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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 65, July - August 2002

News Review

India and Pakistan Camped on Brink of War over Kashmir


The period under review saw a state of constant military and political tension between India and Pakistan, raising the spectre of war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours over the contested region of Kashmir. India insists that, due to the wilful and persistent negligence of the Pakistani authorities, it must stand prepared to militarily root out the problem of terrorist incursions across the Line of Control separating Indian- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Pakistan insists it has acted decisively and with significant success to stamp out the problem, and that India is seeking a pretext for aggression, backed by massive conventional superiority. The international community expresses itself in general sympathy with India's impatience, while expressing overall support for Pakistan's anti-terrorist efforts and stressing the need for a political as well as security approach to securing peace in Kashmir.

Although the prospect of imminent conflict seemed to have abated somewhat by early June, the huge mobilisation of forces on both sides of the Line of Control showed few signs of being reversed, while serious political dialogue, bilateral or otherwise, appeared depressingly remote.

The spark for the biggest war scare since the storming of the Indian Parliament last December (see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 62, January/February 2002) came on May 14 when gunmen killed 32 people, including many civilians, on a bus in Indian-controlled Jammu & Kashmir. On May 18, following four days of heavy shelling across the Line of Control, India expelled Pakistan's Ambassador to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi. By May 22, a speech by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to troops on the Himalayan border with Pakistan confirmed the impression that events were hurtling out of control: "Be ready for sacrifice. Your goal should be victory. It's time to fight a decisive battle." On May 23, Vajpayee declared: "India has accepted the challenge thrown down by our neighbour and we are preparing ourselves for decisive victory against the enemy. We will not let Pakistan carry on its proxy war against India any longer." The same day, a reporter asked the Prime Minister about gathering "war clouds". He answered: "The sky is clear. But sometimes lightning strikes, even in clear skies."

Meanwhile, missile tests on both sides continued to aggravate the situation. On April 29, India tested the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile (range 280 kilometres), developed jointly with Russia. Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aziz Ahmed Khan angrily observed (April 29): "Pakistan takes serious note of the announced test flight of the Brahmos missile. The introduction of this new weapon system will aggravate the existing imbalance in the region and further encourage India in its hegemonic designs. It should also be a matter of deep concern that this cooperation is in clear violation of the international obligations of Russia as a member of the MTCR [Missile Technology Control Regime]... We will take all necessary steps to ensure a strong defence capability to deter any aggressive designs against our sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have also always impressed upon the major powers [the need] to refrain from policies and measures that destabilise the region." According to reports, the missile is scheduled to enter service in both India and Russia after further tests have been conducted.

In late May, despite clamorous international protests, Pakistan conducted three test flights, all described as successful, of missiles believed capable of carrying nuclear warheads. On May 24, according to an Army statement, "Pakistan carried out a successful test fire of its indigenously developed medium-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile" known as the Ghauri (range 1,500 kilometres). The statement concluded: "The Ghauri can carry its warheads with great accuracy." On May 26, the country carried out an inaugural test flight of a new short-range surface-to-surface missile known as the Hatf-III or Ghaznavi (range 290 kilometres). The "test-firing" was described by the Army as "the culmination of years of hard work, dedication and professional excellence of Pakistani scientists and engineers". The final test in the series - of the Hatf II, or Abdali, short-range surface-to-surface missile (range 180 kilometres) - took place on May 28, the fourth anniversary of the underground nuclear tests carried out by Pakistan in response to India's tests of a few weeks before (May 11).

India expressed itself unconcerned by the tests. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao noted on May 25: "The government of India is not particularly impressed by these missile antics, clearly targeted at the domestic audience in Pakistan". Pakistan insisted the tests had been planned well in advance of the latest flare up in tensions.

Others were not so relaxed, however. Speaking to reporters in St. Petersburg on May 25, President Putin argued that "testing while there is escalating tension really aggravates the situation". A Russian Foreign Ministry statement issued the same day dryly noted that the tests "are obviously at variance with the repeatedly expressed willingness by the Pakistani leadership jointly with the international community to make efforts at a political resolution of the conflict with India." Speaking in Paris on May 26, President Bush sounded less dismayed: "I'm more concerned about making sure...that [Pakistan] President [Pervez] Musharraf shows results in terms of stopping people from crossing the Line of Control... Stopping terrorism. That is more important than the missile testing." The same day, US Secretary of State Colin Powell commented: "The Indians seem to be taking it in their stride, but we were disappointed that the Pakistanis decided to conduct these tests during a time of high anxiety and tension."

On May 31, the US State Department recommended that American citizens in India leave the country as "the risk of intensified hostilities between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out". A number of countries followed suit, as did the United Nations with regard to its personnel. Numerous travel advisories cautioning against visiting or remaining in Pakistan had already been issued by many countries out of concern at terrorist attacks and kidnapping.

Both protagonists have been keen to stress the remote likelihood of any nuclear exchange, while repeatedly blaming each other for bringing tensions to the point of a conflict in which escalation may be rapid and unpredictable. On May 30, Munir Akram, Pakistan's newly-appointed Ambassador to the United Nations, defended his country's right not to declare a nuclear no-first-use policy. Saying that Islamabad would practice instead a "no-first-use of force" policy, Akram argued: "India should not have the license to kill with conventional weapons while Pakistan's hands are tied regarding other means to defend itself. ... If India reserved the right to use conventional weapons, how could Pakistan - a weaker power - be expected to rule out all means of deterrence".

A few days earlier (May 27), President Musharraf made the same argument more succinctly: "We do not want war. But if war is thrust upon us, we would respond with full might and give a befitting reply." Such comments invariably trigger accusations of irresponsibility from India. On May 30, Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes stated disdainfully: "I want to believe that despite the kinds of statements that can emanate from General Musharraf, he understands what exactly a nuclear bomb can do for Pakistan. I am sure he doesn't want to kill Pakistanis. I don't think even the people of Pakistan will allow him to do that." Thus, Fernandes added, he did not take the threat "very seriously": "Only those people can think about using a nuclear bomb whose thinking is not in order." In the Minister's view, any doubts cast from outside over the ability of India and Pakistan to handle their nuclear responsibilities were rooted in double-standards and even racism: "The underlying belief [of our western critics] is: 'Bombs are safe in our hands. But after they cross the Arabian Sea and move eastward, they are not'." On June 3, Fernandes expressed frustration with the amount of coverage being given to this aspect of the crisis: "I don't think anyone should be worried about the nuclear thing. I don't know who started this." The same day, General Musharraf expressed a similar exasperation, telling CNN: "I would even go to the extent of saying one shouldn't even be discussing these things, because any sane individual cannot even think of going into this unconventional war."

Without wishing to sound alarmist, the United States has been making it clear that it regards the use of nuclear weapons, either in the immediate crisis or during any future confrontation, as both a serious prospect and an utterly unwarranted course of action. This view was perhaps expressed most clearly by Secretary of State Powell, interviewed on American public broadcast television on May 30. Asked by journalist Jim Lehrer "if there is...a conflict, how likely is it that it would eventually lead to the use of nuclear weapons", Powell replied:

"I can't answer that question, but I can say this. In my conversations with both sides, and especially with the Pakistani side, I have made it clear that this really can't be in anyone's mind. I mean, the thought of a nuclear conflict in the year 2002, with what that would mean with respect to the loss of life, what that would mean with respect to the...worldwide condemnation that would come down on whatever nation chose to take that course of action, would be such that I can see very little military, political or any other kind of justification for the use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons in this day and age may serve some deterrent effect, and so be it, but to think of using them as just another weapon in what might start out as a conventional war in this day and age seems to be something that no side should be contemplating."

The depth of US concern can be gauged by the release on May 29 of a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report assessing casualties in a full nuclear exchange between the two sides at 8-12 million initial dead, with millions more certain to fall victims to radiation poisoning. An unnamed Defense Department official, briefing reporters on the study on May 31, explained: "That's the worst-case scenario, if we have correctly guessed the number of weapons each side has, and their targets, and presuming they're all ground bursts versus air bursts... The fatalities if they were air bursts would be slightly smaller by maybe a million, but...that's still a very significant number..."

Note: on May 22, Human Rights Watch issued a statement expressing concern at fresh mine laying by both India and Pakistan. According to the group, "as part of the military buildup resulting from the December 13, 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, both India and Pakistan have emplaced large numbers of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines along their common border in one of the largest scale mine laying operations anywhere in the world since 1997, when the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty was opened for signature." According to Acting Executive Director Stephen D. Goose: "Neither India nor Pakistan are among the 143 members of this landmark treaty which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. That is not, however, an excuse for abusing the rapidly emerging international norm against any anti-personnel mine use."

Selected Comment

Spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, May 23: "The Secretary-General is increasingly concerned by the alarming rise in tension between India and Pakistan. He is in close contact with the leaders of both sides to encourage them to resolve their differences, including over Kashmir, by peaceful means. The Secretary-General considers it essential that the logic and language of war be replaced by the logic and language of peace. At the same time, he wishes to reiterate his unconditional condemnation of all acts of terrorism. There can be no tolerance for such acts, especially across the Line of Control in Kashmir."

G-8 Foreign Ministers' Statement on India and Pakistan, Ottawa, May 31: "We, the G-8 Foreign Ministers, are gravely concerned about the risks inherent in the current crisis between India and Pakistan which could destabilize the region and beyond. We call on Pakistan, in accordance with its commitments, to take concrete actions immediately to end infiltrations across the Line of Control, and to stop terrorist groups operating from territory under its control. We call on India and Pakistan to continue to work with the international community to ensure there will be a diplomatic solution to the current crisis. We encourage the resumption of dialogue between the two countries, which is the only way forward, and will remain actively engaged in contributing to the peaceful solution of the problem."

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, May 31: "It [the nuclear weapon] is not just another weapon in a toolbox of weapons. It crosses a line that the world does not want to see crossed... Nevertheless, they are nuclear-armed, and we don't want to go down this road to test any propositions as to whether they will or they won't..."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, May 23: "In contradistinction to the situation finally achieved in Europe between NATO and the Soviet bloc, there isn't a highly developed nuclear doctrine and well-developed back channels of communication between these two parties, so there is a risk of nuclear warfare..."

Indian Defence Secretary Yogendra Narain, June 2: "Pakistan is not a democratic country and we don't know their nuclear threshold. We will retaliate and must be prepared for mutual destruction on both sides."

Indian Defence Ministry Statement, June 3: "The government makes it clear that India does not believe in the use of nuclear weapons. Neither does it visualise that it will be used by any other country. India categorically rules out the use of nuclear weapons."

'Avert a war, and worse, in South Asia', Statement by the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (India), May 31: "The Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace calls attention once again to the urgent and imperative need for all concerned to act in order to avert a full-scale India-Pakistan war and a nuclear holocaust in South Asia. On behalf of the peace-loving people of India, the CNDP calls upon the government of the country to end war preparations and rhetoric and expedite a return to normalcy in relations with Pakistan. In concert and cooperation with the peace movement of Pakistan, the CNDP also calls upon the government of that country to reverse its course of reckless provocation and pave the way for a speedy return to normalcy. ... We are amazed and outraged at the unrestrained and utterly irresponsible nuke-rattling underway for days now. The fact that even a 'limited' nuclear war can cause the loss of three million lives in the two countries, and that the situation is actually fraught with greater and graver dangers, has apparently made no difference to the warmongers on both sides. Complacency on this score is criminally unwarranted. The CNDP calls upon both governments to renounce, first and forthwith, the option of nuclear war in clear and credible terms."

Joint Statement by Pakistan-India Peoples' Forum for Peace and Democracy, May 30: "As of now, the threat of war from miscalculation or accident is quite serious. Regrettably there has been a deliberately cultivated war hysteria in both countries. Should a war break out, it runs the grave risk of escalating to the level of nuclear weapons. We assert that no cause is worth fighting with nuclear weapons. Though both governments have painted themselves into a corner through their belligerent posturing, they mist nevertheless beat a political retreat. Justice and sanity demand nothing less. Neither government should offer gratuitous provocation or insult to the other. In the face of stark danger of a possible nuclear war, it is of utmost importance that the armed forces of both sides simultaneously move back to their peacetime stations."

Indian author and anti-nuclear activist Arundhati Roy, The Observer, June 2: "Terrorists have the power to trigger a nuclear war. Non-violence is treated with contempt. ... Meanwhile, emissaries of the coalition against terror come and go preaching restraint. Tony Blair arrives to preach peace - and on the side, to sell weapons to both India and Pakistan. The last question every visiting journalist always asks me: 'are you writing another book?' That question mocks me. Another book? Right now when it looks as if all the music, the art, the architecture, the literature, the whole of human civilisation means nothing to the monsters who run the world. What kind of book should I write? ... That's what nuclear bombs do, whether they're used or not. They violate everything that is humane, they alter the meaning of life. Why do we tolerate them? Why do we tolerate the men who use nuclear weapons to blackmail the entire human race?"

Reports: India tests missile built jointly with Russia, Reuters, April 28; Pakistan concerned by Indian missile test, Reuters, April 29; To the drums of war, India expels Pakistan's Ambassador, New York Times, May 18; India expels Pakistan's Ambassador, Associated Press, May 19; India's Prime Minister tells soldiers at Pakistan border to prepare for 'decisive battle', Associated Press, May 22; Recent landmine use by India and Pakistan, Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, May 22; Halt mine-laying by India and Pakistan now, Human Rights Watch Press Release, May 22; Straw warns that dispute over Kashmir could escalate into nuclear war, Associated Press, May 23; Secretary-General concerned by rising tension between India, Pakistan, UN Press Release SG/SM/8248, May 23; Transcript - Bush, Putin at Hermitage, state concern over India-Pakistan, Washington File, May 25; On the missile tests carried out by Pakistan, Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 1077-25-05-2002, May 25; Pakistan conducts first of a series of missile tests being planned over the next several days, Associated Press, May 25; Transcript - US again 'disappointed' over Pakistani missile tests, Powell says, Washington File, May 26; Pakistan's Musharraf won't start war but ready, Reuters, May 27; Pakistan test fires another missile, Associated Press, May 28; India says Pakistan's Musharraf stoking tension, Reuters, May 28; Nuclear nightmare - India-Pakistan exchange would kill millions, Associated Press, May 29; Bush to send Rumsfeld to ease South Asia tensions, Reuters, May 30; India - Pakistan pledges to end cross-border terrorism, Western fears of nuclear war misplaced, Associated Press, May 30; India official downplays nuke fears, Associated Press, May 30; Joint Statement, Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy Statement, The Dawn, May 30; We'll use nukes even in conventional war - Pak, Press Trust of India, May 30; Transcript - Powell says Kashmir crisis 'need not result in war', Washington File, May 31; Transcript - Powell warns against military action by India, Pakistan, Washington File, May 31; G-8 Foreign Ministers' Statement on India and Pakistan, May 31; Report - S. Asia nuclear war could kill 12 million, Reuters, May 31; Citing conflict, US tells Americans to leave India, Reuters, May 31; World pressure builds to prevent South Asia war, Reuters, May 31; Avert a war, and worse, in South Asia, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (India) Statement, May 31; Pakistan's Musharraf says nuclear option insane, Reuters, June 1; Defence Secretary warns of nuke retaliation, Times of India, June 2; Under the nuclear shadow, by Arundhati Roy, The Observer, June 2; One misstep away from nuclear war, Los Angeles Times, June 2; Indian defense official warns of nuclear retaliation, Reuters, June 2; Pakistani leader starting diplomatic press for Indian leader to enter talks, India dismisses fears of use of nuclear weapons, Associated Press, June 3.

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