Point, Counter-Point: A Four Part Series

The Wisest Choice, by Abhijit Iyer-Mitra

Normalizing Nuclear Pakistan, by Rabia Akhtar

After the Euphoria?  by Amina Afzal

Overlooking’ Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers, by Aditi Malhotra and Sitakanta Mishra


President George W Bush knew how to sweet talk India. Following the signing of the India US nuclear deal he claimed it was “India’s passport to the world”. During an earlier visit to Islamabad, he had rejected any similar deal for Pakistan, on the grounds that India and Pakistan were “different countries with different needs and different histories”. India saw this as its final triumph on two fronts – first the de-hyphenation of India and Pakistan in the US policy discourse. The second was a tacit US acceptance of Indian exceptionalism. While some very smart people foresaw the problems arising from the competing exceptionalisms of India and the United States, few actually saw how it may hinder quite seriously India’s own security. Today it is no exaggeration to say that India’s desire to be the sole nuclear exception, may very well be at the cost of its long term security.

Yet there is a compelling argument to bringing Pakistan into the nuclear fold that probably benefits India more than it does any other country.

Today Pakistan is inching towards greater isolation than ever before in its history. As a result its room for maneuver is extremely restricted, with very little by way of options but more dangerously with very little to lose. India’s position today vis-à-vis Pakistan has in fact never been stronger.

Assuming that every Indian stereotype of Pakistan is in fact accurate and this is a country on the cusp of collapse, this is the best time to get the international community to negotiate with Pakistan, and get the best possible terms. India historically though nurtures this myth that forgoing seemingly good options today, yields a brighter tomorrow. Take for example historian Srinath Raghavan’s work on India’s defense and foreign policy from 1947 to 1962 where he praises this policy as one of “multiplying ones options”. Sadly while it sounds good, in practice this policy has been a miserable failure. India chose to play nuclear ostrich through much of the 50s and 60s and ended up living on the fringes of the NPT, till it decided to cut its losses and the India US nuclear deal. Similarly after testing a device in 1974 it chose to put its weapons programme in deep freeze, presumably again with the intention of “multiplying its options”, the net result was that India had to undergo another set of sanctions in 1998. If anything I am yet to get a single example from an Indian realist scholar on a practical and irrefutable example of “multiplying options”.

Let us then apply a simple cost benefit analysis to what India would gain letting Pakistan into the nuclear order today, even assuming the worst Indian stereotype of Pakistan as fact.

  • Indian Stereotype 1 : The so-called bifurcation of the Pakistan nuclear programme into civilian and military is a farce, since the army controls the state and hence its civilian bureaucracy.

A nuclear deal will force a de-facto separation of civilian and military facilities. It empowers the civilians, and removes significant powers from the military and in so doing provides a much needed correction in the civil-military balance – something India has always wanted. The question is outside of rhetoric, what alternative can India propose that would correct the civil-military balance the way a nuclear deal could?

  • Indian Stereotype 2 : A deal materially rewards Pakistan.

Indian reactors were running woefully under capacity owing either to India’s incompetence at procuring nuclear raw material in the black market or its insufferable “goody two shoes” attitude. Pakistan on the other hand was adept at manipulating the black market and keep its reactors running. If anything a deal would first force Pakistan to bring the black market trade to light and second give the international community the means to regulate it in the future. It will give India and the international community vital clues as to how Pakistan managed its clandestine acquisitions and in so doing would irretrievably compromise Pakistan’s illicit supplier network.  Does India have any other option that can achieve similar results?

  • Indian Stereotype 3 : A deal will only strengthen the Pakistani weapons programme

The key phrase Mark Fitzpatrick uses is “Pakistan has a lot more to atone for”. It is for this exact reason that linking good military nuclear behavior to a civilian nuclear deal is both realistic and feasible. For example would a Pakistan heavily dependent on the west for energy security and under the threat of a “right to return clause” realistically resort to nuclear sabre rattling? Similarly one sine qua non of the deal will be Pakistan’s adherence to both the CTBT and the FMCT, both of which will cap Pakistan’s capabilities. From point 1 and point 3 it is clear that such a deal will not only loosen the military’s control over the nuclear programme, but also curtail the military’s options. What Indian alternative can achieve even a fraction of these goals?

  • Indian Stereotype 4: The West is again trying to gain leverage with and falling for Pakistani propaganda

Since 1998 the narrative in India has slowly changed from one of western aid enabling Pakistani revisionism to western aid thwarting such revisionism. Is handing over Pakistan’s jugular from adversary China, to India’s friends in the west such a bad idea? While India admittedly has limited leverage on the west to enforce our agenda on Pakistan, India has exactly zero leverage on China. It was not India’s fizzled Cold Start that bought Pakistani good behavior after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, it was the west’s decisive interventions in Islamabad. It is far better that our friends have leverage on Islamabad than our enemies.  Building a strict performance-reward chain, with scaling back of privileges based on the mere finding of a material breach can act as a powerful control mechanism. By contrast what exactly have Indian protestations achieved in the past?

Obviously there is a high possibility that Pakistan will abuse the programme as it has almost every deal before. But in dangling a carrot it either forces Pakistan into a rhetorical action trap or it exposes Pakistan as not being serious about integrating with the international community. At best Pakistan’s revisionism is curbed at worst it stands exposed and isolated and Indian obstinacy cannot be blamed for it.

From an Indian point of view this may not be fair or just – but it may be the wise thing to do. In this India has much to learn from the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”.


Image: Aamir Qureshi-AFP, Getty


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