AGNI-V AND SHAHEEN 1-A TESTS: REMOVING TERROR FROM MISSILE TIPS



Author : C.Uday Bhaskar


India and Pakistan have tested two long range missiles over the last week - April 19 and 25 respectively - and to the external observer, this appears to be a replay of May 1998 when both countries declared themselves as 'states with nuclear weapons '- or SNWs outside of the NPT fold and its inflexible formulation of NWS (nuclear weapon states) and NNWS (non-NWS). The predictable question was if this was a 'tit-for-tat' in the missile domain. The deeper anxiety however is about the terrorist bomb attack in Lahore on Tuesday (April 24) - a day prior to Pakistan testing its Hatf IV missile. In the interregnum since 1998, the complex security challenges that India has had to address include the Kargil War of May 1999, the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the enormity of the Mumbai terror carnage in November 2008. The deeper pattern that merits attention is not so much missile range and accuracy but the rather lethal and innovative manner in which Rawalpindi (HQ of the Pakistan military) has used its nuclear and missile WMD capability to stoke terrorism. Beginning with May 1990 when the sub-continent ostensibly went through its first major WMD crisis, the Pak military has used its nascent nuclear weapon profile to enable and enhance its terror footprint, thereby introducing what may be termed as NWET - nuclear weapon enabled terrorism.

This is the worst-case exigency the US and its allies were seeking to prevent in Iraq soon after 9/11 - albeit on invalid assumptions - and it took the Abbotabad - bin Laden operation for the US to publicly acknowledge the Pindi perfidy it was funding for decades. Turning a Nelson's eye to Pakistan's WMD quest was the beginning of an extended Faustian bargain by the White House on Reagan's watch which at the time was driven by the need to 'bleed' the Soviets in Afghanistan in the early 1980's . Tragically over the last three decades, many lives have been lost, blood spilt, limbs maimed and considerable national treasure expended by all the principal interlocutors. The Pakistani ' deep-state' which is at the epicenter of NWET is now dealing with the virulence of its own creation and the more recent rapprochement with India, whether in trade or related endeavor is indicative of a gradual reappraisal of how Pakistan is to define its security contours and how best to protect them. The fall-out of the Salman Taseer assassination (January 2011) and the most recent Lahore railway station attack point to the macabre inversion of the 'strategic depth' concept that Rawalpindi has long sought. Instead of Pindi projecting whatever influence or power it wished to abroad, some of the most radicalised elements and their empathisers have now permeated the inner core of the Pakistani state.

Against this backdrop, the recent missile tests by both India and Pakistan need to be reviewed more objectively than reducing them to dramatic visuals and sound-bytes. WMD capability is now a reality in southern Asia and the principal nations are China, India and Pakistan. The core mission of WMDs is to 'deter' the 'other' - even while assuaging the deep insecurity the very presence of WMD with a past or potential competitor/adversary instills. The Sino-Indian WMD dyad is more stable and even if Beijing does not acknowledge India's nuclear weapon status, there is a tacit acceptance of the 'mutuality' that prevails in a relatively stable strategic relationship. India is the subaltern entity in relation to China and Delhi's objective is to 'deter' Beijing from any adventurism - hence the Agni V - but not to aspire for equivalence. Cooperation where possible is being advanced but neither side is seeking to use its WMD capability to shape the territorial/border dispute. This has a salutary effect - and hopefully this pattern will prevail. In the case of Pakistan it is not the range, accuracy or genealogy of the Hatf IV that is operative, but the NWET syndrome. And more importantly this virus is not India-specific but relevant to the entire liberal, secular, democratic constituency, which paradoxically includes the support base and adherents in Pakistan. The physical safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear assets and the danger posed by extremists have been differently perceived even among its own experts and this needs close monitoring. The current priority for India and Pakistan even as they move to higher levels of techno-strategic proficiency in their WMD profiles is to introduce greater degrees of transparency about capability and sustained dialogue about the utility of apocalyptic weaponry so that misperceptions are avoided. However, weaning away the deep-state in Rawalpindi from NWET will be a very challenging domestic task for the beleaguered civilian dispensation in Islamabad which has just been rapped on the knuckles by an irate Pakistani Supreme Court.

The Sino-Indian WMD dyad is more stable and even if Beijing does not acknowledge India's nuclear weapon status, there is a tacit acceptance of the 'mutuality' that prevails in a relatively stable strategic relationship. India is the subaltern entity in relation to China and Delhi's objective is to 'deter' Beijing from any adventurism - hence the Agni V - but not to aspire for equivalence. Cooperation where possible is being advanced but neither side is seeking to use its WMD capability to shape the territorial/border dispute. This has a salutary effect - and hopefully this pattern will prevail. In the case of Pakistan it is not the range, accuracy or genealogy of the Hatf IV that is operative, but the NWET syndrome. And more importantly this virus is not India-specific but relevant to the entire liberal, secular, democratic constituency, which paradoxically includes the support base and adherents in Pakistan. The physical safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear assets and the danger posed by extremists have been differently perceived even among its own experts and this needs close monitoring. The current priority for India and Pakistan even as they move to higher levels of techno-strategic proficiency in their WMD profiles is to introduce greater degrees of transparency about capability and sustained dialogue about the utility of apocalyptic weaponry so that misperceptions are avoided. However, weaning away the deep-state in Rawalpindi from NWET will be a very challenging domestic task for the beleaguered civilian dispensation in Islamabad which has just been rapped on the knuckles by an irate Pakistani Supreme Court.

(C Uday Bhaskar is a visiting Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. This article first appeared in the Economic Times on April 27.)
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