BY SHASHI MALLA
India & Pakistan Towards Calmer Waters
Both India and Pakistan have realized that the time is not ripe, i.e. it is not opportune to start an armed conflict with each other. A single armed clash along the disputed border (Lone of Control/LoC) could escalate into an all-out war. And this would not necessarily be limited to conventional weapons. The so-called ‘nuclear doctrines’ of both countries are not sophisticated enough like those of the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, when the doctrine of ‘mutually assured destruction’ [MAD] kept both countries away from the nuclear trigger.
It is very instructive to compare the military strengths of the two nuclear-armed states of South Asia. Faced with India’s conventionally superior armed forces. Pakistan has built up stocks of short and medium-range nuclear missiles. The US, China, Russia and other world powers have urged restraint from the two nations. Tensions had escalated following tit-for-tat airstrikes in the wake of a suicide car bombing that killed over 40 Indian paramilitary police in Pulwama inside Indian-administered state of Kashmir on February 14. In 2018, India allocated US $ 58 billion Dollar, or 2.1 percent of its GDP to its military budget while Pakistan spent US $ Dollar 11 billion or 3.6 % percent of its GDP, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS/Washington).
According to IISS and SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute): India & Pakistan Military Strengths
Comparing the military strengths of India and Pakistan utilizing 55 individual factors, India ranks 4th after the US, Russia and China in the world, and before France, Japan, South Korea, UK, Turkey and Germany [from a total of 137 countries considered]. Pakistan ranks 17th [Nepal is at 120th/ Globalfirepower.com]. However, India’s armed forces are in alarming shape. As Gaurav Gogoi, an Indian MP conceded: “Our troops lack modern equipment, but they have to conduct 21st century operations” [NYT/ 05.03.2019]. The US military establishment which would like to see India as a strategic ally in the competition with rising China, is shocked at the pathetic state of India’s military.
By sending Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jets to drop bombs in the alleged terrorist camps in Balakot, Pakistan by crossing the international border and not only the de facto border (Line of Control) between the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir, India relinquished its erstwhile doctrine of “strategic restraint”. By counter-attacking, Pakistan demonstrated what the policy expert Mosharraf Zaidi called the new doctrine of “defensive retaliation” (in: The Washington Post/08.03.2019). However, by promptly returning a downed Indian pilot, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan made “an unprecedented and swift gesture of peace” in a statesman-like manner – to the complete bafflement of the Indians!
The two countries have in the meantime taken positive steps to ease tensions. They had recalled each other’s high commissioners [ambassadors are so designated in Commonwealth countries] after the flare-up of hostilities, and now announced that they were returning to the respective capitals. Last Saturday, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said that are ported Pakistan crackdown on madrasas (seminaries/religious schools), mosques and hospitals belonging to outlawed Islamist groups and the arrests of dozens of people was not enough and that Pakistan should take concrete steps “against terrorists and terror infrastructure” on its territory.
Kumar underscored a recent United Nations statement that also called for “perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors to be held accountable and brought to justice.” He accused Pakistan of failing to take any credible action against Jaish-e-Mohammed and other terrorist organizations, which he said continued to operate with impunity from Pakistan. He also reiterated: “the widespread presence of terrorist camps in Pakistan is public knowledge within and outside Pakistan.”
Pakistan said it had arrested 44 persons, including the brother of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar who was apparently named in a dossier given to Islamabad by New Delhi. It also said it shut down a number of facilities and froze assets of several outlawed organizations. Pakistan’s information minister, Fawad Chaudhry stressed last Saturday that his country was acting against the banned militant outfits and would not allow anyone to “use Pakistani land for terrorism against any country” and that “India hasn’t shared yet any actionable information and proof against anybody.” He also said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had invited India to take part in a joint investigation and negotiations, but that there had been no response [yet] from the Indian side. Probably, there will not be a major Indian response until after the parliamentary elections in April/May.
As the South Asian authority, Ahmad Rashid has written, with good will on both sides and a return to backchannel diplomacy, the start of a peace process is indeed possible (The New York Times/08.03.2019). However, India needs to stop its relentless use of lethal force in Kashmir and mollify the fury and resentment of young Kashmiris.
US-North Korea Impasse
There have been reports from two US think tanks and South Korea’s intelligence agency last week that North Korea was rebuilding a rocket launch site at Sohae in the west of the country. There have also been accounts from South Korea’s intelligence service of new activity at a facility in Sanumdong near Pyongyang that produced North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missile [allegedly] capable of reaching the continental United States.
US President Donald Trump reacted last Friday: “I would be surprised in a negative way if [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] did anything that was not per our understanding. But we’ll see what happens…I would be disappointed if I saw testing.” However, he reiterated his belief in his good relationship with Kim despite the collapse last week of their second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Last Friday, US National Public Radio (NPR) quoted experts from California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies as saying that satellite images of Sanumdong taken on February 22 and on Friday suggested North Korea could be preparing to launch a missile or a space rocket. Jeffrey Lewis, one of the experts said the activity at the two sites was “probably connected” (Reuters). However, other experts, including Joel Wit at 38 North and Michael Elleman of the International Institute of Strategic Studies considered the conclusion speculative. Wit said: “In the past there have been multiple reports about activity at this place [Sanumdong] that turned out to be false alarms…It could either be preparation for an eventual launch or not.”
On the other hand, Sohae has been used in the past to test missile engines and to launch rockets that have helped development of North Korea’s weapons programmes. A senior US State Department official said that any launch from there would be “inconsistent” with North Korean commitments. In fact, Kim had pledged at the first summit in Singapore in June that the engine test site and launch platform at Sohae would be dismantled. He repeated this pledge in a summit with Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president last September. After nearly a year of high level engagement with North Korea, it had frozen nuclear and missile testing since 2017.
The Trump administration had cancelled two large-scale spring military manoeuvres [‘war games’] with South Korea in an effort to encourage nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea, after the failure of the summit last month. The differing perceptions for the collapse have also contributed to the heightened tensions. Victor Cha, a former official in the George W. Bush administration and a leading Korea-expert was not very optimistic: “I worry a little bit that this could get worse before it gets better because both sides want to try to figure out how to get the other side back to the table…And they may say pressure is the way to do that”. Cha, now with the Centre for Strategic and International Security (CSIS), thus views the rebuilding activity at a North Korean missile site near the border with China as “deliberate efforts by North Korea in response to the inconclusive results of the Hanoi summit – to send a message really, to President Trump and the world.”
North Korea’s biggest demand in negotiations – the lifting of major and crippling sanctions by U.N. Security Council resolutions – has demonstrated “that they see that pressure as troublesome,’ Cha also noted. However, last week North Korea appeared to reject the major concession Trump made following Hanoi, blasting the scaled-back military exercises as a “violent violation” and a “frontal challenge to the aim and desires of all [Korean] people and the international community for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
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