India-Pakistan Disarmament? Cooler Heads Must Revisit the Issue

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 10, 2008 | Go to article overview

India-Pakistan Disarmament? Cooler Heads Must Revisit the Issue


Byline: Harlan Ullman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Islamabad, Pakistan -- Let us assume, at least for the moment, that the crisis between Pakistan and India over the Mumbai terror attacks two weeks ago recedes and a resolution acceptable to both sides can be found that does no permanent damage to future relationships in South Asia. Beyond the necessity of averting a shooting conflict between two nuclear-armed states that have gone to war with each other before, can this crisis be turned into an opportunity?

Emotions and tensions are running high for understandable reasons. Despite many earlier instances of significant terror attacks that have taken Indian lives, India views this outrage in which about 180 people were killed and twice as many wounded as its September 11th. Blame was immediately placed on Lashkar-e-Taibi, a Pakistani-based terrorist organization long ago banned by the prior Pakistani government. In a phone call, it was widely reported that Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee threatened Pakistani President Asif Zardari that this incident was something over which India could go to war. Although the call was not a hoax, the assertion it was does not remove India's option to use force.

Initially, Pakistan denied that any Pakistanis were involved in the attacks. However, a thorough investigation is essential to establish culpability. Evidence clearly leads to Lashkar-e-Taibi. But new facts suggest other parties and individuals were also involved.

What opportunity could arise from this crisis? The most important is the most difficult and will take the longest to achieve. In early 2002, after terrorists attacked India's parliament, both sides headed towards the nuclear precipice. In the current crisis, there is no guarantee that nuclear brinkmanship will not recur. Should India reject Pakistani actions to bring Lashkar-e-Taibi to justice as insufficient, it could follow the American precedent set in Afghanistan, Iraq and Predator strikes into Pakistan and intervene with military force into sovereign Pakistani territory.

However brave and able Pakistan's army is, India is a far more powerful and much larger state. The last recourse and doomsday scenario is the specter of nuclear war in the event fighting gets out of control or intervention threatens the break up of Pakistan. Mr. Zardari has already taken the courageous and bold step of vowing not to use nuclear weapons first. In the excruciating pressure of war, the endurance of such promises cannot be guaranteed.

The greatest opportunity rests in determining how these weapons can be permanently prevented from being used and how they can be reduced and even eventually eliminated. …

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