Opinion / Analysis

India and Pakistan: Not All is Over on the CBM Front

Dr. Mohammed Badrul Alam

In spite of the seemingly difficult terrain in generating and implementing confidence-building measures in South Asia, all are not doom and gloom. It is thus plausible to make the following conclusions based on existing regional and sub-regional arrangements in South Asia.

India and Pakistan, as the two new de facto nuclear weapon states in the nuclear club since 1998, have embarked upon some meaningful nuclear risk reduction measures through a series of bilateral agreements.

In South Asia, both India and Pakistan have initiated a series of sustained Track-II dialogues and discussions at the people to people basis outside of the regular governmental to governmental channels. Idea of having a nuclear risk reduction centre in both the countries have received favourable reactions both inside and outside of South Asian academe, analysts and policy makers including the skeptics who felt such a proposal to be too ambitious and hence unrealistic and unworkable.

In the past, through the institutional framework, SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) both India and Pakistan have tried to address various bilateral; issues including trade, commerce, and cultural contacts within the regional framework.

At the highest level of government, both India and Pakistan have made tangible efforts to evolve composite dialogue (including on the vexed issue of Kashmir). In particular, between 1999-2008, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Prime Ministers of India during that phase, Atal Behari Vajpayee and later, Dr.Manmohan Singh, have met several times one on one and have agreed on the basic modalities of confidence-building measures. The very fact that the current UPA government of India led by Dr.Manmohan Singh like its NDA predecessor has committed itself to pursue and continue the path of dialogue since 2004 is a welcome sign. It is extremely imperative that even after the heinous terrorist attack in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 and repeated terrorist attacks in Pakistani cities, both sides agree that the peace process must continue unabated. Similarly, it is very likely that whoever forms the next national government in Delhi will have to find ways to re-start the peace process between the two countries.

Although the hard liners in India and Pakistan still profess to have nuclear superiority over their respective rivals and even have the illusion of winning a nuclear war, yet the pro-engagement wing on both sides seems to have the upper hand at the present time.

By branding Pervez Musharraf who was in power, 1999-2008 and other leaders including present President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime minister Yusuf Zilani, and former Prime ministers Nawaz Shariff, Sartaj Aziz and Zafar Jamali of Pakistan as irrational minds have only raised the specter of nuclear threat in South Asia. The key to stability lies in dealing with whoever is in de facto charge in Islamabad.

Confidence-building measures such as the establishment of secured Hot- Lines between New Delhi and Islamabad provides a mechanism for the reduction of tension and in diffusing any imminent security issue that may snowball in to a potential grave crisis. Useful lessons can be drawn from similar major world events of the past such as the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when both the United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union came almost to the brink of war and it is the direct intervention between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev that saved the world from a nuclear catastrophe.

However, the key lies in building and expanding beyond these CBMs which are/were already agreed upon among the known (India/Pakistan) adversaries.

Six elements, according to analyst Maleeha Lodhi, are critical to sustain this process of dialogue: 1. Active preservation of agreements and CBMs ( military and non-military) instituted so far between India and Pakistan. 2. Promoting prompt resolution of disputes so that peace process gains momentum into a conflict resolution mode. 3. A problem-solving proactive approach applied by both sides. 4. Principle of reciprocity and genuine goodwill guiding the dialogue process. 5. Political contacts to be made and maintained sufficiently at high level to the highest level are needed to discuss issues critically and keep the engagement process moving. 6. Evolving a convergent and mutually beneficial vision for a future of peace and cooperation in the entire South Asian region.

What is more important in this regard is the perception of risk which appear to be only limited regional perceptions of the shared bilateral risks of nuclear war and avoidance of possible catastrophe. In the short to intermediate term, viable solution(s) must be evolved for solving the various, bilateral intractable issues so as to have saleability and acceptability by all stakeholders. There is also a compelling need to recalibrate other national strategic priorities - national defense, Kashmir, viable civil society, convert ‘trust deficit’ into ‘trust surplus’, etc. The issue is complicated further by the profound asymmetry between Pakistan's disproportionate obsession with India in its security architecture and India's substantial strategic space and recurring advantage and its focus on a range of security imperatives of which Pakistan is but one.

Author Note
Dr. Mohammed Badrul Alam is Professor of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India