Strategic restraint in South Asia

The national requirement for strategic restraint for any country is derived from its political judgment given its location and the prevailing strategic environment. The cutting edge lies in the military domain and the contours of the quantum of strategic restraint depend on the military capabilities of the country concerned and the threats it faces both current and foreseen. While the military potential has its own impact on objectives and developments, it is largely in the diplomatic field in which efforts are launched and sustained in bilateral and multilateral engagement to reach the political objectives that define strategic restraint, and to deal with situations in which calls for such restraint go unheeded.
Seven facts should be clear to any objective observer in the context of South Asia:-
i    First of all, Pakistan as the smaller country with a
    correspondingly smaller economy, defence budget and         armed forces has vested interests in better relations
    with India that include strategic restraint. This would
    allow Pakistan to devote a larger amount of its limited
    resources to nation building and the welfare of its people.
i    Secondly, any such policy and objectives require a
    positive response from India.
i    Thirdly, Pakistan has already experienced to its cost its         division into two countries at the hands of a military
    intervention by India in 1971: the first example of a state         being dismembered after the end of the Second World War.
i    Fourthly, the international community has the ability to         act in a manner which facilitates strategic restraint in
    South Asia or in a manner which leads to its destabilisation.
i    Fifthly, the empirical approach of India has been to             keep Pakistan off balance and to destabilise it through
    a number of actions. These include trying to control the         flow of waters guaranteed by the Indus Waters Treaty         (IWT), destabilisation of Balochistan through
    Afghanistan, hostile propaganda at every level,
    including in multilateral forums, and unwillingness to
    tackle core issues and disputes in the composite
    dialogue peace process that is switched on and off at
    India’s will. Senior Indian strategists, including
    policymakers, continue to assert that India has no
    interest in Pakistan not breaking apart, if it remains
    obdurate to Indian demands. Other influential Indian
    voices predict that Pakistan will break apart, a
    consistent theme since 1947 of the RSS and its offshoots         as well as of numerous
    other Indian nationalists.
i    Sixthly, Pakistan’s strategic environment has
    deteriorated due to the occupation of Afghanistan,
    which has led to the rise of extremism and terrorism
    within Pakistan, as well as a now hot Western border.
i    Seventhly, the increasing narrative of the Western
    countries is that Pakistan must exercise strategic
    restraint by curtailing its rather limited fissile material         production and its nuclear capability, including by
    supporting FMCT negotiations. The Western analysts
    also advise Pakistan that developing and deploying
    tactical nuclear weapons would be counterproductive.
That is the mise-en-scene. Now to turn to the strategic restraint dimension. As soon as both countries became overtly nuclear, Pakistan offered to India its Strategic Restraint Regime (SRR) proposal, with its three interlocking elements of nuclear restraint, conventional balance and dispute settlement. The SRR has remained on the table since then and, most recently, has been reoffered to India in the current Nuclear and Conventional CBMs talks that began in 2004. India has consistently rejected Pakistan’s SRR. Nor have the Western countries since 1998 demonstrated any interest in, or support for, this regime.
On the contrary, the Western countries and Russia continue to build up India’s strategic capabilities in both the nuclear and conventional fields. Massive conventional arms sales dominate the bilateral agendas of the major Western powers and Russia vis-à-vis India.
On the nuclear side, the US-India nuclear deal, compounded further by the exemption that undermines the NPT given to India by the NSG, and followed by liberal bilateral nuclear agreements for nuclear technology and uranium supplies, demonstrates that rather than nuclear restraint, nuclear licence is the Western objective for a combination of reasons commercial and geo-strategic. Paramount among these is the build up of India as a key partner, both regionally and globally, particularly in the context of China. The support for India’s candidature for Permanent Membership of the Security Council is a pillar of this policy.
Conversely, in respect to Pakistan that is more fossil fuel deficient than India, in a clearly discriminatory approach, similar access to civil nuclear energy for power generation, critical for Pakistan’s energy security, has not been given.
The US-India deal has excluded from safeguards eight Indian reactors, well suited for weapons-grade Pu production, which have the ability to produce 240 nuclear weapons a year. There was no justification for such an exemption by an agreement that the USA disingenuously termed an advance for the global objective of non-proliferation. The entire ambitious Indian 13 breeders reactors programme that will exponentially increase its plutonium stocks and with the first breeder about to come online has similarly been left out of safeguards, despite the fact that the rationale for all breeder programmes worldwide has always been to extract the maximum from limited uranium supplies and not to produce unsafeguarded fissile material. The Indian Prime Minister stated in Parliament that no part of India’s nuclear programme would be placed under safeguards, if it was of a strategic nature. The dual use purpose of the breeders programme is, therefore, clear.
The supplies of uranium from NSG countries free up India’s own limited uranium reserves for weapons production. Furthermore, the overhang of India’s unsafeguarded Pu has been left out of safeguards. The International Panel of Fissile Material (IPFM) in its 2010 publication stated that India’s 6.8 tons of unsafeguarded plutonium was sufficient for 850 nuclear weapons, even if it be totally of reactor grade plutonium. Probably, due to low burn-up, a significant portion would be of weapons-grade plutonium. However, the nuclear weapons capability of this Indian Pu overhang is never taken into account by Western critics of Pakistan.
One measure of the level of discrimination in the energy field towards Pakistan is the fact that, unlike India, all of Pakistan’s nuclear reactors for power generation are under safeguards, and the GOP has avowed that all future power reactors will also be safeguarded. In the US/NSG-India deal, India has been given the right to keep future reactors out of safeguards.
Pakistan, the last nuclear country to start fissile production, is criticised for increasing its modest plutonium production capacity from one to four dedicated reactors, but it would have to build some 150 more to match India’s existing weapons-grade plutonium production capacity.
Another example is that while energy shortages constitute a very major challenge to Pakistan’s economy and ability to generate resources for both development and internal security, the gas pipeline project with Iran is opposed by the USA, which, however, has taken no concrete action to initiate the gas pipeline project with Turkmenistan through Afghanistan that in its first incarnation began promisingly in the mid 1990s. In fact, the US made UNOCAL withdraw and disband the consortium, not heeding Pakistan’s argument that beginning work on the pipeline would show all Afghan factions that from peace they would gain more than from war. Had that gone ahead, the moderate Taliban would have come out on top and the history that followed may well have been different. The same holds true today. The Iranian pipeline is closer to completion now by far, although eventually over time South Asia will need at least two pipelines.
To the people of Pakistan, it thus seems that they are consigned to the status referred in the Bible as “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”
In the peace dialogue, Pakistan has responded positively to India’s main interests in trade and people to people contacts. However, India has not budged on Pakistan’s core concern of Kashmir or on resolving the Siachen and Sir Creek sea boundary disputes, and has hardened further its position on all three, as well as on the Indus Waters where it seeks not only to control their flow in violation of IWT, but also objects to vitally needed Pakistani dams downriver to the extent of attempting to block construction assistance from the IFIs.
Even on progressing on nuclear and conventional CBMs and in observing those agreed upon, India continues to drag its feet as if wanting to delink from Pakistan. It ignores the wise maxim coined in the environmental arena that a country must “think globally but also act locally.”
Recently, India carried out two SLBM launches that require pre-notification to Pakistan under the terms of their bilateral legal agreement, but did not do so, coming up with a vague response - after much delay - that the missile were not ballistic, despite the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation press releases to the contrary. This is a troubling development for a CBM that had worked well so far, better, for instance, than the Hague Code of Conduct regime for missiles pre-notification. One hopes, it is not the start of a trend.
India and Western analysts oppose Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons, without taking into account the need to close the gap posed by the aggressive Indian Cold Start/Proactive Doctrine aimed at placing India in a coercive position to threaten Pakistan with strikes to seize territory while remaining under the nuclear overhang.
Pakistan is quite transparent that if forced to, in extremis, it can use nuclear weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons, to defend itself. However paradoxically, India and others who hold that Pakistan should publish a nuclear doctrine, criticise this unambiguous Pakistan assertion, implying that it is ‘unfair’ to limit India’s otherwise available options accruing from its conventional superiority. The Western analysts suggest unconvincingly that it may be disproportionate and against the concept of “just war” to use nuclear weapons against conventional attacks to seize Pakistani territory - as if aggression by conventional forces, a breach of the UN Charter, was permissible and deterring by any means such aggression was impermissible.
Hence, when our friends are interested in discussing themes such as restraint with us, they should think of what would make sense to Pakistan. Even in this area their definition of restraint seems driven by the objective that Pakistan should slow down production of its nuclear weapons. They conveniently ignore the responsibility of their own countries to exercise restraint in supplying India with conventional, non-conventional and strategic weapons and technology. They have also showed no restraint in accommodating our neighbour into multilateral export control regimes, while denying us such participation. They do not object to Russia supplying nuclear submarines to India, which can carry nuclear cruise missiles and critical technical assistance to India’s nuclear submarine programme, as acknowledged by the Indian PM.
It is curious to note that the major Western powers advocate bilateralism with India on the Kashmir dispute in order to create a comfort zone in which they do not annoy India. On the other hand, when Pakistan insists on a bilateral approach on strategic issues in South Asia, our Western friends follow the Indian position and bring in concern over China to excuse India from conventional or strategic restraint. This despite the fact that the major part of India’s military assets is deployed against Pakistan
In terms of the unilateral strategic restraint advocated for Pakistan, one can see what is in it for India and for its Western and Russian friends, but the question is: what is in it for Pakistan? The 180 million people of Pakistan cannot afford that the country falters or falls under external threat. The existence of a strong nuclear capable Pakistan is also a considered a source of strength, like the concept in naval strategy of a “fleet in being”, by Muslim countries and their people, the Muslims of India and also by the Muslim Diaspora worldwide at a time when Islam, and its adherents in Muslim countries and elsewhere, are perceived to be under threat.
Pakistan’s proposals in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in the nuclear and missile areas affirm the restraint DNA of Pakistan. The irony is that our friends advocate restraint only when they see Pakistan responding to a strategic environment facilitated and supported by them. They need to develop strategic clarity and realism as well.
To conclude with the way forward. Much depends on India reciprocating Pakistan’s objective and proposals for strategic restraint and much also depends on the international community supporting this objective in an even-handed manner.

The writer is a retired ambassador and has led Pakistan’s delegations in Nuclear and Conventional CBMs talks with India on 2004-2007. This is from a presentation he made at the CISS–IISS Workshop on Defence, Deterrence and Nuclear Weapons in Islamabad on March 7, 2013. Email:

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat. Email:

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt