Friday, 23 November 2012

If Pakistan provokes, India will hit back

Islamabad should be left in no doubt that even a ‘neo-Gandhian’ Indian leadership would not sit by idly, in the event of a repeat of a 26/11-style terrorist attack Pakistan remains the focus of international attention today, primarily because of fears of its pernicious role in international terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Pakistan’s propensity for international terrorism lay exposed when Osama bin Laden was found to be living comfortably with his three wives and several children and grandchildren at the heart of the Abbotabad Cantonment. Its readiness to even resort to nuclear terrorism was earlier exposed when nuclear scientists like Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood and Chaudhri Abdul Majeed, with known links with Osama bin Laden, were detained after the 9/11 terrorist strikes and charged with helping Al Qaeda to acquire nuclear and biological weapons. Shortly thereafter, the redoubtable AQ Khan’s role in transferring nuclear weapons designs and knowhow to Iran, Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia became public, though the Americans deliberately avoided implicating Khan’s bosses in the Pakistan Army.

While concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists remain, international attention is now focused on the fact that with an arsenal of over 100 nuclear weapons, Pakistan today has the fastest growing nuclear weapons programme in the world, heading towards developing the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. It is not however, any Pakistani General who has displayed an ability to explain why and how all this is happening. This responsibility has been left to Pakistan’s most savvy and hardnosed lady journalist-turned-diplomat Maleeha Lodi, well known for her close links with the Pakistan military establishment. Drawing attention to why Pakistan is rejecting international calls for concluding a “Fissile Material Cut off Treaty”, Ms Lodi avers that Pakistan has been seriously concerned by India’s conventional and strategic military build up. Predictably, she refers to the India-US nuclear deal and the subsequent waiver of NSG sanctions on India, as contributing to Pakistan’s accelerated development of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities.

In the course of her rationalisation of Pakistan’s feverish quest for new nuclear weapons, Ms Lodi explains that after having recently acquired plutonium capabilities, Pakistan can now miniaturise its nuclear weapons, which was more difficult earlier, with heavier enriched uranium warheads. It is known that over the past one-and-a-half decades China has obligingly provided Pakistan with unsafeguarded plutonium reactors and reprocessing facilities. She avers that Pakistan is committed to developing a “full spectrum deterrence”, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons. India’s nuclear doctrine makes it clear that while it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, it will respond with nuclear weapons, if there is a nuclear attack on “Indian territory, or on Indian forces anywhere”.

Pakistan now quite obviously seeks to reserve the right to carry out terrorist attacks on India and threatens that if India responds with a conventional attack to another 26/11-style terrorist attack, Indian forces would face the use of Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons. Pakistani military officials evidently believe that India would not resort to the use of nuclear weapons, if its forces are attacked with tactical nuclear weapons. Mr George Perkovich, an American non-proliferation analyst, recently noted: “Thus far the people of South Asia have been spared the potential consequences of deterrence instability because Indian leaders have not retaliated violently to terrorist attacks on iconic targets. India’s ‘neo-Gandhian’ forbearance was counter to the prescriptions of deterrence and cannot be expected to persist as new leaders emerge in Delhi”.

While Pakistan has not formally enunciated a nuclear doctrine, the long time head of the Strategic Planning Division of its Nuclear Command Authority, Lt General Khalid Kidwai, told a team of physicists from Italy’s Landau Network in 2002 that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were “aimed solely at India”. Mr Kidwai added that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons if India conquers a large part of Pakistan’s territory, or destroys a large part of Pakistan’s land and air forces.Mr Kidwai also held out the possibility of use of nuclear weapons if India tries to “economically strangle” Pakistan, or pushes it to political destabilisation. This elucidation, by the man who has been the de facto custodian of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal for over a decade and a prisoner of war in India in 1971-1973, was a precise formulation of Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds. It now appears that Pakistan’s military wants to also keep open the option of mounting further Mumbai-style terrorist attacks, by threatening to lower its nuclear threshold by use of tactical nuclear weapons. Since India has no intention of wasting resources by a prolonged conflict with Pakistan or by seizing its populated centres, Pakistan should be left in no doubt that even a “neo-Gandhian” Indian leadership would not sit by idly, in the event of a repeat of a 26/11 style terrorist attack.

It is interesting that despite a large portion of Pakistan’s Army now being deployed on its borders with Afghanistan, confident that India will not take advantage of this development, the Army should be adding new facets to its nuclear doctrine, in order to keep open its options for using terrorism as an instrument of state policy, in relations with India. While the Zardari Government is sincere in seeking to improve ties with India, Pakistan today faces a situation where the Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani publicly warns the judiciary and the elected Government not to mess around in dealing with its serving or retired officers accused of corruption and manipulating elections. The sad reality is, however, that it is India that has yielded ground on terrorism continuously, after the 26/11 attack, starting with the surrender at Sharm el-Sheikh.

India resumed the composite dialogue with Pakistan in 2004, only consequent on a categorical assurance from General Pervez Musharraf that territory under Pakistan’s control would not be used for terrorism against India. India has now, in all but name, resumed the composite dialogue process, despite receiving no assurances either on an end to terrorism, or on bringing the masterminds of 26/11 to justice. The least we should have done is to insist on the centrality of action by Pakistan on terrorism, in the dialogue process. Feting its Interior Minister Rahman Malik is hardly going to make any difference in the minds of the Pakistan military, which not too long ago barred Mr Malik from entering its Headquarters in Rawalpindi. The swagger and bluster of Pakistan’s military is, however, going to depend largely on how the situation across the disputed Durand Line with Afghanistan plays out. It is on this situation that India should remain focussed.

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