18 February 1999

Bus must return with no war pact

18 February 1999
The Times of India

The Bus Must Return With No-War Pact


THE famous bus journey to Wagah is still a few days away but the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan must already be feeling burdened by the baggage of expectations. Despite the jingoistic pronouncements leaders in both countries make from time to time, public sentiment in the subcontinent overwhelmingly favours peace and normalcy. Last year's nuclear tests have raised to infinity the stakes Indians and Pakistanis have in the pacific resolution of all outstanding disputes. That is why most people want Mr Nawaz Sharif and Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee to exchange more than a hug. They want an agreement that will make impossible the danger of nuclear war.

Desirable though it may be, undoing the overt nuclearisation heralded by Pokhran II and Chagai is not possible at the present time. What India and Pakistan must do, however, is take steps to ensure that their nuclear weapons are never used against each other, either by accident or design.

New Delhi, which has a declaratory policy of not being the first to use nuclear weapons, wants a similar commitment from Islamabad. But for Pakistan, no-first-use is a non-starter. Islamabad argues that nuclear weapons are the only insurance it has to prevent a massive conventional
attack by India. Despite the obvious difference in nuclear doctrines, however, it is possible for India and Pakistan to reach an agreement which can minimise the danger of nuclear war and address Pakistan's sense of insecurity. Such a compact would have three components:
  • an uncaveated non-aggression treaty;
  • an agreement not to deploy nuclear weapons against each other, and, if possible, not even to weaponise or induct these weapons;
  • a bilateral agreement not to test any more nuclear weapons.
So far, India has been frosty towards Pakistan's offer of a no-war pact, although the reasons are not entirely clear. Of course, Islamabad has also never been very forthcoming about what exactly its proposal entails. In particular, there is some confusion about whether or not the offer is linked to Kashmir and covers the ``covert war'' that Pakistan is waging there.

Military Sense

It is nevertheless in India's interest wholeheartedly to embrace the concept of a non-aggression treaty. No one in India -- other than lunatics and incorrigible hawks -- seriously contemplates recovering Pakistan-occupied Kashmir through military means. Nor is going to war against Pakistan over its support for Kashmiri militants a realistic or worthwhile option.

Besides giving a fillip to bilateral relations, a non-aggression pact would also sidestep Pakistan's reluctance to agree to a no-first-use policy. If India pledges never to attack Pakistan first -- and Pakistan agrees to the same -- this is equivalent to a no first use pledge, as a nuclear first strike by Pakistan would be a violation of the pact. This makes sense from Pakistan's point of view too, since it claims it needs nuclear weapons to pre-empt a conventional attack by India.

As for non-deployment and, possibly, non-weaponisation, this too makes eminent sense for both countries. If `deterrence' is the only rationale for deployment, both countries already have a proven capability which should render them immune to nuclear blackmail, regardless of whether this capability is fully weaponised and deployed in forward positions on hair trigger alert, or kept unassembled and dealerted.

Pressure on US

Finally, since India and Pakistan have been unable to forge a domestic consensus on accession to the CTBT, they should consider signing a bilateral agreement that commits them to forswearing further nuclear tests. In fact, such an agreement would give India and Pakistan both a bargaining chip and the moral authority to press the demand that the five nuclear powers -- and especially the US -- end their programme of developing new weapons through computer and laboratory testing, dealert their stockpile, adopt a no first use doctrine, and disarm.

It will take more than one meeting between the two Prime Ministers for India and Pakistan to go down such a path. But it is vital that the work begin immediately. Mr Vajpayee must not allow Pakistan's insistence on discussing Kashmir to come in the way. Likewise, Mr Sharif must give up the `agreement on Kashmir first' line that his government has used so far to frustrate progress on other fronts. The two leaders have a golden opportunity to go down in history as men who finally brought a modicum of sanity to the relationship between their countries. Let us hope they are brave enough to seize the moment.

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