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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 66, September 2002

News Review

'That Terrible Pinnacle': Efforts to Move Beyond Nuclear Crisis Management in South Asia


As reported in the last issue, the latest military and political crisis between India and Pakistan - seemingly taking the two nuclear-armed states to the brink of war - had been at least temporarily defused by early June. Once again, the immediate source of tension was persistent terrorist infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. In early June, Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf reaffirmed - both to New Delhi and US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, visiting the region - his pledge to exert every effort to prevent such criminal activity. While India expressed doubt, sometimes bordering on scorn, for the General's assurance, the BJP-led coalition government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee responded to considerable international pressure, most importantly from Washington, to allow Musharraf time to take redoubled action against the insurgents. By June 24, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher was able to present an up-beat review of progress: "Deputy Secretary Armitage was given assurances by President Musharraf on June 6 that ending of infiltration across the Line of Control would be permanent. These assurances were also given to the Secretary of State, to the President of the United States in their conversations, as well as repeatedly to our representatives...in Islamabad... We've seen positive results from that commitment, and we've also seen positive steps by India since then. We continue to believe that Pakistani actions on the [terrorist] camps [in Pakistan-administered Kashmir] are...important steps to keep this process moving forward. ... The United States has heard this commitment quite clearly from President Musharraf. We've seen him carry it out... So we have no reason to disbelieve him."

Pakistan remains adamant, however, that a broader security and political agenda needs to be pursued in the search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir crisis. Without such concerted diplomacy, Islamabad argues, suppressing sometimes violent resistance in Indian-administered Kashmir will prove impossible - a contention seemingly borne out, for example, by an August 6 terrorist attack on a Hindu pilgrimage in the disputed territory on August 6, leaving nine dead and nearly 30 seriously wounded. India immediately suggested Pakistani connivance. According to junior Home Minister I.D. Swamy (August 6), there can be no doubt "about Pakistan's involvement, since its policy is to disturb peace in Kashmir" in advance of elections planned for late September or early October. The same day, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Lal Krishma Advani blamed the attack on a militant group called Al Mansoor, a new name for the Lashkar-e-Taiba group banned by General Musharraf in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States. On August 7, Farooq Abdullah, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, repeated his call for New Delhi to attack terrorist camps across the Line of Control - the very step Pakistan has said it will regard as an attack on the nation. According to Abdullah: "Destruction of training camps across the border is the only alternative to uproot terror".

It is precisely such crisis-repetition that the international community seems eager to move beyond. Speaking after a meeting of G-8 foreign ministers in Canada on June 12, US Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters: "There was absolute agreement that we don't want to go through this again, and the way we avoid going through this again is to meet our commitments that we have made to [the] two sides that we would work and use our good offices to create the opportunity for dialogue between the two sides - dialogue that must ultimately lead to a discussion of Kashmir and find a solution to Kashmir". Powell visited South Asia in late July. Speaking to reporters en route to Bangkok, following meetings with both Musharraf and Vajpayee, Powell expressed both relief that the "terrible pinnacle" of a nuclear exchange was no longer in view, and determination that it be kept out of view by serious movement on Kashmir:

"I'm pleased that we've come off that terrible pinnacle we were on a few weeks ago, where everybody was writing stories about 'we're going to war' and 'it's going to be nuclear', and we were turning around people going to the region, putting in all kinds of warnings and having authorized departure [of our personnel]. In a period of six weeks, we are able now to start reversing that, and starting to move things back to normal, so I think our diplomacy has been successful... There's still a long way to go before negotiations begin, which gets back to the fundamental question of what happens in Kashmir? How do we resolve Kashmir? Which is one of the more vexing problems that has been there for 55 years without solution, and I think that we are a little closer to the possibility of discussions, dialogue, between the two sides. ... You have to tend the garden. I want to make sure we're not slipping backward."

Another approach to avoiding the 'terrible pinnacle' - or suffering the agonies of another "touch-and-go affair", as Vajpayee described the latest crisis on July 1 - is to remove the nuclear danger at its source, e.g. to move towards denuclearisation. However, although President Musharraf has repeatedly suggested talks on a nuclear-weapon-free South Asia, Islamabad also refuses to rule out the possible first use of nuclear weapons, and both sides have been describing the latest war scare as a vindication of nuclear deterrence. On June 18, for example, General Musharraf argued: "We were compelled to show them in May 1998 [when we conducted nuclear tests] that we were not buffing, and in May 2002 again we were compelled to show that we do not bluff. We do not want war... We have also said that if war is thrust upon us we will defend ourselves with all our might." On June 19, India's President-elect, the prominent missile scientist A.P.J. Kalam, declared that "nuclear deterrents on both sides have helped avert a war... If we did not have a nuclear weapon, it would have taken place." On July 19, in a written response to questions from the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal, Kalam - who was sworn in as President on July 25 - stated that "necessary [nuclear weapons] safety procedures and protocols are in place", even though India has yet to finalise its nuclear command-and-control structure.

The US appears to be exerting no pressure on either India or Pakistan to renounce nuclear weapon possession, though it has routinely objected to the missile tests required to affect the full nuclear weaponisation of the rivals' armed forces. The focus, instead, is on helping the two sides develop adequate non-proliferation policies and put in place nuclear confidence-building measures. The priorities of this agenda were set out by Christina Rocca, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, in July 18 testimony to the House International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. With regard to India, Rocca noted:

"Non-proliferation remains an important item on out bilateral agenda... We have agreed to institutionalise our bilateral dialogue on non-proliferation and security issues as part of our discussions on the broader [US-India] Strategic Framework and hope to kick off the first round in September. One area in which there is great scope for cooperation is export controls. We have already had a series of expert-level discussions and conducted training for Indian customs officials. ... We are confident that the Indian government shares our concerns about preventing the spread of sensitive technologies since the diffusion of weapons of mass destruction poses a serious threat to the security of both our countries. We are also continuing to discuss with both India and Pakistan confidence-building measures to minimise the risk that nuclear weapons might actually be used, and steps they can take to bring the arms race in South Asia to the earliest possible close."

With regard to Pakistan, Rocca recalled that "the US and Pakistan met in Washington last March for a round of talks on regional and global non-proliferation issues. As with India, we have urged both sides to take steps to prevent a costly and destabilising arms race in the region and to assist US efforts to prevent the spread of technologies that could assist WMD/missile programs in other regions. The US has offered assistance to help Pakistan bring its export controls up to international standards."

Notes: in a July 1 Cabinet shuffle, India's Finance Minister, Yashwant Sinha, was named as new Foreign Minister, swapping jobs with Jaswant Singh, Foreign Minister since 1998. Sinha is widely regarded as appreciably more hardline than Singh on the Pakistan and Kashmir issues, and is more closely associated than his predecessor with the radical Hindu nationalist agenda of the BJP.

On July 11, R.V. Swamy, Chief Controller of the Indian Defence Ministry's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), told reporters that shelters had been developed to protect Indian forces from nuclear, chemical or biological attack. The "field shelters", Swamy explained, are built a metre below ground, designed to accommodate up to 30 troops for up to three days following a nuclear strike. The scientist explained: "It's a collective protection system - any ingress of nuclear, biological or chemical agents can be completely stropped. ... Of course, on ground zero nothing will survive, these shelters will have to be at the periphery". Swamy did not make clear whether the shelters had already been deployed. He added that protective body suits had also been developed, although "these are mainly for a chemical environment", as "there is no protection possible for nuclear gamma radiation".

On July 24, Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes told Parliament that the nuclear-capable Agni-I ballistic missile (range 700 kilometres) was approaching entry into service, and that "the government proposes to go ahead with one more test of the missile before its induction".

On July 26, the Pakistan armed services completed a major, 10-day military exercise. According to a Defence Ministry statement, the exercise proceeded successfully "under the current nuclear environment". The statement quoted President Musharraf as observing: "Pakistan is faced with an adversary that has made no secret of its desire to harm our country in every way possible, and [that] is only deterred by the capability of our armed forces".

Selected Comment

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, June 4: "Nuclear powers should not use nuclear blackmail."

Prime Minister Vajpayee, interview with the Dainik Jagran newspaper, June 15, quoted on western newswires on June 17: "The nation was prepared for war. Our forces on the border were awaiting orders. Their morale was also high. India was prepared for an atomic war, but we were confident that our neighbour would not commit such an act of madness. ... If Pakistan had not agreed to end infiltration, and America had not conveyed that guarantee to India, then war would not have been averted... The belief that India gave up the option of war under American pressure is totally wrong."

Brajesh Mishra, Indian National Security Adviser, June 4: "We will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. I hope the enormity of the use of nuclear weapons is understood by the President of Pakistan."

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao, June 17: "[I]t was Pakistan which indulged in irresponsible, wayward talk about the use of nuclear weapons...[and] nuclear blackmail."

General Pervez Musharraf, June 4: "The possession of nuclear weapons by any state obviously implies they will be used under some circumstances. ... Never in the history of Pakistan has the nuclear arsenal ever been deployed, never even have the missiles been deployed."

General Musharraf, interview with the BBC, June 22: "We came very close [to war]... We don't see [Indian military] de-escalation as a response. We couldn't care less if they de-escalate or not. We are totally prepared for them, and we will teach them a lesson if they come across the Line of Control..."

Unnamed senior US official, quoted in The Financial Times, July 2: "It might be three months, it might be nine months, but we all know that India and Pakistan will go back to the brink again. Maybe next time they will go over the brink. We are already de facto mediators on the Kashmir dispute, and there's a recognition that this time we must stay involved".

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Islamabad, June 13: "We think it's important that the nuclear threshold not be lowered; we think it's important that the people of this country, and of your neighbour, India, prosper and succeed and have opportunities."

Secretary Rumsfeld, en route to Bahrain from Islamabad, June 13: "I'm not going to talk about nuclear weapons. I think that the elevation of that subject is past us and both of those leaders [Musharraf and Vajpayee] are managing their affairs as people responsible for weapons of that power ought to manage them. I think to get it and start discussing that [nuclear issue] isn't useful."

Karl Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State under President Clinton, July 23: "I don't know how likely it is Powell can reach any breakthroughs now. But it is extremely important he try to take this beyond crisis management... Both sides need to recognize that the current stalemate poses a threat not just for the region's stability but to Pakistan's future and India's aspirations to be a world leader."

Michael Krepon, Founding President, Henry L. Stimson Center, July 2: "If you look at it dispassionately, who would ever want to get involved in the India-Pakistan dispute? There is only one reply to that question: those who want to prevent the world's first nuclear exchange."

Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament (MIND) Press Release proposing Nuclear Risk-Reduction Measures (NRRMs), June 18: "India and Pakistan's eyeball-to-eyeball military confrontation, which has still not ended, highlights the special danger of a catastrophic nuclear conflict breaking out in South Asia. A nuclear disaster of historic proportions can only be prevented by ridding the South Asian region of nuclear weapons altogether. In the interim, there is an urgent need for nuclear risk-reduction measures... MIND's analysis highlights three kinds of nuclear risks or danger: miscalculation through faulty information processing leading to a nuclear weapon launch; nuclear weapons falling into unauthorised hands; and accidents such as fires and explosions in and around nuclear weapons storages. ... MIND proposes a number of nuclear risk-reduction measures. These include non-deployment of nuclear weapons; keeping nuclear warheads separated from delivery vehicles (missiles and aircraft); and disassembling bombs or warheads by removing their nuclear cores. ... NRRMs...must be reinforced by transparency, including sharing of information about all unusual nuclear and missile activities (including test-flights) between India and Pakistan, the abrogation of India's excessively secretive Atomic Energy Act (1962), and by the closure of test sites."

Reports: Pakistan president says there are circumstances for use of nuclear weapons, but wants dialogue with India, Associated Press, June 4; Annan plays down fears of Indian-Pakistani nuclear war, pins hope on international mediators, Associated Press, June 4; Pakistan explains nuclear policy, Associated Press, June 4; President sees risk despite India-Pakistan progress, Reuters, June 11; Transcript - Rumsfeld sees no evidence of al-Qaida in Kashmir, US State Department (Washington File), June 13; Transcript - Powell says G-8 united on terrorism, India-Pakistan, Afghanistan, Washington File, June 13; Transcript - Rumsfeld says India, Pakistan aware of conflict risks, Washington File, June 14; Vajpayee - Pakistan's promises helped avert nuclear conflict, Associated Press, June 17; Indian PM was prepared for nuclear war, report says, Reuters, June 17; Musharraf says Pakistan's nuclear deterrent prevented full-scale war with India over Kashmir, Associated Press, June 18; Movement in India for Nuclear Disarmament (MIND) Press Release, June 18; Nuclear risk reduction measures between India and Pakistan, MIND Statement, June 18; India's 'missile man' says nuclear weapons averted war, Reuters, June 19; Full-scale war between India and Pakistan was 'very close', Musharraf says, Associated Press, June 22; Pakistan says India troop pullback urgently needed, Reuters, June 24; Musharraf assures US on cross-border infiltration, Reuters, June 24; India's foreign, finance ministers trade places in new-look cabinet, Associated Press, July 1; An Indian summer, The Financial Times, July 1; India-Pakistan - US wants to mediate, help avert future crises, Global Security Newswire, July 2; India says develops nuclear shelters for troops, Reuters, July 11; Transcript - US relations with South Asia are central to war on terrorism, Washington File, July 18; India's new president says nuclear arsenal secure, Associated Press, July 19; Missile scientist is India President, Associated Press, July 25; Pakistan military wraps up 10 days of war games, Associated Press, July 26; South Asia - Powell to try to build trust, find resolution, Global Security Newswire, July 26; India - Agni-I needs one final test, defense minister says, Global Security Newswire, July 26; Transcript - Secretary of State briefing en route Bangkok July 28, Washington File, July 28; Powell gains little ground in India-Pakistan clash, USA Today, July 29; 9 killed, 27 wounded in Kashmir, Associated Press, August 6; Rebels kill nine Hindu pilgrims in Indian Kashmir, Reuters, August 6; Kashmir chief - destroy rebel camps in Pakistan, Reuters, August 7.

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