Thursday, July 12, 2012

‘No danger of N-skirmish in Asia’

The threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism has become a major cause of concern for the international community. The issue has specific relevance with nuclear China, India and Pakistan in wake of their chequered history of border and territorial disputes. Parjanya Bhatt spoke to former Indian ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast, Neelam Deo, on the issue of nuclear optimism and pessimism, and how India’s physical security dynamics have changed over the years.

1) At a recently held Nuclear Summit 2012 in Seoul in South Korea, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh referred to nuclear terrorism. Talking about nuclear terrorism, it clearly refers to groups like Al Qaeda and anti-India terror groups based in Pakistan. Your first reaction.
ANS: This question has to be replied in the context of the turmoil within Pakistan, which has increased the danger that some part of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal may fall into the hands of a group like Lasjker-e-Toiba or other terrorist group or what is even more even worst that someone in the nuclear establishment of Pakistan is himself a fundamentalist. This is something that everyone is worried about. Even Americans have been very keen to train Pakistani nuclear establishment in safety measures.
2) But the nuclear button is in the hands of the Pakistan Army who has very close alliance with terrorist and fundamentalist groups. It is a very dangerous situation for New Delhi.
ANS: Yes, but the concern is not that the Pakistan Army or the civilian government will make use of the nuclear bomb against India or anyone else, but the nuclear technology falling into the hands of the fundamentalist groups or some rogue person with the government or the military establishment. I do not think that the army or the government will use against India.
3) However, the optimistic nuclear observers argue that nuclearisation in South Asia i.e. nuclear Pakistan vis-à-vis India and nuclear India vis-à-vis China stops these government and the armies from waging full scale war over their disputes. It is prohibitively risky. Your view.
ANS: In case of India-China relations, the border has been peaceful for past fifty years with the exception of some small incursions. I do not think that the countries will have any nuclear exchange between them. It is to ensure that such situation does not arise at any point of time. We do not expect Beijing to use the weapons against New Delhi or we using them against Islamabad or Beijing. India in its nuclear doctrine has stated ‘no first use policy’.
It is also about the understanding between two nuclear powers. Both America and the then Soviet Union had great amount of understanding despite their hostilities during the Cold War period. It would be good to have more interaction with both China and Pakistan on this crucial issue.
4) However, the pessimistic argument is that, possession of nuclear bomb actually stops adversary from taking any concrete action. Do you think the nuclear factor in Islamabad is stopping India from taking any action and making India vulnerable to acts like attack on Indian Parliament and Mumbai Terror Attack?
ANS: India’s nuclear doctrine is evidence enough that New Delhi is not interested in nuclear exchange. However, our relation with Pakistan is different from what US and USSR had. Now, should Pakistan be reckless enough to use cross border terrorism as a matter of state policy. Of course not. Yes, we did not act militarily in the after math of Parliament and Mumbai terror attack, but remember Washington was talking to Islamabad in wake of the Kargil war and quick to step in, in the aftermath of 2008 attack.
Big international players are acting to restrain Pakistan in such eventualities. But both the sides should try and find common ground where we can agree rather than disagreeing.
5) Are you saying that diplomacy is working for New Delhi?
ANS: Yes, there have been incremental gains. However, no big gains. Trade ties are expanding. It is a positive sign.
6) But core issues like Kashmir and cross border insurgency remains to be resolved. Do you think nuclear Pakistan is a hurdle?
ANS: The conflict with Pakistan is historical and the issues are made complicated. Islamabad wants to status quo on Kashmir cross border terror and other issues. If we are asking if Islamabad is using its nuclear status, then it is more to do with its friends in the West than with against India. The blackmail comes in the form of lack of financial aid leading to mismanagement and ultimately fundamentalists accessing the nuclear technology.
However, nuclearisation remains a factor for India as well.
7) In the shadow of nuclearisation, the physical security dynamics of India have changed. What does the future hold for India vis-à-vis both China and Pakistan?
ANS: Yes, from non-nuclear states to now declared nuclear states, India’s security dynamics have changed. There have not been any positive development on core issues between countries, but there have not been any negative development as well.


Photo Credit: Google

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