The challenges that threaten a nation state, often though not always, spur new thinking beyond the existing framework of premises and perceptions. It may be useful in Pakistan’s present situation to examine the concept of deterrence that is the basis of defence policy. In Pakistan, the idea of national defence is predicated on the postulate that India is a permanent enemy. So the relationship with India is perceived as a zero sum game, whereby Pakistan’s gain is India’s loss and India’s gain is Pakistan’s loss. Accordingly, peace initiatives must be treated with suspicion. It can be argued, that such a postulate is inconsistent with the objective of achieving a stable deterrence between two nuclear armed states.
Nuclear weapons are the key element in the concept of deterrence. It is presumed that such deterrence will achieve a balance of terror that can provide a semblance of peace. The problem with nuclear weapons is that they can only serve the aim of national security if they deter, but never get used. As soon as nuclear weapons get used they become a means of self destruction for both protagonists, since the use by one induces a retaliatory response by the other. After all, mutually assured destruction (MAD) is the defining feature of nuclear deterrence. Yet, if deterrence based on a nuclear arsenal is to achieve the declared objective of preventing aggression, then as New Zealand-born Canadian weapons researcher Theon Te Koeti has argued: “It must reasonably be assumed that there is a possibility of it being used.” So while the possibility of nuclear war is integral to deterrence, the question of ‘peace’ hinges on reducing the probability of nuclear war.
There are three defining features of the India-Pakistan situation which imply a high probability of an accidental or deliberate nuclear war, thereby making deterrence in this context unstable: (a) The flying time of nuclear missiles between India and Pakistan is less than five minutes. This induces a tendency for first use of nuclear weapons in a situation where war is considered by any one state as imminent. (b) The unresolved Kashmir dispute and the emerging water disputes, fuel tensions between the two countries and make them susceptible to disinformation about each other’s intentions. (c) Intra-state social and political conflicts, feed off each other and exacerbate interstate tensions. These tensions have an explosive potential due to the belief in each country, that terrorism and insurgencies within it are being supported by the security apparatus of the other country.
In the current situation, another Mumbai style attack on an Indian city could induce a conventional military response from India, which could quickly escalate to a nuclear war. If India made limited territorial gains at a number of points along the border under their ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, it could induce the use of tactical nuclear weapons by Pakistan on Indian troops within its territory. Under the Indian nuclear doctrine (as indicated by Defence Minister George Fernandes in 2002), in such an eventuality, a full scale nuclear attack on Pakistan would be launched. Apart from this, since most of Pakistan’s major cities are within less than 100 kilometres of the border with India, loss of one or more of these cities following a conventional assault could spark a nuclear response.
Given the inherent instability of deterrence in the India-Pakistan context, the challenge for diplomacy is to reduce the present high probability of nuclear war. This is why the Pakistan government has done well in sharing with Indian security agencies, intelligence reports that terrorist groups may target the World Cup semi-final in Mohali. The subsequent invitation by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari is an example of wise statesmanship. It could provide an opportunity to make a new beginning in the peace process. The aim of this peace process should be to give succour to the people of the subcontinent, who live under the sword of Damocles called deterrence.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2011.
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