What does it mean, if anything?

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Some have said Mr. Jaswant Singh has said it: India’s nuclear deterrence is not based on any perceived threat. In other words it is sui generis. What is then the purpose for spending the astronomical sums on a modern, credible, effective and survivable deterrent? There is something about strategic importance. The rest of the rhetoric about nuclear weapons being the currency of power and their ability to confer importance and influence in the comity of nations, can be heard in the background. The weapons are, in this sense, meant to make India capable of throwing its weight about. It so happens that Mr. Jaswant’s senior colleague and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has designated Pakistan as an enemy state and has proclaimed his readiness to go to war, if Pakistan does not do as India wishes it to. Doubtless, a lot of India’s domestic politics is involved. It is a BJP government that has, all said and done, its own agenda of capturing unadulterated power, unencumbered with having to please a larger number of allies. Running an Indian government, with India’s present problems, requires all manner of posturing. But in the case of the BJP leader, with the background of a heightened hate campaign against Pakistan spanning over just under a year, the fundamentals of BJP politics ought not to be forgotten. Anti-Pakistan tirades win cheap popularity. But a significant part of it is that it effortlessly slides into an anti-Muslim hysteria in India. And BJP has, since 1989, prospered on a growing anti-Muslim rhetoric, open and secret, culminating in destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992. That great achievement has catapulted BJP into a major national party with a foothold in the portals of Indian power. If Mr. Vajpayee scents more votes in heightened tension with Pakistan, that easily hides anti-Muslim sentiments already present in a large section, he cannot be faulted. That is realpolitik.

It so happens that the preceding conditions were for the present discussion a relevant consideration. Realpolitik has normally been associated with inter-state relationship that, from classical times, has been conceived as being best on power: the more powerful dominates and the weaker one goes to the wall. But the distinction during the 20th century has got blurred, thanks to the growth of democracy and explosion of information associated with ease of communications. Parties now have domestic planks that involve inter-state relationships virtually all over the world. In the case of India and Pakistan, whether or not democracy is real or sham, popular involvement in political passions vis-a-vis the other state — and at one remove the other community — is a fact of life. In the Subcontinent this blurring of domestic and foreign policies is as real as in western Europe, though much to be deprecated for its clout and consequences.

A piquant situation has emerged. Here is an Indian nuclear deterrent that usually have all the qualities adumbrated in the draft nuclear doctrine no matter what precise language would the eventually formally debated doctrine will have. These are qualities that Pakistan has necessarily to copy. Indeed it has already been proclaimed by no less a person than the current Foreign Minister of the country. In Pakistan’s case, mercifully or otherwise, the Pakistani minimal nuclear deterrent is threat specific. It has centered on just one perceived threat: from India. Up to a theoretical point, it is more manageable. For example, if India by a combination of agreements and conduct, provides sufficient sense of security to the Pakistanis that matter, the later can then think of doing without it — in theory at least. No doubt, it is fanciful to talk of nuclear weapons being rolled back or mothballed. But it is possible to argue for the sake of argument. But in real life India’s political scene has to be seen in full and in perspective. No Indian government is insight that would do what it would take for powers that be in Pakistan to mothball or dismantle their deterrent. They are there.

It is unnecessary to go on arguing and re-arguing over the suitability of having a nuclear deterrent. In one way it is certainly relevant. The deterrent has come into being behind high walls of secrecy. The people of Pakistan were not involved and, as some politicians are sure to argue, no other people were taken into confidence by their respective governments before going nuclear. Nevertheless the debate has to be joined. The involvement of the people in Pakistan-India relationship requires us to pay heed to actual opinion to be found in the country and to ascertain the precise strength of the two main lobbies: those who are for the nukes and those who think that Pakistan had better get out of this particular rat race. Reference to the British or the Russian or the Chinese common people having been kept in ignorance about their countries’ going nuclear does not apply in recent and in the specific subcontinental conditions. The consequences are to be faced by the common people. To this extent their view are vital and security thinkers have to take them into account.

The other consideration is more current situation oriented. The two competing nuclear deterrents are being built up. One is reasonably sure that both countries so far lack all the prerequisites of comprehensive safety of both the weapons and the people. But even more important is the worry about interplay between the political forces operating in the two countries and the strategic and tactical doctrine that suggests themselves to the two governments. It is possible to assert, as politicians in New Delhi and Islamabad are sure to do that political leadership would decide, in the end on rational grounds after due and mature thought when and how to use these weapons. The conduct of politics, especially between the two antagonists does not inspire much confidence where all actions are being taken after due or mature thought. It uncommonly looks like that the governments are guided more by winds of hatred than any mature thought. The series of incidents that have taken place since May 1998 — Lahore process, Kargil, shooting down of a Pakistani naval plane and hijacking of an Indian airliner — do not suggest that any of the two governments is on top of the situation or is in control of all events in its boundary. What of one would say of the incident that happened in the Chamb sector on Saturday Jan 22nd? Where does it fit in the Indian strategy? Doubtless people can argue that it is a part of the game of brinkmanship. May be India was signaling to Islamabad and Washington that the present situation has to be ended — on India’s terms. Pakistanis, at least initially, have replied in similar language and match the same effect. Whatever the strategic doctrines that are to finally emerge in the two countries how does one manage both politics and to nuclear deterrent competing with each other amidst high antagonist passions and a politics driven by ruthless self-interest.

The management of the situation has been so far entrusted to the Americans. It is a unilateral unstoppable arrangement. Foreigners cannot bring peace while locals are spoiling for a fight and keep on their pinpricks. How can the present situation be aligned with the longer term strategic and medium to short term tactics of those who have shaped security policies in the two countries?

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