Building confidence between India and Pakistan: 'a step whose time has come'

Oct 13 2011
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament

Kate Farrell, London

The development of confidence-building measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan was recently given a boost by a July meeting of the Colombo Group in Sofia, Bulgaria. The Group, comprised primarily of South Asian security experts, engaged in a mock exercise to explore the verified dismantlement of surplus short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). This activity, which involved participants from both states, hoped to identify the fundamental issues involved in conducting practical dismantlement exercises in order to build towards an actual verification agreement. As India’s Prithvi I SRBM and Pakistan’s Haft I SRBM approach obsolescence, this is an ideal time to ascertain whether their removal from service can be used to build trust between both states.

Developing confidence and cooperation in South Asia
Relations between India and Pakistan have always been tense. However, they are occasionally marked by important developments in cooperative security engagement, such as the signing of the Lahore Declaration in 1999. In order to promote ‘an environment of peace and security’ between the two countries, both agreed to intensify dialogue on nuclear safety, nuclear security and information sharing. Both states also agreed to periodically review the implementation of existing CBMs, and ‘where necessary, set up appropriate consultative mechanisms to monitor and ensure effective implementation of these CBMs’. Unfortunately, only months after being signed, the start of the Kargil War forced many of these agreements off track. Since then, progress towards the goals of the Lahore Declaration has been intermittent.

In light of this, the Colombo Group has been pursuing pragmatic options to enhance regional stability. Retired brigadiers Feroz Khan and Gurmeet Kanwal, from Pakistan and India, currently act as primary spokesmen for the group. Both argue that ‘the time is right for India and Pakistan to expand shared understandings through cooperative exchanges of information about their respective deterrence postures’. To explore how shared understandings may be expanded, the group conducted an in-depth study and mock exercise investigating how mutually-verified missile retirement might build confidence between the two states.

The exercise in Bulgaria explored the modalities of verifying the dismantlement of two ageing missiles; the Indian Prithvi I and the Pakistani Haft I. Participants from across South Asia helped to illuminate some of the issues involved in a joint verification exercise by discussing the problems which might arise during the process. Each team needed to consider all the possible eventualities to uncover potential issues and solutions. And when there are so many aspects to such an exercise, the participants had many issues to discuss. Planning and preparatory work must be completed, initial information must be exchanged, and exercise modalities and verification protocols must be negotiated. The key question, which needs to be answered at each step of the process, becomes ‘do I want the other side to see what I want to see?’

A phased approach to verified retirement
As a result of these efforts, Feroz Khan and Gurmeet Kanwal released a proposal which describes a phased approach to SRBM retirement verification. The phased approach proposed by the Colombo Group includes the following steps:

a. The identification of SRBMs to be included in the exercise and the establishment of a consensus on the components of each system.
b. A political announcement, on both sides, of the intention to remove SRBMs from their nuclear delivery role.
c. The actual elimination of SRBMs from service, with the joint articulation of a verification procedure to establish the execution of action, informed by bilateral negotiations on inspection modalities (as recently explored).
d. A joint decision on the establishment of enforcement mechanisms which can address any complaints of non-compliance from either side.

Kahn and Kanwal also suggest that a precursory step to the actual verified dismantlement of SRBMs might be to declare these nuclear capable missiles to be non-nuclear delivery systems. As missiles are then removed from their respective nuclear arsenals, experts from India and Pakistan can begin to expand upon the cooperative drawdown of obsolete forces.

A clearly-defined step-by-step approach can help build cooperation and confidence between the parties by allowing for the gradual development of a new relationship. This is what the group sought to prove in Bulgaria; that unilateral transparency may be achieved without unacceptable political and military risks, and without substantial cost. As India and Pakistan have often seen their attempts at nuclear dialogue thwarted, this approach can help overcome any suspicions which may arise.

A new mechanism for strategic balance in South Asia
Nuclear weapons play an important role in the security doctrines of both India and Pakistan. It has even been argued that nuclear deterrence is the reason that South Asia maintains a level of strategic balance. However, the fact that both countries have nuclear weapons is an ongoing issue of concern between them. The time has come for India and Pakistan to take substantive steps towards building confidence in each other.

A researcher from International Peace and Conflict Studies has noted that the inherent mistrust between the states in South Asia makes confidence-building difficult. One aspect of this mistrust is maintained by the rhetoric reported through the media on both sides. The fact that this exercise was reported in high-circulation newspapers in India and Pakistan is a significant achievement. Gaining exposure for this small, but significant step towards confidence-building should have a positive influence in creating an environment more conducive to cooperation.


Last changed: Oct 15 2011 at 1:26 PM




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