Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons/Nuclear Deterrence in Southern Asia: China, India and Pakistan/Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military

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Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons By Sumit Ganguly and J Devin T. Hagerty Oxford University Press, July 2005, 223 pp.

Nuclear Deterrence in Southern Asia: China, India and Pakistan By Arpit Rajain Sage Publications, December 2004, 495 pp.

Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military By Husain Haqqani Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 2005, 395 pp.

Although tensions between India and Pakistan have ebbed over the past two years, South Asia remains a brew of festering national, religious, sectarian, communal, and ethnic animosities. India and Pakistan have fought four wars since the two countries achieved independence in 1947, and both tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Periods of "peace" routinely see artillery exchanges, cross-border infiltration, and the sponsorship of insurgency in the territory of the other. Many Pakistanis believe that India has unjustly occupied territory that rightfully belongs to their country. Kashmir remains a flashpoint, which as recently as 2002 contributed to the mobilization of one million heavily armed men along their common border.

It is unsurprising then that President Bill Clinton once famously called South Asia "the most dangerous place in the world." Many South Asians view remarks such as those of Clinton as condescending and racist, implying that Asians, unlike Americans and Russians during the Cold War, cannot be trusted to manage their nuclear arsenals with restraint and common sense. These criticisms have come even as Pakistan has occasionally sought to play on U.S. nuclear fears to prod Washington into greater activity to help resolve the political disputes-Kashmir above all-that, left unchecked, might lead to war in the subcontinent.

After all, with the exception of the sharp but brief engagement on the heights of Kargil in 1999, India and Pakistan have not fought a full-fledged war since the Bangladesh crisis of 1971. So, how have these two bitter rivals, despite repeated crises and profound mistrust, avoided a major war over the past few decades? How crucial have the United States and other outside powers been in restraining such a conflict? Will this good fortune continue?

In Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons, Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty attempt what they describe as "the first comprehensive analysis of Indo-Pakistani crisis [behavior] in South Asia's nuclear era." They do not use "comprehensive" in the traditional sense of all-encompassing or exhaustive, but rather to indicate that their purview encompasses all the Indo-Pakistani crises, major and minor-six by their count-over the past 20 years. Short chapters offer concise but useful summaries of each of the six: the brief 1984 flurry when Islamabad (and Washington) worried that India might launch preventive air strikes against Pakistan's nascent nuclear facilities; the 1987 "Brasstacks" crisis; the April 1990 war scare; the mutual fear of pre-emptive nuclear strikes that followed the May 1998 nuclear tests first of India, then Pakistan; the 1999 Kargil war, which may have resulted in nearly 2,500 battle deaths; and the 2002 standoff that followed the December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament building in New Delhi.

The underlying premise of Fearful Symmetry is that Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons capabilities and the possibility that military conflict might escalate to the nuclear level have been the main deterrent to a major war in the six crises of the past 20 years. The authors quite sensibly place considerable emphasis on the "stability-instability paradox," which holds that nuclear weapons can be simultaneously stabilizing and destabilizing. At the macro level, nuclear arsenals provide stability because both sides fear that full-scale hostilities could escalate to the nuclear level. However, the mutual possession of nuclear weapons also permits, even encourages, small-scale probes, such as that undertaken by Pakistan in Kargil in 1999, because decision-makers assume that their adversary's response must of necessity be proportionate. …