Thursday May 30, 2024

CBM fatigue

By Sitara Noor
January 08, 2016

India and Pakistan regularly exchange a list of respective nuclear facilities under the Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities.

Signed in 1988 and ratified in 1992, this agreement has been touted as the most successful confidence-building measure (CBM) in the military domain between two nuclear rivals and flaunted as one that has endured the difficult times. Its success lies in the fact that it did not succumb to the flares of the numerous crises that have emerged from time to time, and remained intact at times when communication between the two countries had broken down otherwise.

This agreement is part of a number of other CBMs that have been agreed upon and existed over the past number of years, intended to serve as a means towards an end – a peaceful South Asia. Yet their utility and efficiency remains questionable as they failed to uphold the primary function of building confidence between India and Pakistan to a level where some serious and result-oriented debate may take place on more contentious issues.

Pak-India relations have remained hostage to a series of crises emerging right after their independence. The issue of Kashmir stands out as the most significant one. The ensuing years witnessed a number of failed attempts to restore lasting peace. It was during the peace intervals that some peace overtures were made, leading to confidence-building measures. It is interesting to note that back in 1959 Pakistan even offered a joint defence of South Asia against potential Chinese aggression against India as a CBM. Later there was a series of CBMs, mostly emerging from Pakistan’s side and predominantly in the military domain.

Pakistan proposed a ‘South Asian nuclear weapon Free Zone’ at the UN General Assembly in 1974. It was, in essence, aimed at neutralising India’s nuclear ambitions. Later, starting from a formal proposal by Pakistan in 1981 to initiate bilateral talks to conclude an agreement on a mutually acceptable ratio of conventional armed forces, a series of proposals were given by Pakistan over the next few years – duly termed as a ‘peace offensive’.

These included renunciation of acquisition of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan (1978), comprehensive mutual inspection of each other’s nuclear facilities (1979), simultaneous mutual acceptance of IAEA “Full Scope Safeguards” (1979), simultaneous accession to the NPT (1979), a bilateral South Asian Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (1987), and a mutual conference under the UN auspices on Nuclear Non Proliferation in South Asia (1987). The Lahore MoU put forward a detailed plan of engagement on diverse grounds including a proposal on a nuclear restraint regime in South Asia.

Historically, an incremental approach in bringing new CBMs and strengthening existing ones has proved successful. Sustenance of the CBM process is the key. It may appear symbolic in the beginning but may lead to a breakthrough in the longer run. Despite all criticism, CBMs have at least kept the machinery oiled if not running at a faster pace.

Pakistan has made continuous efforts to keep the CBM debate relevant. In the last rounds of talks as well, Pakistan has brought to the front a few more areas of cooperation in the field of nuclear safety, such as a bilateral agreement for early notification of a nuclear accident as encouraged by the IAEA and successfully managed by many states having nuclear energy programmes and in close regional proximity to each other. This approach, however, has received a cold response from India which avoided to get into further CBMs one way or the other.

This dismissiveness on India’s part to agree upon new incremental CBMs has cast a dark shadow on the importance of the CBM process. It has also exposed Indian stubbornness to discuss even such benign measures. Another rather more disturbing residual impact could be the advent of a CBM fatigue on the Pakistani side as well.

Offering new CBMs just for the sake of bringing something to the table is certainly not desirable and may not bring any change whatsoever. Equally counterproductive would be dismissing ideas that certainly have their utility in a correspondingly beneficial manner for both the states.

Indian dismissiveness partly comes with their so-called newly found ‘great’ power attitude – as a result of the India-US nuclear deal. But this status demands more responsibility and maturity of behaviour and not a rabble-rousing attitude.

The role of CBMs should not be played down. With the recent warming up of relations between India and Pakistan, one hopes that there will be a renewed interest in the resuming the dialogue process along with confidence-building measures. They may not be a substitute for peace but certainly they should remain relevant as a means towards this end.

The writer is a former visiting fellow at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, California.