Fifteen years later

Published: December 26, 2013
The writer is the co-founder of the Stimson Centre. Stimson’s new book, Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia, can be accessed at

The writer is the co-founder of the Stimson Centre. Stimson’s new book, Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia, can be accessed at

India and Pakistan have travelled a long distance since testing nuclear devices in 1998. Back then, government officials and leading strategic thinkers on the subcontinent expressed confidence that these tests would have stabilising effects. Going public with the Bomb would relieve anxieties and facilitate diplomatic efforts to normalise relations. In countries where many lived in poverty that placed a premium on economic growth, all that was needed was minimum, credible deterrence.

It’s worth recalling these aspirations 15 years later, during which Pakistan and India have fought one limited war and have experienced two severe crises. Their nuclear arsenals have grown steadily as diplomacy has faltered. JN Dixit, former Indian foreign secretary and national security adviser, was wrong when he wrote that nuclear testing “removes complexes, suspicions, and uncertainties about each other’s nuclear capabilities … [and] could persuade the governments of India and Pakistan to discuss bilateral disputes in a more rational manner”.

General K Sundarji, India’s most daring military strategist was also wrong when he wrote that, “A mutual minimum nuclear deterrent will act as a stabilising factor.” Air Commodore Jasjit Singh felt similarly. He predicted that, “Deterrence will continue, but on a higher level. I don’t think we are going to see a slide toward instability.”

Pakistan’s strategic analysts were in agreement. General KM Arif forecast that “The nuclear option will promote regional peace and create stability”. Retired foreign secretary and soon-to-be foreign minister Abdul Sattar concurred: “Attainment of nuclear capabilities by Pakistan and India has helped promote stability and prevented dangers of war … Self-interest itself should persuade Pakistan and India to exercise due restraint.” Prime Ministers AB Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif echoed these sentiments.

These high hopes were based on false premises. Optimists discounted domestic politics and institutions pushing for more bombs and better ways to deliver them. The abstract notion of minimum, credible deterrence had little chance against growing threat perceptions. Another false premise was that diplomatic success could be midwifed by devices with horrific destructive powers. In every case where states felt compelled by security concerns to cross the nuclear threshold, their sense of insecurity only grew when a nuclear competition ensued.

A third false premise was that diplomacy could somehow be given a sustainable boost, just because of the Bomb. Prime Minister Vajpayee tried to jump-start improved relations by travelling over Partition’s blood-soaked ground to Lahore, the most symbolic act of reconciliation thus far in the subcontinent’s nuclear history. But the Bomb is utterly indifferent to its uses, whether for peace-making or war fighting. So far, those who have sought reconciliation have been easily trumped by others who have sought military advantage under the nuclear umbrella or the disruption of diplomatic initiatives. Vajpayee’s attempt at Lahore was torpedoed by the Kargil war. Far less ambitious attempts at reconciliation by subsequent prime ministers in India and Pakistan have been foiled by spectacular acts of terror on Indian soil.

Engineering missiles is easy compared with engineering diplomatic accords. Accolades are given to those who do the former; brickbats await those who try the latter. Since the 1998 tests, India and Pakistan have together flight-tested 17 types of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.  Not all of these missiles will actually carry nuclear warheads and missile types will be consolidated over time. But by any reckoning, 17 is a very large number — one that makes a mockery of the promises made in 1998 to pursue minimum, credible deterrence.

In contrast, the number of tangible diplomatic accomplishments since 1998 has been paltry. In 2003, Pakistan and India agreed to a ceasefire along the Kashmir divide. This agreement has often been breached, but remains essential. In 2005, another agreement was reached to provide prior notification of ballistic missile flight tests, followed by another in 2007 to provide notification of nuclear accidents. Other efforts have been made to increase cross-border trade, but progress has been beset by the usual bickering over linkages and conditionalities. Little of substance has been accomplished since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, whose planners have demonstrated stronger resolve than government officials who wish to improve India-Pakistan relations.

A new Indian coalition government, regardless of its composition, can be expected to try again to improve relations with Pakistan. Significantly increased direct trade and nuclear risk reduction will again become possible. The likelihood of new explosions in India that can be traced back to Pakistan will also grow. The hopes expressed back in 1998 will once again be tested. Will national leaders finally have the resolve to fulfill these promises and how will they manage to deal with spoilers?

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (34)

  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 26, 2013 - 10:53PM

    Sir ji, making and keeping these flowers do help us not to get colonized again and in the future will help us to get on feet and make free decisions if god willing, and it did help us both countries to not to go mad dog and killed millions on both sides and hopefully soon they will realized and solved the kashmir dispute too which is left by mountbaton, and keeping these things is helping us stay in the neighborhood of cukoos like Russia, Iran, india, afghanistan and many more…..


  • Indian Business Analyst
    Dec 26, 2013 - 11:53PM

    u just njyyy….and from next time dont compare us with pakistan..we feel insulted as we are such low class people in front of pakis………


  • lol
    Dec 27, 2013 - 12:37AM

    india-pakistan relations…. ufff….dats enough already….. balllz to pakistan…. we simply dont care…. we have our own concerns…. and targets…. frndship with pakistan is not one amongst them…. the common man doesn’t even think of it….so plz get away with this india pakistan romance…. there is no india pakistan…. it is rather pakistan afghanistan….. pakistan is a neighbouring country of ours finished…..if it wants good relations then fine…otherwise…get lost….so plz do away with such useless articles…….Recommend

  • Riz
    Dec 27, 2013 - 8:32AM

    No full scale Indo-Pak war in the last 4 decades….!!! Nuclear weapons have contributed positively as well


  • Feroz
    Dec 27, 2013 - 8:51AM

    The United States remains the only country to have used Nuclear Weapons. It is also the country strongly opposing the elimination of all Nuclear Weapons. It has promoted religious fanatism and used terrorism as tools during its Cold War avatar, to the detriment of many friendly countries who suffered the consequences of its unwise actions. Now both the US and Pakistan continue to reap the rewards of duplicity and opportunism. Thank You America for making Pakistan a highly flammable tinderbox that needs just a spark to ignite.


  • Crystal vlear
    Dec 27, 2013 - 9:06AM

    No one even care about pakistan in india until terrorist actvity!
    Acco to me u should research on next 15 year of world…surely gona get a reality check
    World economy in 2028..
    Dont even compare pakistan with India but with afghanistan.


  • Nikki
    Dec 27, 2013 - 10:01AM


    It is America’s fault and mistake for providing heavy aid in 50s,70s,80s? No, Pakistn got mamximum aid not for America’s development for our own secuirty and survival.Sir, the seed of extrimism and terrorism is nurtured by our own internal actors for to retain in power or gain power.
    We should admit our mistakes too and this is the beautiy of our religion and democracy too.
    Q: Why has Pakistan been used by a superpower.?


  • Sadia
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:11AM

    Despite the reassurance it gains from having nuclear weapons, Pakistan has offered to dismantle its arsenal if India does the same.


  • Saba
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:13AM

    Even though the United States wants to limit the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, it seems to have given up on denuclearising the sub-continent. because nuclear weapons brought stability to the region.


  • Wijdan
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:13AM

    Nuclear arms history is not 15 years back in South Asia. It starts with Indian nuclear test in 1974. Operation smiling bhuda the code name for Indian nuclear test is responsible for the unending Nuclear Arms race in South Asia.


  • kumar anupam
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:19AM

    @Nikki, It was the grave mistake by Canada to provide nuclear technology to India for peaceful purposes. India deceived Canada and nuclear energy turned towards weapons purposes. Soon after Indian nuclear test, NSG was created to restrict Indian access to nuclear technology. We should accept bitter reality.


  • Zurtasha
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:24AM

    There is no way to get out from geo strategic blessings than to accept the rival neighbourhood. Pakistan and India always defined the security status of region. Nuclear is an element which has been introduced with high ambitions to have stability and security. Although, we are not engaged in any big war but skirmishes at low level can’t be avoided. The natures of threats and challenges have been changed but risk of war or even nuclear war is en ever existent fear. Diplomatic channels have been established in order to ease off the tensions. Besides all this, a vast mechanism of propaganda building against Pakistan, Indian military modernization and Cold Start doctrine inculcate security dilemma and reflects the Indian intentions of waging a war against Pakistan. There are many transnational issues on both sides which need to engage a collective mechanism. The new Government in Pakistan is on pragmatic lines to establish peaceful relations with India as war is not fruitful for any one.


  • Nihar
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:28AM

    India’s unwillingness to part with its nuclear arsenal in turn makes it impossible for Pakistan to dismantle its own program. Given Pakistan’s geostrategic vulnerability, its belief in India’s intransigence, and its unavoidable conventional military inferiority, nuclear weapons provide Islamabad with a margin of reassurance. Again, although many in the global non-proliferation community would wish to see a denuclearized Pakistan, such a prospect remains unlikely given the regional configuration of power.


  • Robert
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:35AM

    Pakistan is acutely aware of the risks and responsibilities accompanying nuclear weapons. Pakistan responded to India’s 1974 nuclear test with redoubled efforts to keep the region nuclear-free, realizing that a nuclear race in South Asia would have far-reaching consequences. It proposed a nuclear weapons-free zone in South Asia; a joint renunciation of acquisition or manufacture of nuclear weapons; mutual inspection of nuclear facilities; adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on nuclear facilities; a bilateral nuclear test ban; and a missile-free zone in South Asia.


  • Neer
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:36AM

    The international community should encourage a process of peace and rapprochement, help promote the peaceful resolution of disputes, and support nuclear stabilization and restraint in South Asia. The world must also pay attention to the root causes of insecurity and instability in South Asia. Resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is indispensable for the region’s peace and prosperity.


  • Samad
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:38AM

    The United Nation must continue to play an important role in transforming South Asia’s security environment from confrontation to cooperation.


  • Nikki
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:51AM

    Why is it conditional.India has already refused to do so,Pakistan should have its own policy…we always have India centred Policy and remain doubted in front of the west.
    Both sides know the aftermaths of using NW.And will avoid to go for any adventure.


  • Nikki
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:57AM


    UNO? Only states themselves have to decide about their security and survival,dont expect UNO will provide the guarntee .International sysem is changing very quickly and state is a part of it.Sate must know how much power is required and it should also know the potential of its rival state.UNO cannot detemine the power it is only state.


  • Hey!!
    Dec 27, 2013 - 1:46PM

    India used to have a pak centricpolicies in 70s , but now it is different . Now we are concentrated on Good governance and economy . But don’t be mistaken , we continue to remain hostile with Pakistan and will be hostile in future also . Won’t entertain any mercy in case of full scale war and will ensure another 71 in Pak history. Whoever comes to power , this policy will remain unchanged.


  • chandran
    Dec 27, 2013 - 1:49PM

    sorry sir, we have border China and Burma also
    Pakistanis should not forget about that.


  • M Ali Khan
    Dec 27, 2013 - 1:55PM

    then don’t blame Pakistan for trying to counter such an aggressive posture from India :)


  • Chetan
    Dec 27, 2013 - 2:44PM

    @ Author: Please go over the comments from the readers as these will give you some idea of prevailing trends in Indian public opinion. We have become a myopic society given the economic bubble of last few years and conflict in the neighboring region. This is further inflamed by our versatile politicians who spare no time in blaming Pakistan for all home-made ills.
    I have just returned from Pakistan and this was my sixth visit since 2003. I found an average Pakistani more imaginative, thoughtful, and open-minded. Same goes for Pakistani society and economy. Its economy is more vibrant than what our chauvinist yahoos think, its people have a vision, though little over-shadowed by religion. An average Pakistani was warm, welcoming and not what we think of them. We need to build bridges than making off the wall comments.


  • Nikki
    Dec 27, 2013 - 2:54PM

    Happy to see your comment,at least someone talking wisely. Pakistani society is exactly the same as you have obsrved.Young people think differently they want to see this country free from war and conflict.


  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Dec 27, 2013 - 4:25PM

    @chetan, do u hv proof of what your saying….that is not what we see through any net comments.
    ” pakistan economy more vibrant, pakistani people more open minded, “..” though little over shadowed by religion “….
    whom did u meet in pakistan seriously…
    society is judged by the peoples actions !!!!


  • Mobeen Tariq
    Dec 27, 2013 - 4:42PM

    After the advent of nuclear weapons the security environment has changed. There is no global war like WWI and WWII. No direct confrontation between the two super powers in cold war. Deterrence has become the corner stone of strategy. Nuclear deterrence is the core of strategic stability in South Asia.


  • Zeenia
    Dec 27, 2013 - 5:19PM

    The history of South asian nuclearization got started somewhere in 1974 when India tested its first nuclear weapon devise and then in 1998 pakistan followed suit when India again tested its nuclear device raising security concerns for he pakistani government. Introduction of nuclear weapons in the South asian region have provided both the rival countries with deterrent capability specifically to Pakistan because it is much inferior in conventional forces of India.Other than this there have been many factors which are and have been dragging pakistan to develop more weapons to that to stabilize the regional strategic balance. pakistan has many times at the diplomatic ends proposed initiatives for disarament and arms control but India refused to come forward for talks. Regional security environment of South asia is dependent upon Pakistan and India but India is dragging Pakistan in an arms race by developing new technology and also by enhancing its military capability quantitatively and qualitatively.Recommend

  • Rabia
    Dec 27, 2013 - 6:41PM

    Many arguments are used to harangue India and Pakistan, pointing out that they are foolish to believe that by going nuclear they are augmenting their national security, when by Western reckoning they are only increasing their vulnerability to nuclear chastisement (by the legitimately nuclear adults of the world, the USA, China, etc.) This kind of patronizing attitude is so infuriating. Recommend

  • unbelievable
    Dec 27, 2013 - 8:35PM

    Nukes don’t guarantee peace – that’s a myth sold by politicians/military which ignores the obvious. They also don’t reduce the need for conventional weapons. Nobody ever seemed to notice that the USA, UK, France, China etc had all been attacked after they developed nuclear capabilities far beyond what Pakistan/India had developed – nukes also didn’t slow the rate of conventional arms buildup. One of those Elephant in the Room things that some people still can’t see.


  • Mukund
    Dec 27, 2013 - 9:13PM

    Tensions with Pakistan unfortunately give room for the Big Bully USA to harass both of us.
    Hope the new year brings peace between
    between Ahanistan, Pakistan and India.


  • nrmr44
    Dec 27, 2013 - 9:59PM

    It’s not very clear where this writer wants to go with this. Who ever claimed that nuclear weapons were developed by India and Pakistan as a method to establish peace? Or that absence of nuclear weapons would have somehow ensured peace?
    What is fundamental to India and Pakistan is hostility: nuclear weapons are subsidiary to that. It is not that nuclear weapons are fundamental and hostility is a derivative.
    Take away the hostility, and the nuclear weapons will go away. Take away the nuclear weapons and the hostility will still be alive and prospering.
    Perhaps, like me, the writer had some time to kill! Perhaps like me, he finds nuclear weapons outside the sub-continent boring.


  • Asad Khan
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:19PM

    Spot On!

    The Writer is not a time killer, I can tell you that. He is very “fond” of Pakistan Nuclear Capability. He always resort to his “here we go round the mulberry bush” time to time in ArmsControlWonk site.

    …..anything which provides Pak a counter balance to India should be deemed as a De-stabilizer. Just like Late Air Commodore Jasjit Singh’s Analysis in 1987 (Writer’s favorite)



  • Rick
    Dec 28, 2013 - 12:20AM

    The author is so definitive and judgmental: “The likelihood of new explosions in India that can be traced back to Pakistan will also grow.” The “will also grow” part shows as if he has a blue print of such a despicable plan! He has chosen not to mention what the Indians do to Pakistan – their COAS said the he ran a “Butchery”. The current U.S. Secretary of defense is on record of saying that India is involved in fomenting instability in Pakistan!!
    The difference is clear – the “explosions” in India were at best initiated by non-state actors but there is evidence that similar explosions continue to occur daily in Pakistan and are sponsored by Indian state.Recommend

  • Rafi Ka Deewana
    Dec 28, 2013 - 1:20AM

    The easiest way out of its self-created terrorism mess for Pakistan is to start a war with India. Thank God for the nukes!


  • Overseas Pakistani
    Dec 28, 2013 - 6:44PM

    Why do we see things in such a “me-centric” way? India’s decision to develop nuclear weapons in the 1960s (which came to fruition in 1974) was not in response to us (she had won every previous war against us), but was in response to a nuclear China which had beaten it decisively in 1962. As long as China remains nuclear, India will never agree to nuclear disarmament.


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