It is a matter of some intrigue that while nuclear non-proliferation remains a strong focus of the West in South Asia, increased Indian capability in conventional warfare is largely ignored. Conventional warfare, or the use of traditional means with which states wage war, include equipment and tactics two sides use to face each other on the battlefield. This category does not include biological, chemical or nuclear weapons; the argument goes those substances target civilian populations as well as an armed force. New Delhi is taking advantage of this opportunity, and by doing so, it is dangerously shifting the balance of power in the conventional domain.
For the current fiscal year, India has increased its defence budget to 2.03 trillion rupees ($37.7 billion USD), up from 1.78 trillion rupees, of which 867.41 billion rupees is earmarked for defence equipment. India is in the middle of negotiating a deal with France to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets, a deal French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated would be signed by France’s Dassault Aviation in 2014. This past September, the Defence Acquisitions Council of India’s Defence Ministry approved the manufacture under Russian license of 235 T-90 tanks in India. The contract is estimated at 30 billion rupees ($470 million USD), and the tanks will be delivered over the next five years. With this level of deals being negotiated in a seemingly bottomless budget, India is set to surpass Britain’s military budget in the next few years.
Against this worrying backdrop, the United States, France and Britain are advocating granting India – clearly a market for arms deals – membership amongst the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a move with wider implications than the aforementioned countries perhaps realize. The NSG exists to ensure civilian nuclear technology exports are not diverted to produce atomic weapons, yet by allowing India a membership, it would be the only member outside the 189-member Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Critics of this move rightly say it would undermine the credibility of the NSG, and open the door to Pakistan and Israel (also non-signees of the NPT) to join. Proponents of this move say since India is expected to become a nuclear supplier itself, (as it seeks to add almost 30 reactors in the next 20 years), providing it membership to such a cautious organization would ensure it adheres to international guidelines.
This is a weak argument, however, as India’s record of respecting international laws is far from impeccable. New Delhi’s involvement in the illegal nuclear trade networks was chronicled in a thorough report by an American think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS). The 115-page report, titled Future World of Illicit Nuclear Trade lists India as an “illicit nuclear trade supplier of concern,” even benefitting from AQ Khan. According to the report, nuclear smugglers allegedly supplying Iran with components “placed orders from Germany and Turkey to an Indian valve company.” ISIS lists four shipments of 856 valves that originated in India, went to Turkey and then on to Iran. Due to its use of commercial and electricity production reactors to make plutonium for its nuclear reactors (a blatant violation of the NSG’s mission), the report categorizes India as a “rogue state” in line with Iran, Syria, and North Korea.
India makes brilliant use of a loophole in International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreements by continuing plutonium production in reactors not under those safeguards. The findings of the report can be summed by the following: “On one hand, India seeks parts, equipment, and technology for its civilian nuclear power program, an effort facilitated by the 2008 U.S.-India agreement on civilian nuclear trade, while at the same time engaging in illicit activities to obtain key items for its unsafeguarded nuclear facilities and nuclear weapons programme.”
In reference to suggested policy, ISIS notes proliferating states are dependant on overseas support. And it appears that support is there.
These developments are an unfortunate signal of aggression towards Pakistan. Pakistan’s defence budget for this current fiscal year is at 627 billion rupees ($6.3 billion USD). Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has stated it is economic assistance rather than military aid that is essential for Pakistan and recommended to the government that U.S. funds meant for the military be diverted accordingly. The avalanche that killed 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians brought attention back to the treacherous site of Siachen. Upon visiting the site of the tragedy, General Kayani called for the demilitarization of Siachen, pointing once again to Pakistan’s development and environmental concerns – the real South Asian security challenge.
Pakistan has made unprecedented overtures to strengthen ties under the administration of President Asif Ali Zardari, a theme continuing into the government of recently elected Nawaz Sharif. In this past election, none of the major party manifestos mentioned India at all, except in a positive light and with declarations to improve bilateral ties, specifically economic ones.
On the other hand is India, set for elections in 2014, and vehemently amplifying anti-Pakistan rhetoric, with political leaders assuming jingoistic language, while Islamabad calls for cooler heads to prevail. With the hostile Narendra Modi slated to be the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister, the Indian polity has sharply swerved to the right, ushering in scary scenarios in the minds of South Asia watchers. Excessive hawkishness comes at the expense of regional stability, and with the danger of rolling back hard-won progress.
The West, and the U.S. in particular, have long been in support of deterrence stability in the subcontinent. Therefore it is crucial to understand India’s movements as creating the space for a potential conflict – something Pakistan simply cannot afford as it deals with a myriad of internal challenges. Though India’s stated goal is to counter China, one fails to see how useful 200 tanks would be in that conflict, unless a modern-day Genghis Khan plans to roll them through the mountains into the Middle Kingdom.
Pakistan looks at Indian capability based on facts of hardware and watches as India amasses an ever-dangerous arsenal. Though it might be possible to shift internal funds to gain parity, Pakistan does not have the technology. Indeed, Pakistan is shut out of access to even the drone technology that would enable security forces to target internal terrorism.
In order for influence to lead to success, the rules have to be the same. The denial of technology has to be stopped otherwise this can transform the subcontinent into an active conflict zone. Food and water security concerns are truly the regional problems requiring strong collaboration; yet this unchecked escalation can drive the side with a wide array of conventional weapons to open hostility. In the instance of action and reaction, Pakistan will maintain the sanctity of its borders and territorial integrity using all its available options.
The fact of the matter is, Pakistan’s external security concerns have always been India-specific and therefore look eastward. Pakistan has agreed upon borders with China and traded lands and though it shares a porous border with Afghanistan, both Kabul and Islamabad are determinedly invested in stability post-2014 pullout of U.S. and NATO troops. Regional disquiet comes as a result of India’s short and long-term goals and the adverse affects of willful ignorance by the West.
In order for deterrence to remain credible, this must stop.