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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 68, December 2002 - January 2003

News Review

Limited Troop Withdrawals Ease Tension in South Asia

As reported in the last issue, on October 16 Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes announced a limited withdrawal of forces positioned on the international border with Pakistan in the wake of the December 2001 attack on the Parliament building in New Delhi. Fernandes made clear, however, that no drawdown would take place along the Line of Control between Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. He also stated bluntly that the withdrawal should not be seen as a prelude to a fresh political engagement with Islamabad: "There is no question of dialogue with Pakistan as long as Pakistani terrorism continues." While taking robust issue with any suggestion of negligence or complicity with regard to terrorist activity in Kashmir or elsewhere, Pakistan quickly announced a reciprocal reduction of troop numbers along the international border.

The partial de-escalation was studiously applauded by the United States. According to State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher (October 17): "The decision by India to withdraw some troops from its border with Pakistan and the reciprocal announcement by Pakistan that it will also pull back some of its troops are significant and far-reaching developments, which demonstrate a commitment by India and Pakistan to reduce the risk of hostilities between their countries. We warmly welcome these developments. We have long been concerned about the tensions generated by the high state of mobilisation along the border and the Line of Control in Kashmir and the increased risk of an outbreak of hostilities between the forces of the two countries. The announced reductions will lead to a lessening of tensions and risks. We urge both countries to continue to take steps to reduce the threat of conflict and create an atmosphere allowing resumption of dialogue, which is the only way their differences can be resolved. The United Stares and others in the international community will continue to encourage these two countries in their efforts." A Russian Foreign Ministry statement (October 18) argued that such "reciprocal steps...attest to the existence in the leaderships of India and Pakistan of goodwill, a sense of responsibility, and a desire to normalize the relations of the two major states of the subcontinent."

Notes: in New Delhi on November 13, a statement from US Undersecretary of Commerce Kenneth Juster and Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal announced the establishment of a joint panel to "expeditiously work toward developing a new statement of principles governing bilateral cooperation in high-technology trade...including ways to increase trade in dual use goods and technologies". Trade and cooperation between the two countries in the advanced computing, communications, electronics, nuclear and space sectors was prohibited under US law even before the imposition of sanctions following the May 1998 tests by New Delhi and Islamabad. Those sanctions, however, were lifted shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and the Bush administration has since been seeking the strongest possible military and strategic relationship with both countries, and the strongest possible economic relationship with India, already a key US trading partner. Notwithstanding this broad agenda of engagement, Juster told a news conference (November 13) that "we still have areas, that apply to many countries, relating to non-proliferation in nuclear matters and missile-related matters and chemical and biological weapons where [export] licenses must be submitted... [T]hey will be approved if we deem it to be for appropriate activities... If they're for end-users that may raise some concerns under our laws and international obligations, we'll have to deny them."

On October 31, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, addressing scientists at the Bhabra Atomic Research Centre, stressed his goal of increasing the "participation of other countries" in supporting India's nuclear power industry. According to Vajpayee: "While inviting foreign partners to join us in this important sector, we urge them to dispel any misconception about our nuclear weapons programme." Many states - with the notable and controversial exception of Russia - are uneasy about accepting such an invitation in light of India's refusal to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state and thus open up all its nuclear facilities to full-scope IAEA safeguards. Vajpayee argued, however, that the purpose of the NPT should be to detect and reverse "the clandestine and illegal development and transfer of nuclear and missile technology, rather than target countries which have played by the rules." The Prime Minister added, taking an evident sideswipe at reported mutual nuclear assistance between Pakistan and North Korea (see above): "We emphasize our nuclear doctrine of minimum credible deterrence. Our nuclear weapons programme was developed totally indigenously. It did not violate any of our international obligations".

Reports: India to pull back troops to ease Pakistan tension, Reuters, October 16; Text - US praises moves by India, Pakistan to reduce military tensions, Washington File, October 17; Concerning decision on phased withdrawal of Indian troops from border with Pakistan, Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 2135-18-10-2002, October 18; Minister - Pakistan will keep nuclear arms out of extremists' hands, Associated Press, October 19; India seeks more foreign partnership in nuclear power generation, Associated Press, October 31; India, US agree to boost sophisticated tech deals, Reuters, November 13.

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