Ten murderers (for that is what they were) belonging to the ISI-sponsored Lashkar-e-Taiba created havoc in Mumbai during three days (November 26 to 29, 2008) killing some 200 innocent people causing a wave of anger throughout the length and breadth of India. The UPA government did not react fast enough, as recently the Israelis did in Gaza. As usual it got engrossed in an orgy of words.
Foreign Minister Paranab Mukherjee went on record as saying that if the Pakistan Government did not fulfil demands made on it, India would ?keep its options open?, that being a more than-explicit way of saying that an open military attack amounting to war cannot be dismissed lightly. There were wordy exchanges between India and Pakistan; in the end leaders in both countries seemed to agree that war was not an option. Tempers thereafter cooled down. How come? Is there an honest answer?
There have been suggestions that India was dissuaded from mounting a full-fledged war by international opinion, specifically opinion from the United States. A claim is made that India also listened to the Foreign Ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia who could possibly drill some wisdom into Pakistani ears. But there were many who also felt that if things went bad for either country, it may lead to one or the other resorting to nuclear bombing virtually causing a holocaust that could make Nagasaki and Hiroshima a minor mishap.
Such was the anger in India that there was silent demand for large scale bombing of two of Pakistan'slargest urban centres. That, in turn, raised the question of what could happen if the war frenzy led to use of nuclear weaponry. If one country adopted it, would the other hold back its hands? Both India and Pakistan reportedly have enough in their nuclear arsenal to do maximum damage to each other. But would Pakistan or, for that matter, India really go to such extreme length? Will the nuclear stock of one country serve to act as a deterrent to the other?
According to Bharat Karnad, one of the eleven contributors to this book ?there is evidence suggesting that Washington, not Islamabad, is in control of critical parts of Pakistan'snuclear deterrent and can prevent its use.? In such circumstances, if Pakistan began to lose out in a conventional war would it?can it??take resort to nuclear weapons as one last option? Opinion differs.
The issue is the subject of much discussion in this book edited by E Sridharan, Academic Director, University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India (UPIASI), New Delhi. The contributors are all experts in International Affairs and include Rajesh M Basrur, Rifaat Hussain, Bharat Karnad, Arvind Kumar, Rasul Bakhsh Rais, Rajesh Rajgopalan, Varun Sahni, WPS Sidhu and Swaran Singh. Some of them had submitted papers at five seminars held in Delhi between July 2002 and March 2006. These are included in this book. Opinions, understandably, are varied. But then what are seminars for? Primarily what is of most concern to the authors is whether the deterrence theory explains Indian and Pakistani nuclear behaviour, which some find somewhat baffling.
Some of the writers are critical of the deterrence theory, claiming that war avoidance depends largely on war preparation. Some others agree that deterrence of a sort, however creaky and similar to the US?Soviet deterrence during the Cold War, particularly in its early phases, is actually in existence between India and Pakistan.
Sridharan himself makes the point that nuclear deterrence can potentially be a driver of conflict resolution and not just conflict management because it removes full-blown offensive actions. Bharat Karnad'sstrongly argued opinion is that India and Pakistan are grossly unequal in their capabilities and Pakistan'sfirst-use threat is not credible and should not deter an Indian conventional assault. As he put it: ?The consequences for Pakistan, compared to those for India of a nuclear exchange are so lopsided as to void the game even in a theoretical sense?.
Karnad further adds: ?Pakistan, in nuclear terms is a small utility vehicle hurtling towards a huge eighteen wheel rig, India. The suicidal certainty of the small vehicle being blown to smithereens robs its driver'sprotestations and publicly declared resolve to run the rig off the road of credibility?. Rifaat Hussain has an important statement to make. He says: ?As long as conditions and incentives for going to war between the two sides persist, efforts to get them to declare nuclear weapons as weapons of either first or last resort will remain totally meaningless.?
Varun Sahni looks at the situation in a different way. Says he: ?While the acquisition of a nuclear deterrent has freed Pakistan'shand in the use of force against India, it has simultaneously placed severe constraints on the use of force by India to counter Pakistan. To put the matter more pointedly, the acquisition of ?strategic parity? by the weaker state has not only restricted the range of policy options and manouverability of the stronger state, but it has also given the former the confidence to initiate offensive action against the latter?.
That is another way of looking at things. Swaran Singh looks at the deterrence issue in another, larger context. He brings in the historical role of China, direct and indirect, in the India-Pakistan standoff. More interestingly, he also argues that Chinese accommodation of Pakistani security needs vis-?-vis India is not just to balance India, but also to prevent Pakistan from becoming overly dependent on the United States. That is looking at the entire issue from a new perspective.
In many ways this book is an eye-opener. Firstly, it should make policy makers in Delhi to think. Deterrence, as Sridharan argues, is ?only about stabilisation of conflict and prevention of war necessary for survival, but not in itself sufficient to resolve conflict?. What, then, is necessary to resolve conflict? There is a hint in the book that common to both Pakistan and India is a social conscience that softens if not lessens conflict.
Karnad makes an interesting point. He writes: ?New Delhi will not do by nuclear means what it has not chosen to do by conventional arms, that is, wage a war to annihilate Pakistan?. That is something worth pondering over. What this book does is to enable us to look at the issue of deterrence from several perspectives. One is free to make a choice of what is considered the best of all.
(Routledge, 512, Mercantile House, 15, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi-110 001)