Tuesday September 28, 2021

When will we say no to the arms race?

May 19, 2016

India has further escalated the arms race in the Subcontinent – first, by testing the nuclear capable K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile last month and now with the successful launch of a supersonic interceptor ballistic missile last Sunday.

With COAS Raheel Sharif in China, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz have vowed to match the escalation. The question that arises is: should we continue to unsustainably follow India on the escalation ladder and compete piece by piece or should we opt for a viable option and revisit our national security paradigm?

The subcontinental rivalry has continued to fuel the arms race, with India having the edge from the very beginning by virtue of having inherited British India as compared to Pakistan which had to start from scratch in every department of the nation building. Given the increasing asymmetry in conventional weapons, Pakistan from the very beginning relied on non-state actors in the first war across Kashmir. Pakistan also joined the Western military blocks to counter-balance India, which had aligned with the eastern or the Soviet-led security alliance. The cold war provided the necessary external conditions to reinforce a perpetual conflict in the Subcontinent.

The Sino-India war in 1962 led to a great military opening for Pakistan and strategic reliance on China became the corner-stone of our externally dependent security paradigm. It encouraged Ayub Khan to launch Operation Gibraltar through irregular state-sponsored ‘mujahideen’; that led to the 1965 war. Despite the Tashkent Declaration brokered by the Soviet Union, the enmity continued and found its bloodiest expression in the then East-Pakistan. Instead of transferring power to the Awami League that had swept the elections in the eastern wing, CMLA General Yahya Khan opted for military action with the support of non-state actors, Al-Shams and Al-Badr, and the ensuing massacre resulted in over a million civilian casualties.

That provoked a popular nationalist insurgency that provided a unique opportunity to Indira Gandhi (then PM) to not only “drown the two-nation theory in the Bay of Bengal”, but also – in the words of an Indian foreign secretary Dixit – to “secure its north-eastern soft-belly” consisting of the seven-sister states. Repaying Pakistan for Operation Gibraltar, India also backed the Bengali war of liberation and used as its fifth column or non-state actor, Muki Bahini, in the 1971 war that resulted in the break-up of the country and the military defeat of Gen Yahya-led Pakistan.

A nationalist Bhutto not only helped rebuild a defeated army, but also laid the basis for an elaborate confrontationist national security paradigm with India as its principal adversary, despite signing the Simla Accord. In response to India’s nuclear explosions in 1974, Bhutto responded with Pakistan’s elaborate nuclear plans to match India’s. Both countries took the road to nuclear proliferation out of the purview of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). At the peak of the cold-war, after the Soviets intervened in Afghanistan, Gen Zia used the opportunity to create non-state jihadi actors and use the Pak-US bonhomie to almost make Pakistan an undeclared nuclear-weapon power. And later, Benazir Bhutto acquired the necessary delivery systems.

In the post-cold war and post-Soviet times, newly emerging geo-strategic realities dictated that both countries to redesign their respective security paradigms. Isolated and subjected to sanctions by the erstwhile Western patrons after its nuclear explosions in response to India’s, Pakistan abandoned the advantage of nuclear ambiguity and put its bomb on the shelf. The nuclear weapons and the multiple missile systems became symbols of power for these two nations, half of whose populations live under abject poverty. The arms race soon assumed aggressive religious chauvinist competition, as reflected by the Islamic and Hindu warrior names of their missiles and bombs.

Independent nuclear experts are worried and confused about the disparate nature, vocabulary and immeasurable scope and functions of the two non-NPT nuclear powers’ contradictory nuclear doctrines; remember, the nuclear experts of two sides seldom meet. India is joining the big nations’ league, with tremendous resources being diverted to militarisation and nuclear proliferation, and is being encouraged to enter the nuclear mainstream to increasingly compete with China.

At its end, Pakistan is expected to become the fifth largest nuclear power by 2025 and is still ahead of India in terms of nuclear weapons and warheads. With less than five minutes of flying time of nuclear equipped missiles, pronounced readiness to use tactical nuclear weapons on our own soil to thwart intrusion by our enemy and a preference for the first-use option, not even a full-fledged multi-layered ballistic missile defence system can provide a secure shield to India and, as a consequence, to Pakistan. Hence, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is the name of dangerous nuclear brinkmanship. What has been forgotten by both sides is that deterrence is a flawed doctrine and is self-escalatory, and this is what has been happening with no end in sight.

Pakistan started with ‘minimum nuclear deterrence’ and jumped to ‘full spectrum nuclear deterrence’ with triad operational capacities consisting of 3000 range missiles with heavy nuclear loads and tactical nuclear weapons fitted to the 60 km range Nasr or Hataf-9 missiles on land and sea and from the air in response to India’s continental triad nuclear doctrine coupled with its Pakistan-specific ‘cold-start doctrine’. In response to Pakistan’s ‘strategic assets’ of non-state actors, NSC Adviser Doval’s passive-aggressive – and aggressive – doctrine is now in full play in subliminal warfare by co-opting proxies from within and across our porous and mostly unsettled borders.

India is in competition with China, in partnership with the US under the Maritime Security Dialogue and the Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific, and naval cooperation in the India Ocean is leaving Pakistan far behind and creating unbridgeable asymmetry in resources, military hardware and new weapon systems.

Compared to India’s more than eight times bigger economy in terms of GDP, which has been growing around seven per cent and is expected to become the third largest economy in the next three decades, Pakistan is out in the cold. The country has low-growth and multiple deficits, despite high hopes in the exogenous CPEC. Compared to India’s defence spending, which is 1.8 percent of its GDP, our GDP cannot meet the multiplying demands of the arms race with India even if we spend 7 percent of our GDP – while embracing economic bankruptcy.

Ever since the birth of Pakistan, successive governments have taken a cyclical course of an arms race with India. The founder of the nation, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, could not have perceived that the two nations would live in perpetual enmity. The perceived threat was, however, reinforced by the projection of scepticism in Delhi about the viability of its eastern neighbour and paranoia in Karachi about the evil intentions of its big brother next door. Unresolved border issues with both India and Afghanistan and the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir provided the necessary conditions for the emergence of mutually hostile nationalisms that fuelled enmity and perpetuated the security paraphernalia.

To avert a mutually assured destruction, both India and Pakistan must reverse their national security paradigms and create economic and strategic interdependence in South and Central Asia. India and Pakistan both must learn from the Soviet militaristic debacle. When will we, muftis or khakis, say no to the arms race to avoid self-immolation?

The writer is a senior journalist.

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