Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 62, January - February 2002
International Concern over Danger of Conflict in South Asia
The period under review saw a major military and political escalation in the already tense relationship between India and Pakistan. On December 13, the Indian Parliament in New Delhi came under terrorist attack; 14 people, including all five assailants, were killed. No Members of Parliament lost their lives. India immediately blamed Kashmiri militant groups acting, it alleged, with the tacit approval and even support and involvement of elements in the Pakistan government. Islamabad strongly condemned the attack, while vehemently denying any complicity or negligence. However, as India engaged in a massive military build-up on the border with Pakistan, international pressure grew on Islamabad to take new measures to address New Delhi's concerns. Intense diplomatic pressure was also exerted to prevent the crisis escalating into a conflict certain to result in large loss of life, civilian and military, with the potential to trigger a nuclear exchange.
A turning point away from disaster may have been reached on January 11 when Pakistan's military leader and self-appointed President, General Pervez Musharraf, announced sweeping measures - following numerous other steps taken since December 13 - to root out the culture of Islamicist extremism which he described as having gravely damaged Pakistan's development and reputation. Among the measures, the two organisations widely blamed for the December 13 attack - Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed - were banned. At the same time, Musharraf was careful to stress his government's unstinting support for the struggle of the people of Kashmir to free themselves from Indian occupation and repression.
Musharraf's January 11 address received widespread international acclaim. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (January 14) described the new policies as "a significant step towards easing the dangerous situation in the region". US President George W. Bush (January 12) applauded Musharraf's "bold and principled stand to set Pakistan squarely against terrorism and extremism both in and outside of Pakistan." Secretary of State Colin Powell (January 12) said he believes the new measures created the "basis...for the resolution of tensions between India and Pakistan through diplomatic and peaceful means." Russia, however, sounded a warier note, with a Foreign Ministry statement (January 12) observing that "the position of the Pakistani side will be judged in Russia by the real moves of Islamabad leading to the termination of all terrorist activities".
For its part, India reacted with caution, complaining that Musharraf had ruled out handing over suspected terrorists to India. A January 13 statement from Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh urged Pakistan to fully and urgently implement the new policies, noting that should Islamabad "operationalise its intention and move purposefully towards eradicating cross-border terrorism, the government of India will respond fully, and would be prepared to resume the composite dialogue process." India stressed it was not yet ready to begin drawing troops back from the border, arguing this would take the pressure off Pakistan to act promptly. As Defence Minister George Fernandes stated on January 14: "Any efforts at de-escalation can come only if and when cross-border terrorism is effectively stopped. ... [Pakistan] has to do it fast, particularly because troops from both sides are on the front lines."
Travelling to the region on January 15, Secretary Powell told reporters he believed "the rush toward conflict...has been slowed quite a bit." Powell added: "I'm more interested, not so much in watching armies move back...[as in making] sure that the political and diplomatic situation is stabilised. When that is stabilised, the armies can move back in due course. If we can continue to see progress politically and diplomatically, the movement of the forces back will follow."
With the two armies already exchanging periodic fire, however, the danger of a fresh incident triggering war remains high. This danger was brought home on January 22, when the American Centre in Calcutta came under gunfire. Four Indian police, guarding the building, were killed. India immediately accused Pakistan's intelligence service of links with the group it suspected of the attack; Pakistan angrily denied any involvement.
Two short quotes point succinctly to the ironic prospect of a war being caused by the momentum and extent of military preparations to prevent it. On December 26, India's Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, stated: "We do not want war, but war is being thrust upon us and we will have to face it." On January 2, General Musharraf observed: "Pakistan stands for peace, we do not want war. We will never initiate a war unless it is thrust upon us..."
Notes: despite the crisis, on January 1 the two states exchanged lists of nuclear installations and facilities under the terms of a confidence-building agreement designed to ensure that such sites are not attacked during any conflict. An Indian Foreign Ministry statement reported: "For the eleventh consecutive year, India and Pakistan today, through diplomatic channels, simultaneously at New Delhi and Islamabad, exchanged lists of nuclear installations and facilities covered under the Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack Against Nuclear Installations and Facilities between India and Pakistan. This Agreement was signed on December 31, 1988, and entered into force on January 27, 1991. Under the Agreement, the two countries are to inform each other on January 1 of every calendar year of the nuclear installations and facilities to be covered by the Agreement. The first such exchange of lists took place on January 1, 1992."
On December 12, India conducted the latest version of its nuclear-capable surface-to-surface Prithvi (Earth) missile, with a range of 155 miles. According to Defence Ministry spokesperson P.K. Bandopadhyaya, the "test was flawless and the missile impacted at the intended target point accurately."
Comment on Risk of Nuclear Exchange
Prime Minister Vajpayee, January 2: "Whatever weapon is available, we will use it to defend ourselves. And if because of that weapon the attacker is defeated...if he is killed, we should not be held responsible."
Defence Minister Fernandes, January 11: "The government has not been talking of nuclear weapons. I wish everyone would give up this talk of nuclear weapons being brought into play... [The prospect of nuclear war] is far too serious a matter that it should be bandied about in a cavalier fashion. ... In the prevailing situation on the subcontinent, we are pursuing diplomatic efforts in the belief that they will yield results. ... [If we are attacked with nuclear weapons], we will retaliate in kind, as any other nuclear country would."
General Sunderajan Padmanabhan, Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, January 11: "Should any nuclear weapons be used against Indian forces...the perpetrator of that particular outrage shall be punished, and so severely that their continuation thereafter in any form of fray will be doubtful... We are ready for a second strike, yes. Take it from me, we have enough [nuclear weapons]... If we have to go to war, jolly good. If we don't, we will still manage."
Unnamed Indian official, January 16: "We would not resort to nuclear weapons. And we do not envision striking in a way would lead them to use their nuclear weapons."
Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), India, December 18: "Acts of war carried out officially by armies and states are not a justified or sober response to acts of terrorism carried out by individuals or groups. Such a reaction only pits nations and peoples against one another when the need today is to avoid precisely such escalation of tensions and hostilities in South Asia, especially after the unjustified US assault on Afghanistan. In a situation where both countries possess nuclear weapons, such military escalation is fraught with unacceptable risks."
Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, asked if Pakistan would, like India, declare a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, December 30: "We are in favour of no first use of force, any kind of force."
Brigadier Mohammad Yaqub, senior Pakistan Army official, December 24: "[In such a tense situation] even a small little incident can result in a chain reaction which nobody will be able to control. ... [A major conflict could] become really horrific for the entire world. ... [I]f there is a war between the two countries, and if any country feels that it comes to its own survival, probably there won't be any hesitation to use nuclear weapons."
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, January 3: "I don't think they are going to go to war. I think they are going to sort these things out... I am hopeful they will move through this period, that is unquestionably a tense period, in a way that is respectful of the...power of the weapons that each side has."
Unnamed Western diplomat in New Delhi, January 16: "They've had years of sub-conventional conflict... To an extent, they know how to fight a limited war."
Reports: India tests long-range version of Prithvi missile, Reuters, December 12; India tests new missile, Associated Press, December 12; Press Release from the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), India, December 18; India-Pakistan tensions mount, Associated Press, December 26; India, Pakistan prepare for war, Associated Press, December 26; Pakistan President says will never start a war, Reuters, December 28; Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) Press Release, December 29; US must do more to end Indo-Pak conflict - Senator, Reuters, December 30; India & Pakistan exchanged lists of nuclear installations, Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Release, January 1; India says it would use all military might in defense, Reuters, January 2; Rumsfeld confident India, Pakistan will avoid war, Reuters, January 3; India reaffirms no-first-use policy, Global Security Newswire, January 7; India says nation 'ready for war', Associated Press, January 11; Indian General talks bluntly of war and a nuclear threat, New York Times, January 12; Pakistani President Musharraf's Speech, Statement by the Press Secretary, The White House, January 12; Statement by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, US State Department, January 12; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 50-12-01-2002, January 12; Statement by Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, January 13, India Ministry of External Affairs website (http://meadev.nic.in); Indian defense minister takes harsher tone on Pakistan plan, New York Times, January 14; Secretary-General welcomes emphasis on tolerance, rule of law, need to fight terrorism in speech by President of Pakistan, UN Press Release SG/SM/8096, January 14; Powell says Indian troop withdrawal can wait, Reuters, January 15; For India, deterrence may not prevent war, Washington Post, January 17; Excerpt - US expresses condolences to India on Calcutta attack, Washington File, January 22.
© 2002 The Acronym Institute.