The South Asian political saga starts with the endless malicious blame-game between India and Pakistan at all levels – exchanging hate words, war mongering, making each other responsible for most of ills in the insolvent region, and above all continuous use of distorted historical narrative to prove enmity against each other are in practice without taking devastated ultimate consequences into consideration. The addition of the nuclear weapons in the already hostile and volatile regional template has further aggravated this nasty phenomenon.
Though, India and Pakistan have been adhering to credible minimum deterrence – the latter has jumped to full spectrum deterrence recently; however, it is very unclear how much number of nuclear devices would be enough for their respective ambiguous nuclear policies. Both the countries have already amassed enough nuclear weapons that would be sufficient to wipe out each other from the surface of the earth in any kind of eventuality. In the backdrop of overt nuclearization in South Asia, many believe that the possibility of war has gone to back-burner and new weapons have stabilized the strategic environment in the region. Nevertheless, nuclear pessimists argue that nuclear weapons are very dangerous for the region given the unique internal and external security dynamics in India and Pakistan. Yet, there is another category of strategic analysts who believe in the total abolition of these weapons.
The view presented here is bit different from above-mentioned categories. Nuclear weapons are reality in South Asia, no one knows till what time they are to stay here — perhaps for the long times. Why not to accept this reality collectively and try to manage the dangers associated with these weapons and related policies together. Why I raised this point? Let me explain in detail. To employ these weapons, both are involved in unchecked competition to introduce nuclear delivery vehicles, new nuclear policies, strategies, and tactics. The nuclear trajectory is going upward unabatedly.
The South Asian nuclear discourse amply proves that during augmenting their respective nuclear arsenals, one hears government officials from both the sides announcing hypothetical policies, strategies and tactics that if contemplated could destroy both the countries physically. If one manufactures Agni series of ballistic missiles, the other introduces Hatf series as a counterweight. Similarly, if one claims that our ballistic missiles can reach such and such counter-force and counter value targets and inflict such and such damage, the other responds on the same footing and announces that enemy’s such and such cities and military installations are under the range of their missiles. If one arrives with the ‘Cold Start’ Strategy to wage limited conventional war under the perceived nuclear thresholds and justifies this strategy on the pretext to tackle the threat of militant outfits reportedly having basis in the neighboring country. The other, counters the new proactive nuclear strategy with war-fighting tactical nuclear weapons with the aim to achieve strategic equilibrium. Yet the other openly outlines that if even small yield nukes are used, these would unleash massive nuclear retaliation.
Ever since the inception of nuclear weapons in South Asia, we find voluminous literature discussing the prospects of pre-emptive or surprise nuclear first strike between the two. Different hypothetical scenarios are portrayed very stylistically, for instance, if India dares to go for nuclear pre-emptive or surprise attack, Pakistan would still survive with some residual capability and launch retaliatory punitive nuclear strikes on Mumbai and New Delhi — making these cities horrible examples.
Undoubtedly, all this narrative erects deterrence stability/instability between the two strategic competitors; however, what is the surety that deterrence is always “fail-safe” phenomenon especially keeping in view the ever deteriorating security situation in the troubled region. Is it like making Indian and Pakistani common people hostage of doomsday by their strategic decision makers? hostage of complete annihilation? Why not to learn lessons from Cold War nuclear model. Why not to start arms control initiatives. Once the two countries achieve rapprochement, subsequently converting animosity into amity, they could convince China collectively to support South Asian peace and stability. Ultimately, it might be possible they could find ways to resolve all disputes including decades-long Kashmir problem.
This will not be like that both the countries need to become pacifists or idealists; peace and stability could be achieved by following the realist paradigm of international politics. Without surrendering nuclear weapons both India and Pakistan can work together to make life better for the hundreds and thousands of South Asian poor people. In my next post, I will explain how political realism provides a convincing theoretical framework to analyze rapprochement, détente and down the road practical measures to achieve peace and stability.