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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 67, October - November 2002

News Review

Missile Tests, Fresh Tension in South Asia

The period under review saw no sign of repair to gravely damaged political and military relations between India and Pakistan. In the most visible sign of aggressive mistrust, early October saw the latest burst of missile tests by the two neighbours: Pakistan test-fired its nuclear-capable Shaheen-I medium-range (800 kilometres/500 miles) surface-to-surface ballistic missile on October 4 and 8; India test-fired its short-range (24 kilometres/15 miles) air-defence Akash surface-to-air ballistic missile, capable of delivering warheads to multiple targets, on October 4. The two sides provided each other with advance notification of the tests, although, according to a US State Department written answer (October 5), India did not follow past procedure and provide Washington with prior notice of the Akash firing.

In a statement issued after the second Shaheen test flight, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf declared (October 8): "The successful test fire of the indigenously-developed Shaheen weapons system is the culmination of years of hard work, dedication and [the] professional excellence of Pakistani scientists and engineers." The same day, Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha professed dismissive unconcern on the subject of Pakistan's missile programme: "They are a sovereign country, they have tested their missiles, good luck to them." On October 4, however, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao had called into question the 'sovereignty' of Pakistan's achievement: "As is well known, Pakistan's missiles are based on clandestinely imported material, equipment and technology." For its part, somewhat incongruously, Pakistan reacted indignantly to New Delhi's Akash test. According to Information Minister Nisar Memon (October 4): "India is trying to turn this into an arms race. India has responded to our missile test despite the fact that our missile programme is purely for the purpose of developing minimum defence deterrence, which is the cornerstone of our defence policy". Indian Defence Ministry spokesperson P.K. Bandhopadhyaya countered (October 4): "It was a routine test. We are testing different parameters of the missile... The missile is [only] meant for air defence. It will be used by the Army and Air Force." The same day, Defence Minister George Fernandes stressed India's strategic requirement to "have the same strength that our neighbours have", a clear reference to both Pakistan and China.

The United States expressed displeasure at both sides. Following the October 4 tests, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher observed: "I would repeat what we've said in the past, that we're disappointed that ballistic missile tests are occurring in the region. There is a charged atmosphere in the region and these tests can contribute to that atmosphere [and] make it harder to prevent a costly and destabilising nuclear and missile arms race. A race like that would be a further threat to regional and international security. We've continued to urge both Pakistan and India to take steps to restrain their nuclear weapon and missile programs, including no operational deployment of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, and to begin a dialogue on confidence-building measures that could reduce the likelihood that such weapons would ever be used. This could be part of a broader dialogue to reduce tensions in the region." British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien echoed Boucher's comments (October 4): "The UK continues to believe that restraint over testing by both sides, particularly at a time of heightened tensions, is in the long-term interests of India and the region."

The 'heightened tensions' alluded to by the minister presumably refers to two controversial elections, in Indian-administered Kashmir and in Pakistan. Between September 16 and October 8, four rounds of voting took place in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. As results came in on October 10, it became clear that the ruling, pro-India National Conference Party, led by Omar Abdullah, had suffered a heavy defeat.

The election process was plagued by violence. According to Omar Abdullah, speaking on October 9 before learning he had been defeated in his own constituency, 830 people lost their lives in the campaign, an horrendous tally blamed squarely by Abdullah on Pakistan-based insurgents: "Until India and Pakistan address their disagreements, I don't think any state government can control the violence... The gun is not a creation of this government. Your source of violence is across the border..." The official turnout in the ballot was put at 45%. The real figure, according to President Musharraf on October 13, was close to 10%. Describing the elections as "farcical", Musharraf claimed India was attempting to "sidetrack the issue of the freedom struggle of the people of Kashmir by terming the freedom struggle as 'cross-border terrorism'." Despite the bloodshed and low turnout, the US gave a strong stamp of approval to the event. In the words of Richard Boucher (October 10): "The United States welcomes the successful conclusion of elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Prime Minister [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee's personal commitment to making them transparent and open is a critical factor that helped take the process forward. We hope that this will be the first step in a broader process that will bring peace to the region. ... Following...credible elections in Jammu and Kashmir, we call on both India and Pakistan to make strenuous efforts towards an early resumption of diplomatic dialogue on all outstanding issues, including Kashmir..."

On October 10, the first parliamentary elections were held In Pakistan since General Musharraf overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October 1999. The results gave no party an overall majority, signalling a period of political bargaining in advance of the November 1 deadline for forming a new government. The results revealed a notable and generally unexpected surge of support for the 'fundamentalist' Islamic religious coalition the United Action Forum, which emerged as the third biggest bloc in the National Assembly after the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People's Party of exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A main plank in the United Action Forum is the expulsion of all US forces from Pakistan. In the blunt words of Qazi Hussain Ahmed, leader of Forum coalition member Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest religious party (October 14): "We do not need American support. We do not need US bases. We do not need foreign troops on our land."

Speaking on October 13, Musharraf suggested that the election results would not change Pakistan's basic foreign policy: "We feel confident that the path of progress that we have set for our nation will be followed by the new government... Pakistan is and will remain a key member of the coalition against international terror." One reason for the General's confidence may be the new constitutional powers he awarded himself in late August, most strikingly the power to dismiss an elected parliament, held by previous Pakistani Presidents but withdrawn by Prime Minister Sharif. Outlining the changes in a televised address on August 21, Musharraf also announced that the National Security Council, to be headed by himself, would be responsible for overseeing the work of future governments. On August 22, US State Department spokesperson Philip Reeker responded: "We believe that President Musharraf wants to develop strong, democratic institutions in his country. However, we are concerned that his recent decisions could make it more difficult to build strong democratic institutions in Pakistan."

In April, Musharraf won a mandate to remain as President for another five years in a referendum dogged by allegations of serious irregularities. The October 10 parliamentary elections fared little better in the opinion of European Union election monitors who alleged, in the words of chief observer John Cushnahan on October 13, "unjustified interference" by the Pakistan authorities "with electoral arrangements and the democratic process". On October 8, Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee dramatically described Musharraf as "a dictator who has no parallel in the world". According to Vajpayee, addressing an audience of 2,000 Indian expatriates in Nicosia, Cyprus: "He has crowned himself king with his own hands and anointed himself king. This will not last long..."

Notes: despite the constant barrage of accusation and blame from both sides, on October 13 Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani told reporters in New Delhi that the Indian National Security Council would meet soon to consider recommending a significant troop withdrawal from the border with Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of combat troops have been in position on the border since the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December last year. According to Advani: "An in-depth study of the situation will be done at the meeting. Whatever decision is taken, the government will act accordingly..." Three days later, a partial troop withdrawal was duly announced. According to Defence Minister Fernandes (October 16), the government "has decided that the armed forces have, with great distinction, achieved the objectives assigned to them...[and will] now be asked to redeploy from positions on the international border with Pakistan, without impairing their capacity to respond decisively to any emergency... There will be no lowering of the vigil in Jammu and Kashmir..." The minister added: "There is no question of dialogue with Pakistan as long as Pakistani terrorism continues." See next issue for further details and reaction.

On October 15, an unnamed senior Indian Defence Ministry official was reported in Defense News as declaring that New Delhi had completed preparations to put in place a unified command-and-control structure for its nuclear forces. According to the newspaper, a new Strategic Forces Command will be established, based in New Delhi, with responsibility for the integrated command-and-control of the country's planned nuclear triad (nuclear-armed submarines, the Privthi and Agni ballistic missiles, and nuclear-armed bombers), plus support forces and facilities such as long-range reconnaissance aircraft, military satellites and air defence systems. According to the official: "All the country's nuclear weapons and delivery systems, whether a nuclear bomb-carrying aircraft or land-based and sea-based missiles, will come under the umbrella of the new command. The Strategic Forces Command should own assets and have its own force."

On September 26, Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, speaking in Malaysia, boasted of the beneficial geopolitical effect of India's nuclear capability. Referring to the country's nuclear tests in May 1998, Sinha stated: "We believe that the overt exercise of the nuclear option by India has helped remove potentially dangerous strategic ambiguities in the region... You can't have a country like India giving up its nuclear options and going around asking somebody for a nuclear protective umbrella..."

On September 9, Pakistan's UN Ambassador Munir Akram expressed concern that India might be tempted into aggressive military action against his country if the US launched an offensive against Iraq. Speaking at a press luncheon in New York, Akram argued: "India needs a diversion. If US attention is now shifted elsewhere, we will have the possibility of Indians using that diversion... [W]hat would happen if India were to take advantage of an attack against Iraq in order to launch a strike, or to provoke a conflict with Pakistan? ... [T]hat is our real worry."

Reports: Musharraf tightens grip on power, BBC News Online, August 21; Excerpt - Musharraf's constitutional changes concern US, Washington File, August 22; Pakistan worried about India attack, Associated Press, September 9; Foreign minister - India will exercise restraint with nuclear arsenal, Associated Press, September 26; Pakistan tests medium-range missile, Associated Press, October 4; Pakistan carries out missile test, BBC News Online, October 4; India test fires surface-to-surface missile, hours after Pakistan missile test, Associated Press, October 4; US raps India and Pakistan for missiles tests, Reuters, October 4; Britain criticizes missiles tests of India and Pakistan, Associated Press, October 4; Pakistan, India test missiles, Associated Press, October 4; Excerpt - US 'disappointed' at missile tests by India, Pakistan, Washington File, October 4; Text - State Department on Pakistan/India missile tests, Washington File, October 7; Pakistan test fires second missile, Associated Press, October 8; Pakistan test-fires second missile, BBC News Online, October 8; Pakistan tests second missile two days before poll, Reuters, October 8; India's Vajpayee calls Pakistan's Musharraf a dictator, Associated Press, October 8; 830 killed in election period in Kashmir, violence to continue, says top politician, Associated Press, October 9; US endorses Kashmir elections, Reuters, October 10; Musharraf says Kashmir elections 'farcical', Reuters, October 13; India to decide on troop withdrawal from border with Pakistan next week, says Deputy Prime Minister, Associated Press, October 13; Pakistan rejects EU poll criticism, BBC News Online, October 13; US, Pakistani troops to hold first joint exercises in years, religious parties say Americans are not needed, Associated Press, October 14; Pakistan Party ready for coalition, Associated Press, October 14; New Delhi finishes unified nuclear command structure, Defense News, October 15; India to pull back troops to ease Pakistan tension, Reuters, October 16.

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