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“Some have described Pakistani policy as being one of ‘bleeding India’ to the point where India has to make major concessions on Kashmir”

India and Pakistan:
The Spread of Nuclear Weapons (II)
by Harry G. Barnes, Jr.*

Why the tests in May 1988?

THE EASY ANSWER FOR PAKISTAN was that if India did it, Pakistan had to. The two countries have been enemies or at best unfriendly rivals for most of their existence. Part of it has to do with the nature of what Indians would call “partition” and Pakistanis, “achievement of independence” — in 1947 — with the accompanying massive uprooting of people and the massacre of so many.

The most visible symbol of the violent separation of what had been British India was the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir — a Muslim majority in its heart, the vale of Kashmir — and in several other Muslim areas, but with large numbers of Hindus in Jammu and a Buddhist population in Ladakh. The first post-independence war resulted in partition of the state, with the westerly and northwesterly areas going to Pakistan and becoming known as Azad Kashmir. The Vale, Jammu, and Ladakh went to India. Though there was a special provision in the Indian constitution for greater autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir compared to other Indian states, still the affairs of the state were often mismanaged from Delhi, as well as from Srinagar. By the early ‘90s popular dissatisfaction had taken the form of an insurgency which to this date the Indian authorities have not yet really brought under control. Pakistan has taken advantage of the insurgency to provide support, both moral and military, though denying it is doing anything more than moral backing. Pakistan has also insisted that there can be no solution to the strains between India and Pakistan until the government of India observes UN resolutions from the late 1940s calling for a plebiscite, and especially until India agrees that it will discuss the state of affairs in Kashmir with Pakistan. So at one level, Pakistan’s strategy is a sort of attention getting mechanism — to insist that Pakistan needs to be involved in deciding the fate of Kashmir.

I was not being entirely facetious about Pakistan’s “attention getting mechanisms.” Pakistan, as the weaker of the two, has always perceived itself as being subject to overwhelming force from India, and nuclear weapons are seen in Pakistan as an sort of “equalizing” device. Pakistan’s working assumption, in addition, has long been that if it can somehow get the world community into the act, then it will get their support as the underdog. It may also have been true that Pakistan saw no great further advantage in not demonstrating its nuclear capabilities and on the contrary some benefit to making sure India knew what it was up against. Probably the most important factor was a political one. The sense of rivalry with India, if not the fear that India aims to destroy Pakistan, is so great that it is hard to believe any Pakistani leader could have refused to respond to Indian nuclear testing with a test of their own. Not that that seems to have done Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif all that much good in light of subsequent developments. But in May 1998, no matter how persuasive President Clinton might have been with inducements of aid or how threatening with sanctions, Nawaz Sharif must have decided he had but one choice to make.

An understanding of India’s motivations is harder. The ambiguity policy would have seemed to have worked well enough over the years. And then there was the Nehru heritage of being anti-nuclear weapons. Particularly since 1971, India had been convinced that it could handle any threat from Pakistan. But soon after the explosions, Defense Minster George Fernandez cited China as the real threat to India. Not since the early 60s had it been common to worry publicly about China and there was no grievous action that China had taken that seemed to call for an India reaction of this magnitude. In fact, the relationship between the two countries had gotten easier over the past decade.

India’s governing coalition is headed by the BJP, often described by journalists as“Hindu nationalist,” although no one seems quite clear what that combination of words means. In any case, there is certainly an element of assertiveness of the importance of being India which could come out as “nationalist.” It is possible that from a “nationalist” perspective China would seem to be a much more serious rival to Indian ambitions than Pakistan was or could ever be. And given the fact that a previous government headed by the rival Congress party had been ready to conduct tests, there was no real domestic opposition to worry about. A third “naitonanlist”element could well have been to take seriously the implied message of the permanent five members of the UN security council — namely that it is possession of nuclear weapons that makes a country a great power. And the BJP’s ambitions for India are great.

India and Pakistan at times seem to agree, as a matter of principle, on not agreeing with each other. On one matter they see alike: They resent being treated as if they are “second class,” that they can’t manage difficult issues or deal with dangerous technologies, that they are being discriminated against. In India’s case at least, this was a major factor in its opposition to the CTBT and will reappear again in another two months when the review conference for the NPT takes place. They not only see the nuclear powers as arrogating to themselves the privileges of membership in the nuclear club, but as being unwilling to move seriously toward an overall reduction of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.

Hence there is a certain built in resistance to the preachings, the arguments, and even the pressures from the nuclear weapons states. Clinton’s efforts to dissuade Nawaz Shairf from proceeding with testing were probably doomed to failure. There has been an argument going on for some months now in Washington, particularly since the military coup that brought General Mussharaf to power, whether President Clinton should stop in Islamabad en route to Bangladesh and India. The arguments are the obvious ones: not stopping sends a clear message of disapproval for Pakistan-encouraged incursions last spring and summer in Kashmir and of the overthrow of the Nawaz Sharif government; not stopping loses the chance to establish some rapport with the new strongman which may come in handy some time later.

Ever since the tests the United States has been attempting to undo some of the damage or at least reduce the prospects for the already confrontational relationship taking on a still more dangerous cast. Washington laid out five conditions in 1998-99 for being able to drop some of the sanctions that had been imposed:

  1. signing the CTBT;
  2. taking part in the Geneva negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty;
  3. strengthening export controls on dangerous materials and technologies;
  4. exercising restraint in the deployment of nuclear weapons; and
  5. resumption of diaglogue between the Indians and Pakistanis on contentious issues (i.e. Kashmir).

Actually, the last item for a while looked the most promising when Prime Minister Vajpayee went to Lahore just a year ago in an exercise of “bus diplomacy.” But that hope was dissipated with the military action in Kargil (Kashmir). And little headway has been made on the other issues, as well.

Though the other members of the nuclear club (P5) joined in condemning the test in 1998, it has been only the United States (and Japan of the G-8) that applied sanctions. It is the United States that has taken the lead in trying to get the two countries to take actions that reduce tensions or potential hazards. So without necessarily becoming the cop, America may be closer to the Lone Ranger than anything else.

NEXT: So what is there to worry about?


What other Conference 2000 Speakers had to say:

(Spring 2000 issue)

Sir Kieran Prendergast , on U.S. and UN roles in collective security:
"In an era of increasing globalization and proliferating transnational problems, the relevance and utility of the United Nations can only grow. This is not a boast, but an acknowledgment that often there is no alternative."

Elizabeth Pond , on Europe's 20th Century transformation:
The cold war was not a freezer, but an incubator of European cooperation. . . . Europe is not and never will be a homogenized federation, but it is already far more than a confederation."

Prof. Erik Jensen, on the objectives of the Warburg 2000 Conference:
"As the sole remaining superpower, the U.S. is faced with difficult decisions when crises arise: whether to act alone; or to tackle them in collaboration with like-minded allies, for example, through NATO; or to work for collective security principally in the United Nations Security Council. Hence the conference title: Collective Security, Posse or Global Cop."

Amb. Denis McLean, on sharing responsibility in wars of nationalism and separatism:
"The U.S. has a fundamental role to play in helping to put together the capabilities to meet these types of emergency. But so too have other countries."

Amb. Frank Crigler, on U.S. interest in conflicts far from our shores:
"We cannot disengage from Africa because America’s own roots run too deep there and because we as a people are too deeply touched by the fate of Africans."

What other Conference 2000 Speakers had to say:

(Current issue of
American Diplomacy)

Amb. Harry Barnes, on India & Pakistan and the spread of nuclear weapons:
"For many Pakistanis, their nuclear capacity has given them confidence that they can be more aggressive on Kashmir."

Amb. Monteagle Stearns, on Greece & Turkey and the clash of civilizations:
"If Western diplomacy has a role to play it will have to be discreet and carefully considered, always bearing in mind that the governing rule of diplomats, like that of doctors, must be ‘first, do no harm'."

Amb. Robert White, on failing to apply lessons from Vietnam and El Salvador in Colombia:
"It is curious that a government as sophisticated as ours should cling to the naive belief that spraying with herbicides can do anything but drive the campesino cultivators deeper into the jungle."


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American Diplomacy                Vol. V, No. 3                Summer 2000
Copyright © 2000 American Diplomacy Publishers, Durham NC

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