Military crises and diplomatic rapprochements


By Nyla Ali Khan
During the last decade, each military crisis between India and Pakistan has been followed by attempts at diplomatic rapprochement, which have turned out to be fiascos. The two countries go through sporadic peace-making efforts, characterised by negotiations. For instance, in January 2004, then Indian Prime Minister (PM), Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the then Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, agreed “to the resumption of a composite dialogue” on all issues “including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides”. Musharraf assured the Indian government that he would not permit “any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner” (The Hindu, 6 January 2004). But this joint statement could not mitigate the existing scepticism:
“Many observers have interpreted the joint statement as a tacit admission of Pakistan’s past support for the LOC in Kashmir and an indication of its resolve to finally end military confrontation over the dispute. However, there is also considerable scepticism in India on the nature of change in Pakistan’s policy: is it tactical or strategic? Similarly, the Pakistani government fears that India is taking unfair advantage of Islamabad’s restraint to consolidate its political and military grip over Kashmir.” (Kampani 2005: 179)
Pakistan won the disapprobation of international powers by adopting the policy of fighting proxy wars through radical groups, which reinforced New Delhi’s confidence that the internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute would not get unwieldy. India also believes that the restraint it exercised during the 1998 nuclear tests has given it the reputation of a responsible nuclear power.
Despite international pressure, the India-Pakistan crisis has not been defused; on the contrary, it is highly volatile. Given their interests in South Asia, Russia and China have expressed concern about the brinksmanship between the two countries. In order to facilitate a rapprochement, President Vladimir Putin of Russia offered to play the role of mediator between then Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and then Pakistani President Musharraf at the scheduled regional summit conference in Almaty, Kazakhistan. Both Putin and the then Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, held talks with Vajpayee and Musharraf in order to create a space for political negotiations. But the two heads of state continued to remain aloof and uncompromisingly condemned each other’s belligerence. The one positive outcome of the summit talks, however, was the proposal of the Indian government for joint patrolling of the Line of Control (LOC) by Indian and Pakistani forces. But the Pakistani government was quick to reject this proposal and expressed the need for building a third-party force instead. Subsequently, the lethal and hitherto readily adopted practice of manoeuvring a dangerous situation to the limits of tolerance mellowed, due to Vajpayee’s and Musharraf’s judicious approach to nuclear warfare. But the simmering grievances between India and Pakistan, and the distress of the Kashmiri people, remained unrectified.
Senior research associate at Proliferation Research and Assessment Program, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Gaurav Kampani’s (2005) assessment of Indian militarism and Pakistani infiltration seems to be of particular relevance: valid concerns about the disastrous repercussions of a large-scale conventional war and the menace of nuclear escalation loomed large on the horizon have deterred India from launching full-scale attacks on training camps, insurgent strongholds, and permeable routes in Pakistan-controlled territories that precipitate infiltration (ibid.: 166). Pakistan had been successful in providing a red herring to divert the attention of the Indian military from insurgency and counterinsurgency operations in the Valley, and in underlining the internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan was careful to woo the United States by making the argument that nuclear disarmament can be achieved in South Asia only if the Kashmir crisis is resolved (Iqbal 1993). I turn to Kampani’s interesting inference regarding Pakistan’s strategic rationale for its nuclear capability and its constant attempts to foreground the Kashmir issue: “the political linkage between regional nuclear disarmament and the resolution of the Kashmir dispute appears to be an opportunistic attempt on the part of Islamabad to create non-proliferation incentives for US policymakers to intervene in the Kashmir conflict” (Kampani 2005: 167; also see Chadha 2005). The Pakistani military reinforced Western concerns regarding nuclear proliferation in South Asia. In reaction to Pakistan’s aggressive transgression of the LOC, India exercised political tact and restraint, winning international support for its diplomacy. Washington’s political volte-face became apparent when it explicitly demanded that Islamabad withdraw from occupied Indian positions and maintain the legitimacy of the LOC in Kashmir. It was implicit in this demand that it saw Pakistan as the egregious aggressor.
The attempt by the United States to mitigate Pakistan’s aggression also implied that it would not reinforce the status quo in Kashmir (Kampani 2005: 171). Washington’s incrimination of Pakistani aggression mitigated New Delhi’s fear that internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute would spell unambiguous victory for Pakistan. India’s strategy of diplomacy and restraint increased the international pressure on Pakistan to withdraw its forces from Indian territory. India took recourse to limited conventional war under nuclear conditions, prior to President Clinton’s visit to New Delhi in March 2000. At this point in time, proliferation was relegated to the background in Indo-US relations. Stephen P Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta underline the further recession of this issue to the background during the Bush administration. The neoconservatives in that administration zeroed in on India as a country in the Asia-Pacific region that would offset China’s burgeoning economy, which I see as an attempt to reconstruct the Cold War paradigm (“US-South Asia: Relations under Bush,” 2001).
US strategic ties with New Delhi were further consolidated in the wake of 9/11, when the links between militant Islamic groups and Pakistan’s military and militia forces were underscored. As one of the consequences of the decision of the Bush administration to eliminate Al-Qaeda and its supporters in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s then General Pervez Musharraf found himself with no option but to sever ties with the Taliban. Following this drastically changed policy decision to withdraw political and military support from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Islamabad found itself unable to draw a clear line of distinction between ‘terrorists’ in Afghanistan and ‘freedom fighters’ in Kashmir. Islamabad’s quandary proved New Delhi’s trump card.
New Delhi was able to justify its military stance vis-à-vis Pakistan in the wake of the attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State Assembly in the summer capital, Srinagar, in October 2001, and then the attacks on the Indian Parliament a month later. New Delhi’s strategy was validated by US military operations in Afghanistan and the deployment of US forces in and around Pakistan to restrain Pakistani aggression. India was assured by the United States that it would stall any attempt by Pakistan to extend the Kashmir dispute beyond local borders, which might disrupt its operations against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Also, deployment of the US military in Pakistani air bases strengthened New Delhi’s confidence that Islamabad would hesitate to use nuclear weapons (Kampani 2002). The result of India’s policy of coercive diplomacy was that the Musharraf regime was pressured by the United States to take strict military action against the mercenary Islamist groups bolstering the insurgency in Kashmir (Armitage 2002). New Delhi was successful in getting Islamabad to both privately and publicly renounce its support of insurgents in J&K.
The Indian administration decided that in the event deterrence measures failed, the Indian army would have to fight a limited conventional war under nuclear conditions. The possibility of fighting a war has driven the Indian government to contemplate a nuclear response to Pakistan’s deployment of nuclear weapons (see Chengappa 2000). But Indian leaders have threatened Islamabad with punitive measures if Pakistan resorts to nuclear weapons use (Tellis 2001: 251-475). India and Pakistan routinely brandish their nuclear capabilities to intimidate each other. The two countries have also resorted to direct nuclear signalling through ballistic-missile tests. Such strategies emphasise the military and political volatility in South Asia (Dawn, 27 December 2001). Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has given its military the prowess it requires to exploit the disgruntlement of the Muslim population of the Kashmir Valley. Pakistan’s military leaders are privately convinced that its daunting nuclear arsenal has dissuaded India from embarking upon a large-scale war. India’s cautious stance is, however, dictated by multiple factors. Its primary concern is that a limited war will not enable it to accomplish substantive political or military objectives; that such a war might spin out of control and would be impossible to cease according to the wishes of the administration and the military; that India might find itself in disfavour with and spurned by the international community; and that a war might beef up nuclear armament. The impending menace of precipitative nuclearisation has been one of the many factors underlining the necessity to maintain a quasi-stable regime in the South Asian region. In effect, one of the ramifications of India and Pakistan climbing the ladder of nuclear proliferation has been a tottering stability, maintained amidst the continuing conflict in Kashmir. However, the overt support that the Pakistani government has lent to the insurgents in Kashmir has enabled India to tarnish Pakistan’s reputation by labelling it a terrorist state.
New Delhi managed to diminish the threat of internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute in 2001-2002 by threatening a nuclear exchange unless the United States intervened to prevent Pakistan from fomenting cross-border terrorism (ibid.: 178). The ideological and power rivalry between India and Pakistan, however, transcended the Kashmir dispute (Tellis 2001: 8-11). Regardless of the possibility of nuclear restraint in South Asia, a resolution of the Kashmir dispute would put a monkey wrench in the drive of both countries to beef up their nuclear arsenals.
(The writer is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at