and its allies must eschew the temptation to walk away from South Asia and Afghanistan once the goal of demolishing al Qaeda is achieved. The full dimensions of a new South Asia policy cannot be articulated here, but it is possible to provide a set of guideposts for a new policy that addresses the goal of “draining the swamp” that spawned the terror network that struck New York City, Washington, and western Pennsylvania on September 11. Such a policy must first dispense with much of the conventional wisdom that has undergirded decades of U.S. policy toward South Asia. During much of the Cold War, thanks to India’s ambivalence about Washington’s anti-communist crusade, the United States sided with and propped up a series of unsavory regimes in Pakistan. Later, from the mid-1970s onward, as part of the same enterprise, the United States forged a strategic relationship with Beijing, overlooking the latter’s dismal domestic political arrangements. After the end of the Cold War, the United States forged even closer ties to Beijing as the prospect of access to China’s burgeoning markets beckoned American corporations. Various U.S. administrations publicly hectored Beijing for its abysmal human rights record and for its willingness to breach non-proliferation norms and commitments routinely, but these rhetorical flourishes were rarely backed up with any significant sanctions on Beijing’s behavior.

Such American hypocrisy had significant strategic consequences for South Asia. Throughout the last two decades of the twentieth century, various regimes in India haplessly watched the deterioration of their security environment as their principal military guarantor, the Soviet Union, collapsed and as China irresponsibly provided nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile technology to Pakistan.9 Indian expressions of concern to the United States and China went unheeded. Worse still, the United States dismissed India’s legitimate security concerns about China and sought to induce India to join every conceivable multilateral non-proliferation regime. Ironically, these U.S. policies eventually helped propel India to conduct nuclear tests in May 1998.10 Almost inevitably, Pakistan, which had long chafed under India’s conventional military superiority, followed suit.

Today a somewhat tenuous nuclear peace exists on the subcontinent. Despite the fragility of this peace, however, it is unlikely that full-scale war between India and Pakistan will erupt and bring on the possibility of a nuclear confrontation. Both sides, though acutely ill-disposed toward one another, clearly recognize the consequences of their nuclear revolution. This recognition was amply demonstrated during the Kargil war of 1999, when units of the Pakistani Northern Light Infantry, in concert with Afghan and Kashmiri irregular forces, breached the Line of Control. The bold Pakistani incursion across the Line of Control initially caught the Indian forces unprepared, but once the infiltration was discovered, India responded with considerable vigor, repulsed the intruders, and restored the status quo ante by early July. In their military operations, the Indians were forced to use airpower to dislodge the Pakistanis from well-entrenched mountain redoubts, but they carefully refrained from crossing the Line of Control at any point during the air strikes. India also specifically chose not to expand the scope of the conflict by horizontally escalating along other parts of the international border with Pakistan, despite the fact that such a move would have relieved pressure on its troops in Kargil.

The Indian restraint during the Kargil war was striking. Within the first week of its previous war with Pakistan over Kashmir in 1965, India had sent its forces to strike along other salients of the international border to relieve the military pressure in Kashmir. And India was and is hardly without grievances against Pakistan. The decade-long indigenous insurgency in Kashmir has been more violent and longer lived because of the active support of the militants by Pakistan. Furthermore, by infiltrating in Kargil, Pakistan had violated the goodwill that had just a few months earlier been established by the leaders of the two countries in inaugurating bus service between Lahore and Amritsar. So the temptation in some quarters of India must have been strong to put an end to Pakistan’s needling once and for all. But no steps were taken toward this end.

India’s avoidance of either form of escalation stemmed not from moral qualms but from the clear-eyed recognition on the part of Indian decision-makers that their adversary possessed nuclear weapons. Expanding the scope of the conflict beyond the points of Pakistani egress could have provoked a wider and possibly uncontrolled conflict, and this was a denouement that no Indian decision-maker was or is willing to countenance. Clearly, although stable deterrence has not yet arrived in South Asia, these two new nuclear adversaries have come to a sober understanding of their circumstances that has blocked any imminent danger of nuclear escalation.

Building Stability

Yet it would be disingenuous and imprudent to suggest that stable deterrence will inevitably evolve in South Asia as the region lurches from crisis to crisis. Human error, misperception, misjudgment, and miscalculation could combine in a number of ways to undermine the ragged stability that exists in the region. Ironically, the present Afghan crisis, which involves Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, may just be the opportunity that the United States needs to shape the politico-strategic landscape of the subcontinent and its environs for the better. Accomplishing such a goal, however, will require a shift in approach that dispenses with the shibboleths of yesteryear.

Even though abandoning disarmament as an objective will be distasteful to the more ardent members of the global non-proliferation community, the pursuit of nuclear rollback in South Asia is but a chimera. No Indian government in the foreseeable future will agree to dismantle the country’s nuclear weapons program. Regardless of U.S. assessments, key Indian decision-makers believe that it is in their vital security interests to maintain a limited nuclear deterrent as a hedge against possible future Chinese revanchism.11 Unbeknownst to most analysts of international security, China still has extant claims on substantial portions of India’s northeast.

India’s unwillingness to part with its nuclear arsenal in turn makes it impossible for Pakistan to dismantle its own program. Given Pakistan’s geostrategic vulnerability, its belief in India’s intransigence, and its unavoidable conventional military inferiority, nuclear weapons provide Islamabad with a margin of reassurance. Again, although many in the global non-proliferation community would wish to see a denuclearized Pakistan, such a prospect remains unlikely given the regional configuration of power.
If the existence of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons programs, at least in their present, incipient forms, are accepted as an existential reality, then, what the United States needs to do is enhance long-term crisis stability in the region. At the broadest level, the pursuit of such a goal will require Washington to remain engaged in South Asia long after bin Laden and his followers are brought to justice. Within this broad policy framework, the United States must pursue three distinct goals.

First, it must devote significant energy and treasure to fashioning a durable political dispensation within Afghanistan, initially under the auspices of the United Nations. The Bush administration has loudly and repeatedly proclaimed that the United States is not going to run a nation-building enterprise in Afghanistan. Although Bush’s motives are domestic and not geopolitical, this is nevertheless the right position to take, given the way the United States is viewed in the region and in the rest of the Muslim world. But the United States and its anti-terror coalition cannot simply walk away from Afghanistan once bin Laden is reeled in. Unless an effort is mounted to fashion a stable and self-sustaining post-Taliban Afghanistan, the very forces that enabled bin Laden to build his network will again spring forth. Given the war-scarred state of Afghanistan, a UN-run interim administration along the lines of East Timor or Cambodia appears entirely apt and indeed necessary. The events of September 11 have brought home a compelling reality: the United States must remain an important player in international organizations to shape a desirable global environment; it cannot rely solely on its military prowess to further its global strategic and security interests.

Second, the United States must re-engage Pakistan. Such re-engagement, however, must go well beyond the usual propensity to forge strong military-to-military ties. This strategy, with many important limitations, did serve U.S. interests during the Cold War, when the principal enemy was another superpower and the loathsome domestic arrangements of many allies had to be overlooked to obtain their support on the global chessboard. Such a strategy, however, would be fundamentally flawed in the present era. The United States can no longer afford to remain oblivious to the internal dimensions and policies of its allies. Ignoring Pakistan’s intricate ties to the Taliban, allowing the growth of a variety of thuggish organizations within Pakistan both during and after the Soviet-Afghan war, and unquestioning military supply of the mujahideen through the Pakistani intelligence agency contributed mightily to the strength of the groups and individuals that U.S. troops are now combating in Afghanistan.

Thus, in return for U.S. economic largess toward Pakistan, Pakistan’s leaders, both military and civilian, must sever the umbilical cords of the numerous organizations engaged in spreading terror from within Pakistan’s borders. Simultaneously, the United States, instead of bolstering the Pakistani military, must now actively work to strengthen civil society and civic institutions in Pakistan. This strategy will entail providing Pakistan with targeted economic and technical assistance. As a useful start, the United States could provide substantial foreign assistance for the rebuilding of secular public education in Pakistan to reduce the reliance of Pakistan’s poor on the madrassas (Islamic schools) that are inculcating the country’s prospectless youth with Islamist fervor. It should also devote some resources to the development of responsible, dispassionate journalism within the country—at all levels of the publishing strata, not only among the relatively free, elite, English-language press. American assistance must also be used to strengthen the independence of the judiciary within Pakistan.

None of these measures will involve dramatic expenditures, but only a strategy of this order, which shifts resources away from mindless military spending, will enable Pakistan to release itself from the bondage of illiberal military rule. Such a strategy also affords the best hope of reducing Indo-Pakistani tensions. Various illiberal, militaristic (if not outright military) regimes within Pakistan have thrived on a policy of demonizing India. Fostering the growth of a more civic and representative Pakistani polity offers the greatest hope of altering the dire images of India that have become the staple of Pakistani popular discourse. Furthermore, reducing the privileged status of the Pakistani military will also undermine an important force for the pursuit of uncompromising policies toward India and for the enduring Indo-Pakistani hostility.

Finally, the United States should not restrict its efforts to Pakistan. Prior to September 11, the Bush administration had made a concerted effort to court India and had finally dispensed with the idée fixe of non-proliferation in order to pursue a less contentious and more productive relationship with India based upon some shared concerns, such as anti-piracy, combating terror, and intelligence cooperation on China. That enterprise should not be derailed. While addressing India’s legitimate concerns about terrorism, the administration should also exert some pressure on India to tackle its own policy failures in Kashmir. The insurgency in Kashmir today bears only the faintest resemblance to the original, indigenous uprising of 1989; it has evolved into a protection racket with a religious patina. Yet genuine disaffection with decades of Indian misrule seethes in Kashmir,12 precluding the restoration of normalcy should the insurgency lapse. India must restore the fractured rule of law in Kashmir, mete out punishment to members of its security forces involved in egregious human rights violations, and resurrect the many solemn but broken pledges to grant Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state, a substantial degree of autonomy within the scope of the Indian union.

These policy changes will not meet the maximal demands of many within Pakistan’s leadership, who still harbor fantasies of integrating the Indian-controlled portions of Kashmir into Pakistan. However, after five decades and three wars over Kashmir, none of which brought Pakistan any closer to that elusive goal, it may well be time to declare a truce. Again, American counsel to the Pakistani leadership to that end could have a salutary effect. The long-standing, if often faint, hope of convincing the United States to either cajole or coerce India to part with Kashmir needs to be extinguished. If the Kashmir dispute is settled in a fashion that addresses the deep-seated grievances of India’s Kashmiri population, no amount of Pakistani instigation will easily revive the embers of the insurgency. Such an outcome can then provide the basis for more imaginative bilateral confidence-building, cooperative monitoring, and arms control measures in the region and thereby contribute to the vital and shared goal of promoting nuclear stability.

1. Douglas Frantz, “U.S. and Pakistan Discuss Nuclear Security,” The New York Times, October 1, 2001, p. A3.
2. Seymour M. Hersh, “Watching the Warheads: Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons at Risk,” The New Yorker, November 5, 2001, p. 48-54.
3. Gaurav Kampani, “Safety Concerns About the Command and Control of Pakistan’s Strategic Forces, Fissile Material, and Nuclear Installations,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, September 28, 2001.
4. Molly Moore and Kamran Khan, “Pakistan Moves Nuclear Weapons,” The Washington Post, November 11, 2001, p. A1.
5. Nayan Chanda, “Urgent Worries About Pakistani Nuclear Material,” The International Herald Tribune, November 2, 2001.
6. Šumit Ganguly, The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1997).
7. For evidence of Pakistani complicity in the Kashmir insurgency, see R. A. Davis, “Kashmir in the Balance,” International Defence Review, 1991, p. 301-4.
8. Patrick E. Tyler and Celia W. Dugger, “Powell’s Message: America’s Courting of Pakistan Will Not Come at India’s Expense,” The New York Times, October 18, 2001, p. B3.
9. Ashley J. Tellis, India’s Emerging Nuclear Posture: Between Recessed Deterrent and Deployed Arsenal (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2001).
10. Šumit Ganguly, “India’s Pathway to Pokhran II: The Sources and Prospects of India’s Nuclear Weapons Program,” International Security, Spring 1999, p. 148-77.
11. Šumit Ganguly, “Behind India’s Bomb: The Politics and Strategy of Nuclear Deterrence,” Foreign Affairs 80, no. 5 (September-October 2001), p. 136-42.
12. Maseeh Rahman, “Facing Into a Storm,” Far Eastern Economic Review, October 11, 2001, p. 74-77.

Šumit Ganguly, professor of Asian studies and government at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of the forthcoming Conflict Unending: Indo-Pakistani Tensions Since 1947.

U.S. Offers Nuclear Security Assistance to Pakistan

Alex Wagner

The United States has offered to help Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons and nuclear facilities following the September 11 terrorist attacks and the start of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.

During a November 1 press briefing, Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said that, during a mid-October meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad, Secretary of State Colin Powell offered to invite Pakistani officials “to see how safety and security is ensured in the United States.” Asked if Pakistan had accepted, Sattar was widely reported to have responded, “Who would refuse?”

At an October 31 briefing, Powell said Musharraf “knows that if he needs any technical assistance in how to improve [Pakistan’s nuclear] security level, we would be more than willing to help in any way we can.” During a November 11 interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, the secretary added that he had had “direct conversations” with Musharraf about the risk of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling “into the wrong hands.”

Powell’s statement marked the first official U.S. acknowledgement that it has engaged Pakistan in post-September 11 talks on nuclear safety and security issues. Bush administration officials had previously denied Pakistani officials’ claims that Washington had held such talks with Islamabad. (See ACT, November 2001.)

Analysts have been concerned that Pakistani participation in the U.S. campaign against terrorism could result in political instability in Pakistan, which, in turn, could cause Musharraf’s government to lose control over its nuclear weapons or nuclear facilities. Reports that suspect-terrorist Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network may be seeking to steal nuclear weapons from Pakistan have also heightened concerns.

An administration official said that Pakistan appears willing to accept some U.S. nuclear-related assistance offers, asserting, “Pakistan feels such cooperation might help” improve its nuclear security and enhance “the steps it has already taken to improve the safety of its weapons and fissile material.”

During an interview, a Pakistani official said that Washington had also offered to help physically protect Pakistan’s nuclear facilities but that Islamabad had refused. According to a South Asian diplomat, U.S. technology placed at Pakistani nuclear facilities would be widely viewed in Pakistan as a means for the United States to “track and monitor” Islamabad’s nuclear program.

Pakistani Nuclear Security

Despite U.S. offers of assistance, senior Bush administration officials appear confident that Pakistan has sufficient control over its nuclear assets. During his Meet the Press interview, Powell said that he did not “see any risk” of Pakistan losing control of its nuclear weapons. Furthermore, during a November 7 interview with CNN, Wendy Chamberlin, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, said that she did not “think that there is any threat that [Pakistan’s nuclear weapons] will fall into the hands of people that would use those against the U.S.”

During his November 1 briefing, Foreign Minister Sattar also gave assurances that Pakistan retains control over its nuclear infrastructure. Islamabad’s nuclear command and control are under “foolproof custodial controls,” he said. Sattar noted that the government has “constantly maintained, developed, and upgraded command and control systems and custodial security procedures” and has invested the “requisite financial and personnel resources in order to devise and apply ironclad measures to deal with all contingencies of threat to strategic assets.”

However, reports raising questions about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have recently emerged. According to a November 11 Washington Post report, Pakistan’s military began to relocate “critical nuclear weapons components within two days of the September 11 terrorist attacks.” The relocation was reportedly prompted by fears over possible terrorist strikes against Pakistan’s nuclear facilities and was also intended to remove the weapons from “air bases and corridors that might be used by the United States in an attack on Afghanistan.” The Pakistani embassy in Washington said that the story had “no basis” said that Musharraf had denied the report.

Bush Authorized to Lift Sanctions on Pakistan

Alex Wagner

Rewarding Pakistan for cooperating with the U.S. campaign against terrorism, President George W. Bush signed a bill on October 27 that grants him the authority to waive for two years prohibitions on major military sales and economic assistance to Pakistan.

Passed by the Senate October 4 and by the House less than two weeks later, the law gives the president the power to waive sanctions if a waiver would help facilitate Pakistan’s transition to democracy and assist U.S. efforts to “respond to, deter, or prevent” acts of international terrorism.

Specifically, the law grants exemptions to sanctions imposed for Pakistan’s October 1999 military coup and for defaulting on U.S. loans. It also removes a 45-day congressional notification requirement before the president can waive sanctions imposed for the transfer or receipt of missile technology.

In September, Bush waived sanctions barring U.S. economic and military assistance that were imposed on Pakistan for its development and testing of nuclear weapons. However, remaining coup and loan sanctions still blocked most of this assistance. (See ACT, October 2001.)

By waiving the coup and loan sanctions, the law frees Pakistan of most U.S. military and all U.S. economic sanctions for the first time since 1990, when Washington levied sanctions against Pakistan for its development of nuclear weapons. Up to that point, Washington had been one of Pakistan’s principal suppliers of military equipment, including F-16 fighters.

Commending Pakistan for making the difficult choice of aligning itself with Washington, in October 16 remarks Representative Doug Bereuter (R-NE), a senior member of both the House Intelligence and International Relations committees, emphasized that the law “provides President Bush with the tools he needs to encourage Pakistan’s continued participation in United States’ efforts to combat terrorism.”

However, Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY), a longtime supporter of India and a senior member of the International Relations Committee, expressed concern about the impact of the law during a brief October 16 floor debate. Citing “serious reservations” in his support for the law, Ackerman noted that the waiver “opens the door to a significant new arms relationship with Pakistan.”

The congressman also contended that any arms sold to Islamabad by Washington are “likely to be used” against India and held that “the message from this waiver must not be that democracy is no longer important” but rather that “we must continue to urge Pakistan to return to democracy as soon as possible.”


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