Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 72, August - September 2003
Hesitant Rapprochement, Wary Diplomacy in South Asia
In May 1998, the global non-proliferation regime was rocked by a series of nuclear tests in South Asia - five by India, on May 11 and 13; six by Pakistan, on May 28 and 30. The five years since the tests have seen a succession of political and military crises, including exhausting bouts of nuclear brinkmanship; the exorbitantly expensive nuclearisation of both states' armed forces, including the development of a range of nuclear-capable missiles; and a dramatic upsurge in tension and violence, including cross-border terrorism, in the central issue of dispute between the two sides, the future status of Indian-administered Kashmir. As reported in the last issue, a visit to the disputed territory in mid-April by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, accompanied by a fervent appeal for dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad, met a swift and positive response from Pakistan, with the incipient rapprochement - expressed in tangible measures such as the restoration of diplomatic ties and some transport links - receiving loud applause from the wings, notably in Washington and London.
The fifth anniversary of the tests thus arrived at a time of comparatively high hopes for a serious improvement in relations. India, however, was quick to dispel any expectation that denuclearisation formed part of its agenda. On May 8, as US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage began a visit to the region, Vajpayee rejected the latest offer from Pakistan - made repeatedly since 1998, and most recently by the country's President, General Pervez Musharraf, in early May (see last issue) - for a nuclear-weapons-free relationship. Presumably referring to China's nuclear arsenal, the Indian Prime Minister commented: "We don't accept Pakistan's proposal... Pakistan's nuclear programme is India-specific, but we are concerned about other states as well." Vajpayee added, omitting to mention India's massive conventional military superiority: "Our nuclear doctrine is no-first-use, while Pakistan has no such provision - but they call for a no-war pact..."
On May 9, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri came close to suggesting that the possession of nuclear weapons by Islamabad had created a de facto no-war zone, particularly with regard to Kashmir. In an interview with the BBC, Kasuri commented: "We are not making any boasts, but the Indians have come to the conclusion that the military solution is just not there."
Addressing a group of defence scientists in New Delhi on May 11, the anniversary of the first set of Indian tests, Vajpayee praised India's responsible and selfless non-proliferation policies, implicitly contrasting his government's record to that of China and Pakistan: "Some guilty countries [i.e. guilty of lax nuclear export policies] even continue to receive liberal economic assistance... We have denied ourselves many lucrative contracts and joint ventures. We have never received any credit for this..." Broadening his theme to both nuclear and advanced conventional military capability, Vajpayee told the scientists: "There can be no respite. War fighting technologies are constantly being upgraded... Recent military conflicts in our neighbourhood have graphically illustrated this. They underline the importance of overwhelming technological superiority over an enemy. Technological innovation is a continuing imperative..."
In a May 8 television interview in Islamabad, US Deputy Secretary of State Armitage was asked: "President Musharraf...has called for a no-war pact and a nuclear-free South Asia. Is that a vision worth pursuing?" In a far cry from the highly-charged reaction of the Clinton administration to the May 1998 tests, he replied: "Oh, I think ultimately the United States, in every part of the globe we'd like to have nuclear-free visions and possibilities, but I think something like that is quite a bit down the way, in terms of confidence-building measures. There are more immediate issues." Later in the day, during a press conference following a meeting with General Musharraf, Armitage was asked again: "Sir, non-proliferation has been a matter of grave concern to the USA, and you know India and Pakistan are engaging in a nuclear arms race... What can you do on the nuclear non-proliferation front?" He again treated the subject as a 'down-the-path' issue: "There have to be, I think, a series of confidence-building measures, political and economic...before two states who have been in such a general confrontational stance can be expected to make far-reaching decisions on matters of arms control."
In Islamabad on May 9, Armitage fielded the key question concerning America's role in resolving the Kashmir dispute: "Sir, recently the US has given a roadmap for the solution of the Palestine problem. Do you have any roadmap for the solution of the Kashmir problem?" Armitage replied emphatically: "No, I don't have a roadmap. We've often said that this is a problem to be solved between the two parties and [in] a dialogue between the two parties, and that is our view. If we can be helpful in sort of setting the atmosphere surrounding that, then we're delighted to do so." Despite this clear stance, however, Pakistan continues to push just such a multilateral, 'roadmap' approach - a strategy seemingly guaranteed to fall on deaf ears in New Delhi, at least in the context of ongoing terrorist activity across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.
On May 12, Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Singh told reporters that India had prepared a "roadmap" of its own: a bilateral version, dealing with the Kashmir/terrorism question as a priority but alongside other issues (excluding, of course, nuclear disarmament). According to Sinha: "Every step is clear in our mind. There is no confusion and we will proceed according to the plan. ... The two Prime Ministers [Mr. Vajpayee and Pakistan Prime Minister Zafirullah Jamali] have spoken on the telephone [on April 28]. We have announced some steps and there has been some response from Pakistan. And, I suppose, at some appropriate time, the dialogue will also begin. ... The thawing has already begun but there will be no dramatic gestures. The general approach is to begin with official-level talks leading up to a political summit. The idea is to prepare the groundwork and discuss what we are going to talk about. ... Ending cross-border terrorism is not a precondition [of dialogue] but a practical necessity..."
This relaxed approach to the opening of the promised dialogue was echoed by Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes on May 23: "When we reach the time for talks [they] will be held, but it is not very close". With regard to the issue of cross-border terrorism, Fernandes conceded: "Pakistan has taken some decisions, and asked some terrorists and groups not to venture into certain areas. To an extent, it should be welcomed." On June 15, President Musharraf expressed some frustration at the lack of progress: "Talks should talk place, they are moving very slowly, they need to move faster, they can move faster." The delays in even opening the dialogue, Musharraf later suggested (July 4), were a good example of why a solely bilateral approach was problematic: "You clap with two hands - maybe a third hand is not required to clap. But when one of the hands is not coming forward, then you require someone to facilitate."
On June 24, Musharraf paid a high-profile visit to Washington. In a joint press conference at Camp David, Maryland, President Bush described Musharraf's strong support for the US 'war on terrorism' as the stance of a "courageous leader and friend of the United States". Turning to the economic benefits for Pakistan, flowing from this new political and strategic relationship, Bush then announced "that our nations are signing a trade and investment framework agreement, which creates a formal structure for expanding our economic partnership. In addition, I will work with the United States Congress on a $3 billion assistance package to help advance security and economic opportunity for Pakistan's citizens." With regard to India-Pakistan relations, Bush stated somewhat tentatively: "I'm encouraged by the progress President Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee may have made in easing tensions... I'm hopeful that the two countries will deepen their engagement on all issues, including Kashmir." In his reply, General Musharraf commented: "We abhor terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. There is no cause that can be justified or promoted through terrorist acts. And Pakistan is moving against terrorism for its own national interest. ... We are grateful to the United States for its constructive engagement in our region, and for its untiring efforts in diffusing tension and bringing about a dialogue process between Pakistan and India, aimed at the resolution of all outstanding issues, including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir."
One question in the press conference dealt with the nuclear issue. A Pakistani journalist, thanking President Bush for his "very positive statement for bringing peace into South Asia, which is already nuclearised", asked: "What kind of security concerns are you going to address about the territorial integrity of Pakistan...because Pakistan is much smaller in conventional weapons, and that's why they have gone nuclear..." Bush replied: "[W]e've spent a lot of time on this subject, not only today, but during previous meetings. I assured President Musharraf that the United States wants to help toward achieving a peaceful solution. What you've just described is the reason why there needs to be a peaceful solution on this issue and other issues."
Providing a background briefing on the meeting, a senior Bush administration official commented (June 24) that the US was "going forward with a major bilateral assistance programme...on the assumption that in Pakistan we have a partner that is moving against terrorism, moving against proliferation, and committed towards moving towards democracy." The briefing made clear that the administration's emphasis is not on advancing regional and global non-proliferation through progressive South Asian denuclearisation, but rather on preventing the diversion of dangerous material and equipment from a nuclearised India and Pakistan. As the following exchange makes clear, long-swirling rumours of an ongoing Pakistan-North Korea nuclear relationship (detailed in recent editions of the News Review) continue to concentrate minds:
"Question: 'You mentioned non-proliferation as one of the three keys to assessing the progress of the relationship. I didn't hear either President talk about that issue in the public Q&A. Was that discussed in the private meeting?'
Question: 'And did Musharraf make some new commitments or undertakings to get a grip on it?'
Official: 'He said that he totally understood our views and that, don't worry, Pakistan will not be doing anything that will cause us concern - is not doing, and will not be doing.'
Question: 'Are we worried?'
Official: 'We trust his commitments. ... I will tell you that...North Korea did come up. ... He basically made it clear that he understood that any sort of contacts in any sort of military-related field, whatever they are, are a no-go area.'"
Pakistan Foreign Minister Kasuri discussed the suspected North Korea link with Japan's Foreign Minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, on the fringes of an Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) meeting in Thailand on June 22. According to Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hatsuhisa Takashima: "There is strong speculation that Pakistani nuclear technology - uranium - has been transferred to North Korea... We are very much pleased to hear that Foreign Minister Kasuri promise Pakistan would not do any such development with North Korea which would endanger the security of Japan. ... North Korea is such a controversial country that Pakistan recently made the decision not to deal with it any more... We have been at this issue for quite some time now with Pakistan..."
A related, equally long-standing proliferation concern surrounds the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and related infrastructure. On June 27, General Musharraf told reporters: "We are committed to non-proliferation, we are not proliferating at all, our strategic assets are under excellent, strong custodial control, there is no chance of this apprehension of the world [being realised] that they will fall into the wrong hands..." With regard to nuclear doctrine, Musharraf added: "Pakistan will not compromise on its strategy of minimum deterrence. So we will obviously... look...to maintain that strategy..."
On June 26, Musharraf told the Washington Times he had tried in vain to persuade President Bush to finally allow the delivery of 60 F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan. The order was blocked in 1992 by Congressional non-proliferation legislation. The General stated wearily: "I won't reiterate the requirement for F-16s - it has been said so many times. When you ask a Pakistani in the street, he will tell you about the F-16s. For the man in the street, he will talk of either F-16s or Kashmir."
On July 2, the apparently complete fall-off of interest on the part of the United States in pressing India and Pakistan to denuclearise was further suggested in remarks by Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal. Speaking after a two-day meeting of the US-India High Technology Cooperation Group in Washington, Sibal told reporters: "The US is no longer asking India to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or [conclude] full-scope [IAEA] safeguards..."
Note: through the period under review, the Indian government wrestled with a US request to send troops to Iraq. Although the Vajpayee administration strongly opposed the US-led invasion, objecting to the lack of an explicit UN mandate, it appears reluctant to rule out a contribution to post-war stabilisation. On June 11, a statement from the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) in New Delhi "noted with grave concern that a proposal for the dispatch of Indian troops to Iraq is receiving our government's consideration." The statement added: "We firmly believe that the request deserves outright rejection. It can only be accepted in violation of India's tradition of opposition to warmongers, colonial rule and imperialist loot". Reports speak of a US request for an Indian contingent of at least 15,000 troops.
On July 14, India finally announced it would not accede to the US troop request. Speaking to reporters after a two-hour meeting of the Cabinet's security committee, Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha commented: "Were there to be an explicit UN mandate for the purpose, the government of India could consider the deployment of troops to Iraq". Sinha added: "Our longer-term national interest, our concern for the people of Iraq, our longstanding ties with the Gulf region, as well as our growing dialogue and strengthened ties with the US, have been key elements in this consideration". Us State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher responded: "We would have hoped that India would have made a different choice - that they would have been there. ... [Notwithstanding this decision,] India remains an important strategic partner...[and] the continuation of the transformation of Indo-US relations is something that's important to us."
Reports: India says it won't rid nuclear weapons, Associated Press, May 8; Transcript - Armitage 'cautiously optimistic' over Indian and Pakistani initiatives, Washington File, May 8; Transcript - Armitage urges Pakistan, India to discuss all issues, Washington File, May 8; Transcript - Armitage says US will not pressure India or Pakistan on peace, Washington File, May 8; India rejects Pakistan's nuclear disarmament call, Agence France Presse, May 9; Armitage in India to promote thaw with Pakistan, Reuters, May 9; Have nuclear weapons made South Asia safer?, BBC News Online, May 9; Vajpayee slams non-proliferation double standards, Agence France Presse, May 11; India ready with Pakistan peace 'road map', United Press International, May 12; India rules out early Pakistan talks, BBC News Online, May 23; US call to send Indian troops to Iraq draws protests, Inter Press Service, June 11; Musharraf says Pakistan won't be bullied by India, Reuters, June 15; India in a bind over sending troops to Iraq, OneWorld, June 19; Pakistan says no nuclear technology transfer to North Korea, Agence France Presse, June 22; Transcript - Bush-Musharraf talks focus on security and economic expansion, Washington Post, June 24; Transcript - commitment seen to new relationship between US, Pakistan, Washington File, June 24; Bush rewards Pakistani President with aid pledge, Reuters, June 24; Bush doles out kudos, aid at Camp David summit but denies Musharraf F-16s, Agence France Presse, June 25; Musharraf seeks Predators and 60 long-delayed F-16s, Washington Times, June 27; Pakistan - nuclear weapons are securely controlled, Musharraf, Global Security Newswire, June 27; N-assets in safe custody - Musharraf, Times of India, June 27; US no longer asking India to sign NPT - Sibal, Times of India, July 3; Washington no longer urging New Delhi to sign NPT, Global Security Newswire, July 3; Musharraf pushes idea of Middle East-style roadmap for peace with India, Agence France Presse, July 4; India refuses US request to send troops to Iraq, Reuters, July 14; US chides India for Iraq troop snub, Associated Press, July 14.
© 2003 The Acronym Institute.