Saturday, July 16, 2011

Waiting to fall in love

States are functional, not emotional entities


During a nuclear conference that I attended at the Stanford University last week, one retired Pakistani foreign secretary argued, “Lack of trust is the major reason why India and Pakistan are unable to stabilise their bilateral relations. If the two countries have to make peace with each other, a trust-building exercise has to take place”. The argument about trust-deficit sounds pretty convincing and has therefore been widely used by many Indian and Pakistani statesmen, analysts and common people. And yet this otherwise compelling argument suffers from great flaws. It assumes that peace between warring parties depends, to a great extent, on their ability to trust each other and de-emphasises the objective and practical conditions that should exist for conflict resolution.

Consider the following: the most successful peace-process ever in the history of India-Pakistan relations has been the one between 2004 and 2007 and this was led by Pervez Musharraf and the Indian government led by Manmohan Singh. After what Musharraf had done in Kargil – betraying the trust that the Indians put in the Pakistani establishment at the Lahore Summit – it is impossible to argue that the Indian establishment had any trust in the architect of Kargil and yet the peace process turned out to be the most successful one ever. Why? Consider another example before you answer the question: the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) signed 50 years ago has stood the test of time even though India and Pakistan fought many wars between them? That is, even though there were many occasions of extreme mistrust between them, India or Pakistan never tried to break the deal they have on the Indus Rivers. Why?The reason, in my opinion, is simple and is out there for everyone to see: the India-Pakistan peace process during the 2004-2007 period was goal-oriented, properly structured and, very importantly, conducted in a systematic manner. The IWT stood the test of time as well as the challenges arising from the lack of trust because, generally speaking, state actors and parties tend to respect existing agreements, structures and mechanisms. And that is what the IWT is all about, not trust. Countries tend to stand by properly defined and carefully designed structures, agreements, and treaties for fear of condemnation from the international community and domestic audience if they renege on their commitments as well as due to sheer socialisation that happens during state interactions and negotiations.

There are many examples, including that of Kashmir, where the Indians waited for perfect political conditions and complete trust to occur so that it could sign deals with Pakistan but eventually lost out on the opportunity to make peace and sign deals because the perfect conditions never occurred and complete trust never came about. Hence I would argue that it is no prudent statecraft to wait to first to fall in love with Pakistan before India decides to start talking to Pakistan on the various outstanding issues between them in a meaningful manner in order to reach sustainable agreements.Such misleading arguments about trust-deficit have prevented India and Pakistan from addressing many important bilateral issues with significant implications for the entire region for they think that first trust needs to be built before serious issues can be resolved.

One of the important issues that India and Pakistan have not yet seriously addressed in their bilateral context is the nuclear rivalry between them. Ever since the two countries went overtly nuclear in 1998, there has just been one meaningful meeting between them on how to manage the South Asian nuclear situation even as the region is widely and correctly considered to be a nuclear flashpoint. After the 1999 Lahore agreement which contained important declarations about India-Pakistan nuclear relations - many of which have remained unfulfilled - almost every meeting that has been held between the two countries thereafter to discuss nuclear issues were either not result-oriented or have remained inconclusive. Even if one were to assume that the two countries are rational entities and hence may not use nuclear weapons against them in case of a conflict, can we rule out the possibility of accidental use of nukes against each other? Are the two countries adequately prepared for such an eventuality?There is therefore a need to think beyond the bliss of ignorance.

The bliss of nuclear ignorance which the two countries seem to inhabit in is characterised by a number of dangerous myths. The first myth is that nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan will function automatically and we don’t need to bother with it let alone creating mechanisms to prevent nuclear use. This argument is mythical because mere possession of nuclear weapons will not guarantee nuclear deterrence or their non-use against each other: there are other important variables that play a role in the nuclear use or non-use decision of a country. The second myth is that the decision makers are not stupid to use nuclear weapons against each other. Again the fact is that sometimes we might be stupid enough to consider nuclear use. There are enough examples from the Cold War history which suggest that the Cold War rivals had contemplated the use of nukes on a number of occasions. Yet another myth is that our nuclear weapons are safe and if the west can manage their nukes why can’t we do so! T

he fact is that nuclear safety is an issue that needs more detailed consideration in South Asia. Japan is one of those countries that is extremely conscious about the safety standards of its nuclear industry and yet Fukushima catastrophe happened, so was Soviet Union and yet Chernobyl took place. It is living in the fool’s paradise if we believe that we don’t need to bother about nuclear safety and security at all.Pakistan does not have a no-first-use policy of nuclear weapons which simply means that in Pakistan’s strategic thinking nuclear deterrence is an extension of conventional deterrence. There is hence a conceptual dissonance since the two rivals understand the use of nuclear weapons in different ways. Unless the two countries understand and manage to reach an agreement as to what nuclear weapons mean to their bilateral relations, conceptual dissonance will continue to exist and nuclear weapon use cannot be ruled out.

While trust and love are laudable emotions, states do not operate on the basis of emotions. States function on the basis of their socialisation, structures that they are in, and agreements and arrangements they arrive at with others. States are functional entities, not emotional entities and hence statesmen should attempt at creating conducive conditions and structures of peace and cooperation rather than waiting for trust and love to occur.

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