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South Asian youth shine in nuke talks

Last updated on: April 12, 2011 02:31 IST

Two young South Asian Americans -- an Indian American and a Pakistani American -- who are rising stars in the United States strategic affairs community, were the featured panelists on the discussion of Nuclear Risk Reduction in South Asia after Mumbai at the 2011 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, DC at the Ronald Reagan Building Convention Center.

Peter Lavoy, of the office of the Director of National Intelligence, chair of the panel in introducing Vipin Narang, assistant professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and member of MIT's Security Studies Program, and Moeed Yusuf, South Asia Advisor at the US Institute of Peace, said, "They are two of the sharpest up and coming scholars, not only on South Asia, nuclear and strategic issues, but also on areas that cover a much wider range of issues."

Narang, the kick-off panelist, opening with a strategic assessment of the situation in South Asia post-Mumbai, said, "Pakistan has done a good job, it seems to me on the Indian side of convincing the Indians that their threshold for nuclear use lies somewhere between trip-wire and last resort. So that has enhanced deterrence on the Pakistani side because it suggests to the Indians that the response to be uncertain as soon as India launched any offensive ground operations on Pakistani soil."

He said, "If the Pakistanis engaged in graduated escalation, or a pre-strategic strike on Indian forces, would the Indians retaliate with a strategic strike on Lahore, Islamabad or Karachi is not clear, and would that be a terminating event? How this plays out is something that seizes the Indian political leadership's mind."

Narang argued, "In terms of de-escalating steps, the Indian political leadership and army should clarify exactly what kinds of options they potentially envision in terms of retaliatory strikes after a terrorist attack. It seems like they are in the worst of all positions now, which is that the National Security Council is worst casing the Indian potential response without them believing that India has that capability."

"So, if India has options in the middle, which it currently believes could be plausible retaliatory options, then it should probably clarify those. What' the point of having a deterrent option if it is not communicated?" he asked. "So, some clarification of exactly what India's pro-active strategy options are so that Pakistan and the national security community can calibrate accordingly would be a useful de-escalatory step."

Yusuf said that nuclear confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan "are one which have held the test of all political tensions in some ways. "But what you really need and what hasn't happened is an agreement to at least continue talking about the nuclear issue, no matter what happens in the relationship," he said.

He said, "There is no nuclear strategic dialogue, which will discuss these issues over and over again if need be, which in on a completely different track than the composite dialogue or whatever you call the political one."

Yusuf added, "Every time the relationship breaks down, this is also a casualty. So, neither side has really taken this out of that political basket and talked about these issues. That's where you will have the opportunity to talk about no deployment, no pre-emption, the China factor."

"In track two, this is now becoming the mantra -- people are saying we need to have this and continue discussing this. But how do you bring that track two into track one is really the question, and nothing exists at this point."

"If you are India, you are looking at the next Mumbai and saying, 'We have to do something and if that something is responded by Pakistan in kind, then what?' It's a one-shot and you've again stopped. So, either you are willing to go up their escalatory ladder or you don't do anything to begin with."

"We also need to start understanding what is happening with the Pakistani military more. It's all well to keep on talking about strategic depth and the idea of the military and yes, it is India-focused and it remains very much where it was."

But, Yusuf argued, "There is significant evolution at the top level on how they are thinking of these terrorist groups and what they are thinking for the role of these old proxies, and what they can do and what they can't. I don't think it's that black and white, we'll use them and then put them in cold storage."

"So that also needs to be studied very carefully to know just how much Pakistan will do versus what it can do, " he said.

Narang asserted, "The ultimate solution is one that is very hard top achieve --how do you re-orient and entire institution's worldview."

"The Pakistan army's raison'etre was anti-India. It was born out of conflict with India and there has been persistent conventional conflict with India and a part of the problem is that some of these organisations -- such as the Lashkar -- is used as strategic assets of the security forces, without enough plausible deniability yet still related to security forces to be able to bleed India by a thousand cuts as former Pakistani military leader General Zia-ul-Haq once said."

Narang argued, "How do you get an entire institution to re-orient its worldview that India is not an existential threat to it or the state anymore. That, ultimately to me is the ultimate crisis prevention solution where you wouldn't have security force training and supplying militants who would then hit India's cities."

However, Narang agreed with Yusuf that "pro-active strategy options -- cold start, whatever you want to call it -- run all of the risk of whatever previous conventional posturing you had before about uncontrollable escalation."

"So, the real question in India is how to move forward to develop domestic intelligence in crisis prevention efforts so that you can prevent terrorist mass casualties in terrorist strikes. But I don't think there is a conventional response at the end."

Narang acknowledged, "The nuclear deterrent has been neutered effectively by Pakistan and the question about whether overt nuclearisation in 1998 was net security positive or negative for India, the conclusion at the political level. The behavior seems to suggest that it's been net security negative because it has taken off the table India's conventional superiority that it had prior to nuclearisation."
Aziz Haniffa in Washington