After a long gap, the India-Pakistan nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) joint working group will meet at Islamabad on December 26, 2011. In February 2007, India and Pakistan had signed a long-anticipated agreement on nuclear CBMs and nuclear risk reduction measures (NRRMs). However, for some inexplicable reasons, the two countries have so far failed to make details of the agreement public.
The aim of instituting nuclear CBMs is to avoid tensions arising from mistrust, misperception, accidents and military brinkmanship. India and Pakistan can never have such high stakes in a future conventional conflict that they could possibly risk nuclear exchanges. It was due to this realisation that the two countries agreed in February 1999 at Lahore to engage in bilateral consultations on security concepts and nuclear doctrines, with a view to developing measures for confidence building in the nuclear and conventional fields.
Both the countries also committed themselves to undertaking national measures to reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons under their respective control and had agreed to continue to honour their respective unilateral moratorium on further nuclear tests. They had also agreed to provide each other with advance notification in respect of ballistic missile flight tests. This informal understanding was converted into an agreement on the pre-notification of ballistic missile tests on October 3, 2005. Subsequently, both the countries also agreed to provide a “hotline” between the Foreign Secretaries – a cosmetic measure of little consequence.
A number of additional nuclear CBMs and NRRMs need to be implemented by India and Pakistan. The first of these should be a formal agreement on de-mating nuclear warheads from their delivery systems. This implies that warheads for missiles like the Indian Agni and the Pakistani Ghauri and Ghaznavi should be stored separately in a disassembled form, i.e., the atomic core and the conventional high explosive (HE) bomb casing, including the trigger mechanism, should be stored at separate locations during peacetime to reduce the risk of inadvertent or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons.
Another viable measure would be to enter into an agreement on the non-use of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) for nuclear deterrence. SRBMs like India’s Prithvi (range 150-250 km) and Pakistan’s Hatf series (Hatf I, II and III – derivative of China’s M-11, with ranges less than 300 km), are inherently destabilising due to their greater mobility, deployment in the close vicinity of the tactical battle area and the short time of flight that gives virtually no reaction time before the missile impacts. As both the nations now have longer-range missiles in service, India and Pakistan would do well to exclude this class of missile completely from their nuclear arsenals. However, by opting to test the nuclear-tipped 65 km range Hatf-9 (Nasr) SRBM, Pakistan has vitiated the atmosphere.
Both the countries should agree to establish national-level risk reduction and monitoring centers, with a suitable communications infrastructure, to build mutual trust. Such centres would act as a hotline between the strategic forces commands. Subsequently, nuclear CBMs and NRRMs could be upgraded to include measures that might appear fanciful today: verifiable deployment restrictions and limitations; shared early warning arrangements; prior information about the movement of nuclear-capable air force squadrons from one base to another; and, identification and notification of training and testing areas for nuclear forces units to distinguish them from deployment areas
The best nuclear CBM between India and Pakistan would be to negotiate and sign a mutually acceptable and verifiable no first use treaty. However, this is unlikely to be acceptable to Pakistan at present as Pakistan relies on its nuclear arsenal to balance India’s conventional superiority.