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A Path for Peace in South Asia

by Zia Mian, 18 January 2010

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(Foreign Policy in Focus, 7 January 2010)

It has been a grim start to the New Year and the new decade in South
Asia. Vested interests, hardened obsessions, and old habits continue
to push India and Pakistan in the direction of ruinous conflict. While
military planners in both countries plan and prepare for the next war,
politicians and diplomats remain determined not to talk except on
their own terms.

On this stony ground, civil society in Pakistan and India has been
struggling for years to build peace. There are signs the people of the
two countries are ready to make peace and seek the benefits of a peace
dividend if their governments would only permit.

War Plans

General Deepak Kapoor, India’s army chief and chairman of its chiefs
of staff, revealed at the end of December 2009 that the military has
been working on a new doctrine and seeks major new capabilities.
India’s armed forces, he said, want to be able to mobilize and deploy
for war very quickly, and to be able to fight a two-front war (against
Pakistan and China). India also wants to be able to project military
power from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Strait (which connects the
Indian Ocean to the Pacific) and seeks, among other things, to have
ballistic missile defenses and space-based capabilities.

The doctrine isn’t all wishful thinking. The Indian military has been
developing and war-gaming for the past five years a strategy it calls
"Cold Start." This massive conventional attack on Pakistan would be so
sudden and decisive that international intervention could not come
soon enough to stop the conflict. India’s armed forces would even be
prepared to keep fighting if an adversary uses nuclear weapons on the
battlefield. According to an Indian commander, the goal was to be able
to "dismember a not-so-friendly nation effectively and at the shortest
possible time."

This kind of war-making capability is expensive, but India has started
to put real money behind it. In January, India’s Defense Ministry
announced that it plans to spend over $10 billion this coming year on
acquiring new weapons. This was made possible by a staggering 34
percent increase in India’s military budget for 2009-2010.

General Kapoor’s remarks made Pakistan’s generals bristle. Speaking to
senior military officers at Pakistan’s General Headquarters, the Chief
of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani said that "proponents of
conventional application of military forces, in a nuclear overhang,
are chartering an adventurous and dangerous path, the consequences of
which could be both unintended and uncontrollable." In other words,
Pakistan was threatening to use nuclear weapons if India tried to
carry out the kind of conventional attack it has been rehearsing.

Pakistan has been building new facilities that will allow it to
significantly increase the size of its nuclear arsenal. It has been
working on two new nuclear reactors to make plutonium for weapons, one
of which may begin operating in 2010. It has also been constructing
facilities to make fuel for these reactors and to separate the
plutonium that will be produced in the new reactors. The cost of these
facilities, along with rest of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, is
unknown.

Pakistan also has been building up its own conventional forces. At the
end of December, Pakistan received the first of four Swedish-made
airborne early warning aircraft. Media reports say the planes, bought
at a cost of almost $900 million, are intended to let the Pakistan Air
Force "detect all aircraft taking off from and landing at all forward
Indian airbases adjacent to Pakistan and also to identify the type of
aircraft, their weapons systems, vector and altitude." Pakistan also
has a deal with China for four early warning planes at a cost of over
$250 million. To extend the operating range of its aircraft, the Air
Force has been buying mid-air refueling tankers from Ukraine, with
three tankers expected to be delivered this year, to add to the one
that arrived last month.

Prospects for Peace

While they continue to pour billions of dollars into their arms race,
and prepare and plan for war, the governments of Pakistan and India
are expending little effort to try to peacefully resolve their
disputes.

They have promised to make peace many times. In the wake of the first
war, in 1948, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan’s
Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan committed that future disputes "shall
always be solved through recognized peaceful methods." Following the
1965 war, the Tashkent Agreement declared that the two countries would
"restore normal and peaceful relations...and promote understanding and
friendly relations." After the 1971 war, as part of the Simla
Agreement, leaders of the two countries said they would seek "an end
to the conflict and confrontation that have hitherto marred their
relations and work for the promotion of a friendly and harmonious
relationship and the establishment of durable peace." The promises
didn’t last.

At the heart of the conflict is the disputed territory of Kashmir,
which has been divided between the two countries for over 60 years.
Pakistan claims all of Kashmir, India insists on holding on to what it
has, and the people of Kashmir are trapped in between. The last round
of the struggle was the 1999 Kargil war, in which a newly
nuclear-armed Pakistan sent Islamist militants and soldiers into
Indian-held Kashmir, in an effort to force international intervention
and make India negotiate a final settlement. Nothing came of it.

The futility of the Kargil war, the very real danger of it escalating
into the use of nuclear weapons, and the rise of an Islamist militancy
that threatens both Pakistan and India led the two countries in 2003
to try to find a settlement. Steve Coll reported on the back-channel
talks that were set up between the two countries and how close they
came to success: By early 2007, officials were "negotiating the
details for a visit to Pakistan by the Indian Prime Minister during
which, they hoped, the principles underlying the Kashmir agreement
would be announced and talks aimed at implementation would be
inaugurated."

The process stalled as the Musharraf government began to collapse for
domestic political reasons. And then came the November 2008 attack on
the Indian city of Mumbai, where Islamist militants affiliated with
the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group based in Pakistan with long-standing ties
to the army and its intelligence service, went on a rampage and killed
almost 200 people and injured many more. The Indian government
demanded that Pakistan shut down the militant group and punish those
responsible for planning the attacks—or else no further talks would
take place.

Hopes for a way forward rose in July 2009, when the prime ministers of
the two countries met during a gathering of the Non-Aligned Movement
at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt and issued an agreed statement. Since
then, nothing. Pakistan has not acted decisively against the
Lashkar-e-Taiba; even though Islamist militant groups imperil
Pakistan, some there still see a role for them in fighting the 60-year
war against India over Kashmir. India will not talk about settling
Kashmir, even though it would take away the very justification
Pakistan uses for supporting the militants groups.

There is a failure of imagination on the part of the governments in
India and Pakistan. Neither seems able to realize how much would
change if the two countries formalized and committed publicly to the
agreement on Kashmir that was within reach in 2007as part of the
back-channel talks. The future is held back by the past.

Leading the Way

The choice facing Pakistan and India is stark. It was perhaps best
described by the late Eqbal Ahmad, who played an important role in
many India-Pakistan dialogues, when he argued that an enduring peace
between India and Pakistan was an "urgent necessity" because without
it:

Hostility between the two will continue to distort the political and
economic environment of both countries, inflict upon their inhabitants
the augmenting costs of subversion and sabotage, inhibit regional
cooperation, and force more than a billion people to live perpetually
under the menace of nuclear holocaust...Such distortions will continue
to grow as long as our governments do not restore to this region its
natural millennial flow—of rivers and mountains, ecology and
production, and commerce and culture.

Zia Mian is a physicist with the Program on Science and Global
Security at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International
Affairs at Princeton University and a columnist for Foreign Policy In
Focus. www.fpif.org .