By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the war-hysteria raised on both sides over Mumbai terror-strikes, they have not refrained from pursuing agreements inked regarding their decision to abstain from being engaged in open conflict. Adhering to the nuclear deterrence pact, India and Pakistan inked in 1988, the two countries exchanged lists of nuclear installations and facilities through diplomatic channels simultaneously at New Delhi and Islamabad on 1 January. Since their becoming nuclear powers and subsequently inking the deterrence pact, though Indo-Pak ties have ranged from being cordial to tense- as they are at present over the Mumbai terror strikes- they have continued the practice of exchanging these lists. The â€œAgreement on Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilitiesâ€ was signed between India and Pakistan by the then Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto on 31 December 1998. It entered into force on 27 January 1991.
â€œUnder the agreement, the two countries, on first January of every calendar year, are to inform each other of Nuclear Installations and Facilities to be covered by the agreement,â€ a press release from Indian ministry of external affairs stated. â€œThe first such exchange of lists took place on 1 January 1992. This is the eighteenth consecutive time that both countries have exchanged such a list,â€ the statement said.
The agreement details the location of nuclear-related facilities in the two countries. Despite the two countries having come close to war, the exchange of lists has not stopped, sources said. Even when the two countries were in state of high alert in 2001, they exchanged the lists. Defying apprehensions raised about their nearing a conflict or conflict-like stage over the Mumbai terror strikes, they exchanged the lists this year too.
Ever since the two countries conducted nuclear tests, the western powers â€“ particularly United States- have expressed concern about their nuclear prowess leading to a nuclear war in South Asia as India and Pakistan are known as permanent enemies with their being no sign of their resolving differences over long-standing disputes, including the Kashmir issue. Though since 1998, they have come close to war, once over the Kargil-issue and war-hysteria has been raised after the Mumbai terror strikes, India and Pakistan have not been engaged in any open conflict since achieving nuclear prowess. In this context, Indo-Pak nuclear diplomacy, resting on their bilateral understanding of nuclear deterrence defies fears raised earlier about their nuclear-status leading to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) in South Asia.
Undeniably, apprehensions still prevail on whether nuclear weapons would contribute to stability in South Asia. Concern has been voiced over unintentional/intentional targeting of nuclear facilities by militants in either country and/or access to the same falling in wrong hands fuelling nuclear tension in the sub-continent. To date, however, Indo-Pak nuclear diplomacy only stands as a commendable illustration of their deterrence ensuring military restraint and a check on their moving towards open conflict. This may be illustrated briefly by the role played by nuclear prowess of the two nations, taking their ties from the stage of conflict to no-conflict in the first stage. Without doubt, there was a period when India remained suspicious about Pakistanâ€™s nuclear ambitions. The first major step in taking their ties to a positive level was the six-point accord reached between the then President of Pakistan General Zia-ul-Haq and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in December 1985 in Delhi. Their agreement on not attacking each otherâ€™s nuclear installations was hailed as a significant step in establishing mutual confidence. This principle was re-emphasized when Gandhi and Bhutto signed the agreement in December 1988 in Islamabad.
Strangely, but definitely, there is a parallel between nuclear ambitions of India and Pakistan and a decisive improvement in their bilateral ties. It would not be wrong to state that their respective nuclear drivesâ€™ impact on the upswing in their relations fits into the theory of â€œclassic deterrence.â€ Earlier than this, the two countries -known to shift between the stage of conflict, no-conflict and/or avoidance of conflict- had not even given serious consideration to the idea of entertaining cordial and/or friendly ties. The very principle of not attacking each otherâ€™s nuclear installations marked the beginning of some sort of nuclear dialogue between the two. Had they not taken this step, that of considering the deterrent factor, the past two decades may have been marked by constant threat of a nuclear holocaust erupting any moment in the subcontinent. Equally significant was their decision to resolve their nuclear tensions bilaterally. This also implied their accepting each otherâ€™s nuclear development. Had they criticized each otherâ€™s nuclear intentions and designs unilaterally, the issue may have assumed serious proportions for multilateral deliberations. With the two nuclear powers sharing border, notwithstanding their disputes, they opted for a strategy that best suited their interests, unilaterally as well as bilaterally, that is work towards normalization of Indo-Pak ties. Interestingly, notwithstanding all the diplomatic hype raised over the Mumbai-terror strikes, India and Pakistan have ruled out prospects of going to war on this. This only suggests that they are not likely to backtrack- for quite some time- from the wise and rational nuclear diplomacy they have pursued so far.