Courtesy Reuters

The Nuclear Subcontinent: Bringing Stability to South Asia

Editor's Note: In the aftermath of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, Foreign Affairs has published "Against Nuclear Apartheid" by India's senior adviser on defense and foreign affairs, Jaswant Singh, (September/October 1998) and "Dealing with the Bomb in South Asia" by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott (March/April 1999). Below, Pakistan's foreign secretary responds.

To restore strategic balance to South Asia, Pakistan was obliged to respond to India's May 1998 nuclear blasts. India already held an advantage in conventional weaponry, and it followed its underground tests with statements threatening nuclear blackmail. Pakistan's nuclear tests were undertaken in self-defense. By establishing mutual deterrence, they have served the interests of peace and stability in South Asia.

PAKISTAN'S PROPOSALS FOR PEACE

Pakistan is acutely aware of the risks and responsibilities accompanying nuclear weapons. Pakistan responded to India's 1974 nuclear test with redoubled efforts to keep the region nuclear-free, realizing that a nuclear race in South Asia would have far-reaching consequences. It proposed a nuclear weapons-free zone in South Asia; a joint renunciation of acquisition or manufacture of nuclear weapons; mutual inspection of nuclear facilities; adherence to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on nuclear facilities; a bilateral nuclear test ban; and a missile-free zone in South Asia.

In June 1991 Pakistan proposed a five-nation conference, which was later expanded to also include all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, to discuss conventional arms control and confidence-building measures as well as the promotion of nuclear restraint. In 1997, before the U.N. General Assembly, the prime minister of Pakistan proposed mutual and equal restraint by Pakistan and India on the development of nuclear and ballistic missiles. These initiatives not only remained unanswered by India but elicited little support from the international community.

India also accelerated the pace of its missile programs with 16 tests of the Prithvi design and 4 of the Agni, both of them nuclear-capable and targeted at Pakistan's cities. Prithvi missiles were inducted into India's armed forces and deployed against Pakistan, forcing Pakistan to develop an indigenous missile capability, as its zero-missile-zone proposal was rendered redundant. It was the absence of security that finally compelled Pakistan to orient its nuclear program for defense. The country needed an indigenous defense capability. Past sanctions had degraded its conventional capabilities to the point that it was inconceivable to counter an Indian nuclear threat through conventional means.

But it is in both sides' fundamental interest to avert a nuclear arms race. Moving swiftly toward a strategic-restraint regime, with nuclear and conventional stabilization measures, is imperative. With this perspective, Pakistan has resumed its dialogue with India, focusing on peace, security, confidence-building, and the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir issue. Pakistan has formally proposed a framework for discussions that includes measures to prevent a nuclear and ballistic-missile race, risk-reduction mechanisms, the non-induction of anti-ballistic missile and sea-launched ballistic missile systems, and the maintenance of nuclear deterrence at the minimum level. Pakistan has also proposed a mutual and balanced reduction of conventional forces.

MANAGING NUCLEAR WEAPONS

In February 1999, at Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif's invitation, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Lahore. They issued a joint declaration committing both sides to a peaceful resolution of outstanding issues including Kashmir and decided to work for conclusive measures in nuclear and conventional arms control, build mutual confidence, and avoid the risks of conflict.

The Lahore declaration signifies Pakistan's and India's desire to manage the nuclear standoff in South Asia in a responsible and mature manner. The costs of seeking unilateral advantage have become prohibitive. Pakistan and India must conduct their relations on the basis of sovereign equality, endeavor to settle the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, and build a more secure and prosperous future for their peoples.

Pakistan has declared a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing and offered a regional test-ban treaty to India. It has agreed in good faith to join the negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a fissile material treaty, solemnly reiterated its promise not to transfer sensitive equipment or technology, and declared its commitment to build a mutually acceptable and verifiable strategic-restraint regime with India.

Pakistan has also indicated its readiness to adhere to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in conditions free from coercion or pressure. The CTBT's entry into force requires the adherence of all the 44 designated states, including all nuclear weapons states, whether or not they are recognized as such. This is a cardinal element in establishing a norm against explosive testing. The CTBT would, unfortunately, not be a nuclear disarmament measure. Technologically advanced states would continue to develop and improve weapons designs through subcritical or nondetectable tests.

A DURABLE PEACE

A nuclear conflict can have no victor. In South Asia, nuclear deterrence may, however, usher in an era of durable peace between Pakistan and India, providing the requisite incentives for resolving all outstanding issues, especially Jammu and Kashmir.

The international community should encourage a process of peace and rapprochement, help promote the peaceful resolution of disputes, and support nuclear stabilization and restraint in South Asia. The world must also pay attention to the root causes of insecurity and instability in South Asia. Resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is indispensable for the region's peace and prosperity. The principles for settling this dispute justly have been enunciated in Security Council resolutions, which must be implemented.

The U.S.-Pakistani dialogue on security and nuclear issues has also progressed. The United States has adopted a pragmatic approach, recognizing the steps that Pakistan has taken for peace and global nonproliferation. The United States must continue to play an important role in transforming South Asia's security environment from confrontation to cooperation.

Economic sanctions and coercive measures against Pakistan will serve neither peace nor nonproliferation. These sanctions and pressures are unjust and unwarranted. Pakistan has not violated any legal obligations or international norms. Sanctions must be lifted.

The nuclearization of South Asia is a reality. But all South Asian states remain committed to the goals of global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. As members of the Nonaligned Movement, Pakistan and India have always stood for a principled and nondiscriminatory attainment of these goals. Both should cooperate with the international community to promote peace, security, disarmament, and nonproliferation.

Shamshad Ahmad is Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and its principal interlocutor in nuclear and security talks with the United States and India.

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