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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

National Security And 'Nuclear Deterrence' In The Indian Subcontinent

I'm constantly amazed by the wide range of topics columnist Aakar Patel chooses to write about. A columnist inside whom, perhaps, resides the spirits of Leonardo da Vinci's fellow Renaissance man, Athanasius Kircher1.

In his latest column he ventures into opining about 'Nuclear deterrence', which he believes has robbed India of its security options. His argument is predicated on his contention that it was Pokhran II, the 1998 Nuclear tests that India, under the BJP-lead NDA government, conducted which cost India its ability to react militarily to belligerent pakistani actions, for its was followed up by tit-for-tat pakistani tests. He, essentially tries to lay the blame for what he holds is a weakened Indian position, at BJP's doorstep. Hardly surprising, the attempt.
India maintains that its deterrent posture isn't country-specific. Even if one isn't convinced on that count, it doesn't matter as far as this post is concerned. However, what one can not dispute is the fact that there are at least 2 countries in its neighbourhood, who covet Indian territory - the communist People's Republic of China & the Islamic Republic of pakistan. While Mr Patel's word-fest draws sole attention to the latter, it is, in fact the former, a Nuclear Weapon state, against whom India needs to be ever more on the guard, even while it increasingly engages it through trade & commerce. In light of periodically emanating rhetoric from the communists towards its neighbours, the need to stay vigilant has never been greater. It, perhaps, requires no elucidation why, to deter a Nuclear-armed nation, having a few in your own arsenal provides your deterrence a semblance of credibility. What needs also be kept in mind is that a Nuclear deterrence is one that deters against actions whose damage is on a scale comparable, or greater, to that caused by the use of Nuclear weapons. Anyone who tries to sell an argument that nuclear weapons are a silver bullet for all anathema is, in fact, a snake oil salesman.
It is ironic that, if at all blame had to be assigned, it is the BJP that is blamed for "weakening India's security". The 1998 tests were also referred to as the 'Pokhran II' tests. A nominal awareness of India's post-independence past would have taught on that in 1974 India, under the government of the then Congress party, had conducted its maiden Nuclear test - "Pokhran I". The fact that India labelled it as a "Peaceful Nuclear Explosion" fooled none, least of all the Americans who then began marshalling its incomparable resources, to put in place a regime that would tightly control trade in Nuclear technology, essentially to try & throttle India's programme. Thus, was born the Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG]. As they subsequently realised, this technology denial regime had just the opposite effect on India. It is ironic, therefore, that now it is the very same America that has expressed support for India's inclusion as a member of the NSG.
Admittedly, we've digressed. Just can't help citing a epic irony when there is one available for citing. The fact remains that the design India tested in 1974 was very much military strategic in its purpose. This fact was, later, acknowledged by none other than  Dr. Raja Ramanna, who was at the helms of affairs of India's Nuclear weapons programme at the time of the 1974 test.
"The Pokhran test was a bomb, I can tell you now... An explosion is an explosion, a gun is a gun whether you shoot at someone or shoot at the ground... I just want to make clear that the test was not all that peaceful,"
It would, therefore, be reasonable to assume that India would have built at least a couple of devices using the '74 design, notwithstanding its rudimentary nature, as an instrument of last resort, that would have to be pushed out of a transport aircraft. Therefore, having done what it had done in 1974, any subsequent action on part of the BJP should, in fact, be moot. Yet, Mr Patel points fingers at the BJP. Illogical, isn't it? Also to keep in mind is the fact that years before India conducted its first Nuclear test pakistan, had made public its intent to acquire Nuclear weapons. The decision was subsequently reiterated yet again after suffering a humiliating defeat to India in the 1971 war, yet again before India had conducted the 1974 test. As we shall see next, not only did pakistan assemble the bomb, they also managed to test their assembly skills, years before BJP's 1998 decision.
One of the pitfalls of anointing a bombast as the head of your effort to acquire nukes is that, having acquired it, you're compelled to boast about it. This is exactly the case with pakistani nuclear proliferator, wanted for questioning & prosecution internationally, Abdul Qadeer Khan [AQ Khan], also derisively referred to as 'Photochor Khan'2. Unable to withhold the news of pakistan's latest acquisition, that occurred under his watch, he blurted out this fact during an interview with an Indian journalist,
""Tell them we have it, we have it,'' a furious Khan told Nayar pounding his hand on the table, says the book. Beyond The Lines recounts that the author tricked Khan into admitting it by concocting a story that, before coming to Pakistan, he ran into Dr Homi Sethna, the father of India's nuclear bomb, who asked Nayar why he was wasting time by going to meet him because Pakistan had neither the human resource nor the material to make such a weapon. Khan even claimed in the meeting that Pakistan's bomb was larger than the one India had exploded in Rajasthan on May 18, 1974"
AQ-Khan-pakistan-Nuclear-Proliferator-Radical-Anti-American-IslamistThe blabbermouth that AQ Khan is, in the recent past he has even admitted to receiving weapons-grade Uranium from the Chinese, along with designs to build a Nuclear weapon, confirming earlier reports. It is widely believed that the design provided was the CHIC-4, one China had itself tested in 1966, since it was small enough to be used as a missile warhead. It would be in order to remind that a proven design requires no further testing - straight into production it could go. Not having to conduct an actual test of a nuclear weapon, that would've have theoretically3 attracted sanctions, pakistan had no reason to hold back from putting the design into production. Nevertheless, it has been stated that in 1990, one of the tests conducted in China was one to verify the bomb pakistan had assembled, in all likelihood, the design China itself had provided - a quality control [QC] test, in production terminology. 7 years earlier, in 1983, the presence of pakistan's then Foreign minister at Lop Nur, in China, during yet another test hints at the tested device possibly being made by pakistan. There shouldn't really be any doubt in the mind of an individual that long before the 1998 test, pakistan was in possession of operational nuclear weapons. The fact that the pakistanis, conducted their acknowledged tests in just around 3 weeks after India's should leave no doubt in the minds of the sceptics as to where the pakistanis stood in terms of readiness of their nuclear weapons.
Aakar Patel's statement, therefore, that, "Before Vajpayee’s 1998 gambit in Pokhran, both India and Pakistan had nuclear capacity, but not weapons.", is one he plagiarises from the current description of Japan's nuclear status but is, with all due respects, balderdash in the context of the Indian sub-continent. What one also need remember is the fact that if a weapon is sufficiently simple & rudimentary, over-engineered, then one can be assured of its functioning without having to test it. The case in point being the Siachen-Brigadier-Varinder-Singh-Indian-Armydevices that the Allied Forces dropped on Hiroshima, that brought to an end World War II, along with tested device dropped on Nagasaki.
Thus, it was under the shadow of this very mutual nuclear weapons capabilities that the Indian Army in 1987, lead by, [then Major] Brigadier Varinder Singh & ably executed by [then Naib Subedar] Honorary Captain Bana Singh, launched a counter-attack on the occupying pakistani Army. Their soldiers had placed themselves on positions on the Siachen glaciers which, according to Line of Control [LOC] agreed upon in the Shimla Agreement, was not part of pakistan-occupied Kashmir. What one needs to realise is that even then, India took back possession of territory, as demarcated by the LOC,Honorary-Captain-Bana-Singh-Indian-Army-Siachen without transgressing it - more than a decade before BJP authorised Nuclear tests.
Mr. Patel rues that India is currently incapable of retaliating against pakistan for mutilating & beheading 2 Indian Army soldiers. He, offers no means by which India would have retaliated to avenge the death had the 1998 tests not taken place. He, however, cites two examples - the 1965 war & the 1971 war to liberate Bangladesh, when India crossed the International Border [IB],  in retaliation. Is he suggesting that India, as response to the death of two soldiers, should/could/would have launched a full-scale war, crossing the international border, conventional, though, it would be?
In trying to make a case against the BJP he, however, conveniently disregards his own statements. In both the cases the pakistan military openly crossed over into India, both across the IB & what then was called the ceasefire line. Thus in response to an open aggression of a foreign military, India correspondingly retaliated, openly ordering its own military to repulse/liberate, as was the case. In the recent killing of two soldiers, the opposite side has flatly denied responsibility. A little consideration would lead one to conclude the precedence cited don't apply here by a long margin.
Kargil-War-Indian-Army-Soldiers Kargil-War-India-pakistan-Artillery
What is one to make of his assertion that during the Kargil War India "could not counter-attack" & hence the Indian Army was asked to "retake the peaks one by one, and at great cost"? Reading those lines, one can actually visualise India's Army Chief climbing up the hill and, with folded hands & humility in voice, requesting the pakistani Army soldiers to vacate Indian bunkers. If pounding the hilltops with continues barrage of artillery fire & aerial strikes, that is are being considered as hallmarks of innovation in aerial military operation, doesn't confirm to "Field Marshall" Aakar Patel's definition of a counter-attack, then one wonders what does? So fierce was India's "not counter-attack" that the pakistani Army Chief rushed his Prime minster to the U.S., seeking to use his good office to extricate pakistan from the agony India was inflicting. A pakistani General himself has recently revisited the fate of pakistani troops in face of India's non counter-attack. The joke is on you Mr Patel.
Indian-Army-Victorious-pakistan-Bangladesh-1971India's current pakistan-policy, irrespective of who forms the government in India, hinges around steadfastly adhering to the provisions of the Shimla Agreement4, signed between the the two nations in 1972, when pakistan's then President visited India to seek, yet again, safe passage for nearly 1 lakh surrendered pakistani soldiers. Among the provisions of the agreement was the conversion of the Ceasefire Line into the LOC. Thus, what until then ['65 & '71] was a position, as determined solely by military presence, received a higher-order bilateral diplomatic and political endorsement. It was agreed upon by both to respect the sanctity of the LOC. While antecedent has shown repeated pakistani attempts to violate & redraw the LOC, the latest being the Kargil War, India has stubbornly, unilaterally continued to abide by it. Whatever be the advantage or lack of, it places India on a higher moral pedestal, something India pursues as a policy on all fronts, especially foreign policy.
If, during the Kargil War, India were to cross the LOC, there could have been two course of actions - (1) the Indian military retreats back to its original position after their mission was accomplished or (2) it could continue to stay put where it had set foot inside PoK. Consider the former scenario. Can one imagine how this would be viewed, or the propaganda campaign its would provided the pakistanis to undertake? Here is a country, they could gloat, that is incapable of even staying on territory that its own Parliament had unanimously declared as its own. This retreat back of the LOC would have offered the pakistanis just the kind of ammunition to make it appear to the world that fearing pakistan, India even pulled back from territory it calls its own, thus undermining India's stand on its territorial integrity. The repercussions of staying put on territory, currently across the LOC, would have been just as destabilising and detrimental to India's primary commitment to the development of the country & empowerment of its people settled on Indian territories it actually governs.
Indian-Prime-Minister-Atal-Bihari-Vajpayee-BJPIt is, therefore, to the immense credit of the BJP-lead government, under the sagacious leadership of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that it took the decision to repulse the pakistani occupation, all the while honouring the LOC. The blame for violation, therefore, lies solely with the occupiers. The Kargil war was waged to accomplish a vey limited set of goals - to restore the sanctity of the LOC. Hardly could India have claimed to be honouring the sanctity if It itself was seen violating it. Furthermore, since the Indian Armed Forces hadn't crossed the LOC, the international community did not press for a ceasefire. Can you imagine what would have happened, then, if India did & was then forced into a cease-fire before it had evicted all the intruders? It would have lost more territory to pakistan. Sometimes it is hardest to do right, as shown by this conflict. Maintaining status quo on the territorial issue, up until the time India is in an indisputable position of strength to turn the tide in its favour, if it chooses to, is a wise course of action to pursue. pakistan is well aware that with each passing day time is running out for it & is, therefore, trying tooth & nail to deviate India from its chosen path. Hold firm, India must.
To seek retribution & deterrence towards pakistan's periodic display of barbarity, India must have at its disposal options and capability to inflict a disproportionate amount of non-linear, punitive actions, aimed at pakistan's jugular, with adequate plausible deniability. Development or possession of such capabilities, are independent of the possession of nuclear weapons, and neither do decisions to execute these options come with a shelf-life. As stated by the Chief of Army Staff [COAS] General Bikram Singh, "India reserves the right to retaliate at the "time and place" of its choosing". Hitting back at pakistan immediately, in a predictable manner, would be playing right into the pakistani military's hands, as they hope India react in just that manner. Keeping the belligerent on the tenterhooks, wearing him down mentally, anticipating a retaliation, constitutes a vital part of damage actions.
The sluggish pace of the Indian military's mobilisation post-attack on the Parliament gave the pakistanis enough time to dig in their heels in defensive positions. Thus, having lost the initiative, any order to march into pakistan would have resulted in loss of Indian lives, even in a conventional battle itself, on a scale disproportionate to the eventual outcome. Any consideration of a nuclear retaliation was preceded by the aversion to loss that would be suffered in a conventional battle itself.  Whatever, the Indian leadership are often accused of, suicidal isn't one of them. The military is said to have gone back to the drawing board, subsequently, devising means for streamlining their mobilisation effort, cutting down time, when called upon. The term popularly used in the media is the "Cold Start Doctrine", that entails a lot more than what the Armed Forces have acknowledged. There is even an argument that 'Operation Parakram' wasn't even about exacting revenge on pakistan for the Parliament attack, but a means by which the BJP-lead December-04-1971-pakistan-Starts-War-India-Bangladesh-RESIZEgovernment could restore the democratic process, that had ground to a halt in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, among others. In absence of three collinear points needed to define a straight line, one would leave it to the reader to judge the soundness & validity of that argument, although I personally have a few reservations about it. I could be wrong.
There is a reason why the pakistan Army carries out such attacks, and why it can & will do only so much and no more. The world first witnessed the false bluster & bravado of the pakistan Army [see left] when, in 1971, nearly a 1 lakh of their troops surrendered to the Indian Army inside what was technically their own territory, without as much of a fight6. Subsequently, when an American Deputy Secretary of State threatened a pakistani dictator to bomb pakistan back into the Stone Ages, the mere utterances of words from a not-so-high-level political appointee were sufficient for pakistan to acquiesce, begin doing American bidding. These examples amply highlight the fact that the pakistan Army is no fighting force. The sole purpose of its current existence is to the be power-centre of the country it lords over & enrich itself by monopolising pakistan's commercial business sector - by no means traits of an Army that has committed to protect the country it serves.
However, for them to retain their pre-eminence in the pakistani society, they have to ensure that pakistan simmers in continued animosity with one who can be shown to pose an existential threat, against whom the pakistan Army can then be seen as protecting. India happens to be a convenient choice. However, if you can't show India reacting in a manner which it can project as hostile, its people would start questioning the powers, perk & pelf their Army is seen wielding & enjoying. Thus, these periodic display of their sub-human traits in their effort to provoke India. Mere statements emanating from Indian leadership, in response, would prove sufficient in marshalling their civilians around their military. Statements and no more. Any escalation leading to actual action would put paid to the pakistan Army game plan.
Do take a look at these sequence of events
January 09, 2013 pakistan rejects allegations outright announces that U.N investigate the matter, trying to internationalise the issue, violating the Simla Agreement
January 12, 2013 India's Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne warns pakistan India would have to look at "some other options for compliance"
January 14, 2013 Indian Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh: "India reserves the right to retaliate at the "time and place" of its choosing"
January 15, 2013 Indian Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh: "After this barbaric act there cannot be business as usual (with Pakistan)."
January 16, 2013 pakistan's foreign minister [of the January 09 fame] proposes a bilateral meeting with her Indian counterpart to resolve the issue. Do note, absence of the U.N. in this case.
January 18, 2013 pakistan's Ambassador to India agrees to carry out an internal probe into the incident, address issues India had raised
Arranging them chronologically, one sees the progressive climb-down in pakistan Army's5 original stand, corresponding with the hardening of India's. This unfolding of the situation backs up the argument that the pakistan Army is all bluster & false bravado, focussed solely with self-preservation & enrichment.
However advantageous may be the final outcome of any conventional action in India's favour, the economic instability caused by the mere notion of the possibility of looming war clouds doesn't help India's primary commitment to the upliftment of its people one bit. The pakistan Army has been hitting India using sub-conventional means. No sane Government, least of all India, would/should hit back with a conventional force. Therefore, Nuclear arsenal is a factor that wouldn't even come to into play in such a situation & to try force it in conversation is nothing but an exercise in intellectual dishonesty. As stated earlier, retaliation for pakistan's barbarity would likely has to be through disproportionate amount of military & non-military, non-linear punitive actions at places where it would hurt them most. Any threats of the ruling pakistani elite behaving irrationally is yet another facade aimed at acting as a deterrence. A deterrence, as seen by examples cited, without a shred of credibility. An Army that has enriched itself to the extent the pakistani military has, is one that is interested in only that - becoming rich. You would lose all your wealth in conflict.
pakistan-Terrorism-TalibanIndia, on its part, has to do not much. Develop capabilities mentioned above & strengthen its defences, build the tallest & most impregnable walls, and watch the spectacle of pakistan imploding under the burden of its own home-grown radical Islamic fundamentalism & terrorist outfits it nurtures for causing hurt to its neighbours and, in the process, has ended up exporting it worldwide, becoming the epicentre of terrorism. Only any overt, provocative Indian action would divert them from the path of self-destruction, the divergent elements joining ranks then to, in turn hurt India. The pakistan Army desperately hopes India provides them salvation from the path of suicide it is presently treading, by offering to hurt pakistan instead. India would be most foolish to do so. Foolishness is not something one associates with the collective wisdom of Indian polity. Of that we can be certain.
As for Mr. Aakar Patel blaming BJP for hurting Indian interest, it could either be a maliciously motivated, intellectually dishonest attempt, or at the very least, hard-pressed to string together words to meet deadline, he put together this column without any thought or revaluation. The ball had been set rolling long before. What BJP did do was make available a suitable diplomatic-political protective framework within which Indian Scientists could verify the advances they had made since 1974, that helped provide a practical value to India's nascent, but very much existing deterrent. Of their unilateral decision on a self-impose moratorium on further tests, one could argue about at a different time, for it doesn't take anything away from what the tests themselves achieved. The party had the conviction of belief, ideological resonance & the required political capital to make it possible. India's deterrent posture has received, without doubt, a much needed shot in the arm, by this go-ahead given by the BJP in 1998, and has not limited any of its options, as is being alleged.
2 = Photochor loosely translates to 'stealing by photocopying', AQ Khan's modus operandi for stealing Centrifuge designs while in the employment of URENCO.
3 = The time being talked about was the 80s. pakistan was doing the American's bidding, wearing down the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. A "frontline ally" of the Americans they were are. Hence, what ought to have happened in theory, need not be what actually occurs.
4 = the other being the Indus Water Treaty [IWT]. Not even at the worst of times in India-pakistan relations, has India ever stopped the flow of water into pakistan. The nobility of India's honouring its commitment has forced even pakistan's authorities to acknowledge India's righteous actions.
5 = It should be plainly apparent to all that pakistan's civilians faces are nothng more than puppets at the hands of its Generals
6 = despite having already deciding to surrender, the pakistani newspapers, even on the day of surrender, carried yet another trademark pakistani faked boastful blusters, seen below