IPRI – Islamabad Policy Research Institute

Crisis Management in Nuclear S. Asia

“Bravery is listening even when you don’t want to hear it.”

What South Asia needs most is a strategy of crisis management principles for India and Pakistan that avoid misunderstanding and undermining of escalatory pressures asserts Zafar Khan, National Defence University, Islamabad, in his chapter titled ‘Crisis Management in Nuclear South Asia’ for Stimson Centre’s book, ‘Investigating Crisis: South Asia’s Lessons, Evolving Dynamics and Trajectories.’

According to Khan, crisis management is the process by which potential escalation towards major military confrontation is controlled, but this management does not necessarily resolve initial provocations or their underlying sources of tension. Generally, India-Pakistan crisis management has historically followed this pattern by failing to facilitate complete cooperation between the two states or resolve crisis-triggering problems.

Major powers such as the United States of America and China may encourage both India and Pakistan to help resolve their issues, but both the states themselves must craft their own strategies to resolve emerging crises and prevent future ones. To that end, there are four critical areas where renewed efforts have the potential to yield the most progress: (1) existing Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), (2) deterrent strategies, (3) arms control, and (4) Dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. However, it is important to have contemporary sense of crisis between two nations.

Heightened tensions between India and Pakistan had become the new normal in their relationship. Unfortunately, this has continued to be the case every single year. Composite dialogues, fundamental for the improvement of bilateral relations, are unprecedented, Furthermore, in view of the electoral schedules, it is highly unlikely that official talks between India and Pakistan can be resumed till both elections have been held and new governments are in place. Lately, after 20 killings by Indian occupied forces in Kashmir, the pinning hope of improvement in bilateral ties with India has become useless. However, from two years now, the both new governments may be in a position to begin formal talks with each other, only if compromises are made on both sides by determined leadership of both sides.

Another fear is that, during the next months wherein new governments formulate, the India-Pakistan relations may worsen rather than getting improved. This assertion can be made because of three reasons: i. electoral politics, ii. possibility of increase in official rhetoric on both sides as result of election campaign iii. potential of another major terror attack on India on the basis of first two reasons.  To tackle such a conundrum, there are essentially four level of communication between India and Pakistan in the absence of bilateral dialogues: i. high commission to host government, ii. DGMO hotlines iii. meeting between Pakistani rangers and border security forces, iv. interaction between the two national security advisors comprising the strategic level communication. Therefore, this process for consistent and stable crisis management mechanism may pose intriguing questions for the South Asian region like: is the single strategic level communication between the two National Security Advisors (NSAs) sufficient to continue during time of a crisis? Are the NSAs empowered enough to take decisions during crises?

The international facilitation to prevent any conflict or crisis going further is also of great importance. Since 2001-03 crisis both India and Pakistan have refrained themselves from indulging into any major regional conflict. They have also managed building strong ties not only with regional countries but also with the extra regional powers that have been part of South Asian politics. However, after Indian Parliament Mumbai attacks of 2008, the role of major powers in South Asian politics seems tilted towards India only, which is worrisome for other South Asian regional countries. So with current and emerging strategic environment, it is no longer clear that international community especially U.S. carry any advantageous role or not as they had in the past.

Due to lack of strategic stability, nations depend on deterrence stability to avoid conflict and any untoward incidence. In South Asia, unfortunately, even deterrence stability is under stress because India is developing destabilizing doctrines and technologies by following Nehruvian defence policy-power maximization. Conversely, in pursuit of strategic stability in the region, Pakistan has voluntarily committed itself to the ideals such as non-proliferation, prevention of arms race, confidence building measures, cooperation in the fight against terrorism, to name a few.

Hence, gleaning lessons from several events, such as the Kargil crisis (1999), the Twin Peaks crisis (2001-2), the Mumbai crisis (2008), and the Pathankot, Uri, and Nagrota attacks (2016), where both India and Pakistan showed strategic restraint to avoid major conflict as well as Alsatair Johnston’s assessment of eight codified Chinese principles of crisis management, the author of this chapter reaches at the conclusion that crisis prevention and conflict resolution strategies are dormant in South Asia, therefore, South Asia needs is its own strategy for crisis prevention in future. The only road to durable peace in South Asia has to be built by South Asian countries themselves.

Article originally published in Pakistan Observer on April 28, 2018.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.


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