08
February

Regurgitating Cold Start Doctrine

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Taj M. Khattak

How has the doctrine benefitted India if in its response Pakistan’s defence capability has improved to a level where today most independent analysts in the world routinely express the view that India will pay an unacceptably huge price if it ever embarked on an adventure against Pakistan? It would have been more prudent had India shown the intensions and invested sincere efforts in seeking resolution of Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN charter instead of wasting time and energies on a futile doctrine.

Soon after assuming command of Indian Army, its new Chief General Bipin Rawat, acknowledged existence of Cold Start Doctrine in an interview to the media. This was rather surprising as India had been in denial mode for nearly fifteen years since it first announced it in the aftermath of Kashmiri militants’ attack on Indian parliament in 2001. Former Defence Minister Jaswant Singh had gone to the extent of stating publicly, “There is no Cold Start Doctrine. No such thing. It was an off-the-cuff remark from a former Chief of Staff. I have been defence minister of the country. I should know”.


In 2011, Indian Army Chief, General V. K. Singh also reiterated similar views, stating, “There is nothing like Cold Start, but we have a ‘proactive strategy’ which takes steps in a proactive manner to achieve our objectives”. Such assertions led some analysts to erroneously believe that India had abandoned Cold Start Doctrine and would adhere to structure of Strike Corps organizations and doctrinal concept. Public pronouncements aside, India had been validating and re-validating its Cold Start Doctrine from time to time.

 

To this specter of a ‘nuclear overhang’ India has lately added its own pantomime version of ‘surgical strikes’. A surgical strike, conducted anywhere in the world, has always spoken for itself through results on the ground. Nowhere has its conduct needed to be defended to such nauseating ends except the Indian version where ‘sneak attempts’ at three locations along a heavily defended LoC and ‘retreat at the double’ were hyped up to fictional heights.

In 2011 India conducted ‘Operation Vijayee Bhava’ with 50,000 soldiers in Bikaner and Suratgarh area with stated aim of reducing mobilization time which it claimed to have cut down to just 2 days from 27 days in ‘Operation Parakaram’ in 2001-2002. This was followed by ‘Operation Sudarshan Shakti’ – India’s largest war games in two decades in which nearly 60,000 troops and 500 armoured vehicles participated. More recently, its 2 Corps (Strike Corps, Kharga) conducted ‘Exercise Brahmashira’ in Rajasthan to practice swift multiple offensives deep into enemy territory. India also upgraded its tactical level weaponry and inducted solid-fuel 150 kms ballistic missiles to provide effective fire support in such operations.


India’s aggressive designs against Pakistan first began to surface when its former Defence Minister George Fernandes famously lamented that India had ‘an archaic, non-aggressive, non-provocative defence policy’ and called for a shift. Fernandes, basically was referring to ‘Sunderji Doctrine’, a successor to Cold Start, according to which seven defensive ‘holding corps’ with relatively limited offensive power, were deployed near Pakistan’s border while Indian Army retained its offensive capabilities in ‘Strike Corps’ made up of mechanized infantry with extensive artillery support but stationed further away from the border. Indian defence planners believed that such a strategy was advantageous to Pakistan in mobilization and resulted in extra-regional powers to exert pressure on India thus preventing it from taking punitive actions against Pakistan at a place and time of its choosing.

 

Cold Start Doctrine was designed to punish Pakistan in a limited manner but it rested on a grossly flawed premise – that it will not trigger nuclear retaliation. It underestimated Pakistan’s resolve to go full spectrum in its defence for a fundamental reason that it just cannot allow any loss of territory to India.

In 1987, General Sunderji, even with a more conventional and defensive doctrine in place, and no mass agitation and large scale unrest in Kashmir to use as an excuse against Pakistan, exposed his country’s real intentions when Indian Army conducted ‘Exercise Brass Tacks’ close to Pakistan’s border. With over 400,000 troops, it was the largest since WW-II and bigger than anything NATO had ever conducted. It was after BBC’s Mark Tully’s disclosure that India was using live ammunition in open boxes that General Zia delivered his stern message to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

 

reguritincold.jpgPakistan took serious cognizance of the emerging threat environment and evolved doctrinal responses which it later validated against various hypotheses in large-scale field exercises. Pakistan also bolstered its defence through development of a solid fuel battlefield ballistic missile capable of carrying a low yield nuclear warhead and expressed an unflinching resolve to use it should a situation so demand.


In its more ambitious formulations, Cold Start Doctrine is a ‘limited war’ concept under proactive strategy where India’s conventional forces undertake aggressive and offensive armoured thrusts, in a compressed time frame, with infantry and air support. It is aimed at seizing Pakistan’s territory and holding it, while simultaneously perusing narrow enough objectives to deny Islamabad any justification to escalate conflict by opening additional conventional fronts – all under a ‘nuclear overhang’, a phrase coined by Indian defence establishment and used with increasing frequency in a dangerously insouciant manner.


To this spectre of a ‘nuclear overhang’ India has lately added its own pantomime version of ‘surgical strikes’. A surgical strike, conducted anywhere in the world, has always spoken for itself through results on the ground. Nowhere has its conduct needed to be defended to such nauseating ends except the Indian version where ‘sneak attempts’ at three locations along a heavily defended LoC and ‘retreat at the double’ were hyped up to fictional heights.

 

But, with a neighbour opposed to our very existence, Pakistan cannot ignore its security concerns. Only recently we were reminded, and by a person no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that in 1971 India had played an iniquitous role in the break-up of Pakistan. One look at today’s battle hardened Armed Forces of Pakistan and it leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are deeply imbued with the spirit of a higher mission in life. They will acquit themselves with honour and glory – should any challenge be thrown their way – Cold Start or whatever!

The change of tack from denial to an acknowledgement of Cold Start Doctrine’s existence warrants clarity – whether it is just doing away with erstwhile semantics of ‘ambiguity by design’ or the Indian Army has indeed streamlined its ‘limited war’ concept and now feels more confident under Modi government to flout it more openly. Whatever be the case, it begs the larger question whether it could serve India’s interest any better in these uncertain times than it did when it was first announced amidst apprehensions that it would incur a diplomatic and security cost without delivering corresponding deterrence benefits.


Those fears proved to be well founded as protests and agitations in Kashmir, the root cause of problems between India and Pakistan, and raison-d’être for Cold Start Doctrine, have transformed in nature from grievances against Indian state to outright hatred against its illegal occupation. How has the doctrine benefitted India if in its response Pakistan’s defence capability has improved to a level where today most independent analysts in the world routinely express the view that India will pay an unacceptably huge price if it ever embarked on an adventure against Pakistan? It would have been more prudent had India shown the intensions and invested sincere efforts in seeking resolution of Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN charter instead of wasting time and energies on a futile doctrine.


Cold Start Doctrine was designed to punish Pakistan in a limited manner but it rested on a grossly flawed premise – that it will not trigger nuclear retaliation. It underestimated Pakistan’s resolve to go full spectrum in its defence for a fundamental reason that it just cannot allow any loss of territory to India. Besides, a host of such factors as lack of strategic surprise, terrain and defensive deployment of Pakistan’s Army will mitigate, to a considerable extent, any mobilization advantages that Indian Army may have accrued through Cold Start Doctrine.


Tim Roemer, U.S. Ambassador to India from 2009-2011 also raised the other important question about New Delhi’s political will to pursue Cold Start option, due to fears that it might achieve only ‘mixed’ results, especially its decision to shy away in 2008 when Mumbai incident provided a perfect ‘casus belli’ if it ever wanted to undertake military action against Pakistan. He called the doctrine a ‘mixture of myths and reality’ where its real value lay more in its existence on paper than any application on ground.


Pakistan does not want war as wars are no answer to resolution of outstanding disputes between India and Pakistan. There are huge poverty and illiteracy issues in both countries towards which all resources and energies need to be channeled. Our political process needs to take deeper traction over a longer timeline and economy requires space to stretch itself in the evolving global trade regimes.


But, with a neighbour opposed to our very existence, Pakistan cannot ignore its security concerns. Only recently we were reminded, and by a person no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that in 1971 India had played an iniquitous role in the break-up of Pakistan. One look at today’s battle hardened Armed Forces of Pakistan and it leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are deeply imbued with the spirit of a higher mission in life. They will acquit themselves with honour and glory – should any challenge be thrown their way – Cold Start or whatever!

 

The writer is a retired Vice Admiral of Pakistan Navy.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 
08
February

Cancellation of the 19th SAARC Summit: Prospects for New Regional Groupings

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Arhama Siddiqa

The future of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was put in a limbo after its 19th Summit, which was to be held in Islamabad in November 2016, was cancelled. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that India would boycott the summit, citing “increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region and growing interference in the internal affairs of member states by one country”.


South Asia is a region inundated by many crises, menaces and problems such as poverty, unemployment, bad governance, corruption, illiteracy and terrorism, to name a few. The SAARC was established in 1985 in Bangladesh as a platform for promoting economic development and prosperity of the South Asian people. A quick review of the organization’s history showcases a turbulent one – an obvious cause being the Indo-Pak rivalry.


It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the 19th Summit was shrouded in dark clouds from the beginning. The boycott of Indian Foreign Minister Arun Jaitley of the Ministerial Conference of SAARC in August, the sudden jumping out of the Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh from the SAARC Interior Ministers' meeting, the refusal of four SAARC member states (India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Maldives) to send their finance ministers to the Ministerial Conference in Pakistan and the refusal of India for bilateral talks with Pakistan on the sidelines of SAARC were all bad omens for regional peace and cooperation. These were also clear indications that India was not willing to use SAARC forum for any sort of conflict resolution or regional cooperation. It also exerted its negative influence on other smaller countries to show restraint and cold gestures towards this forum.


In its thirty years of existence, the performance of SAARC has been far below its potential. This organization presented an opportunity for all the countries to unite and create a representative consortium for the South Asian people. It had all the components to have made a serious impact in the international arena. Unfortunately, the opportunity has all but vanished. Alternatives like forming sub-regional groups are being seriously pondered upon as the only way forward. India has been spearheading the idea of another regional grouping for a long time. In fact, Delhi has launched a well-orchestrated effort with its might behind several initiatives in the region to bring together its allies in South Asia, leaving Pakistan detached with its longstanding “SAARC minus Pakistan” policy. Diplomatic sources say India aims to get behind two forums in earnest – BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) – and also to forge a new development platform for Bangladesh, India and Myanmar. Already, a beginning has been made in the form of BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal).


On the surface India blames increasing terrorism for its decision to boycott the conference especially post-Uri attacks for which Delhi solely blames Islamabad. Evidence linking the attack either to militants based in Pakistan or to the country’s intelligence agencies has yet to be provided. India’s dramatic exit may even be a cover to deflect spotlight from its ongoing struggle to quell popular disturbances in the Indian Occupied Kashmir. Moreover, India’s push for a South Asian isolation of Pakistan is also driven by the fact that it received less than expected support on the world stage and at the UN General Assembly for the Comprehensive Convention on International Terror (CCIT), where it had hoped to corner Pakistan. Added to this is the criticism India received at the UN Human Rights Council over Kashmir. The most recent show of bellicosity was seen at the sixth ministerial Heart of Asia (HoA) conference held at Amritsar in December 2016. In its frustration over the futility of its efforts to “isolate” Pakistan, the Modi administration condescended to new lows by diverging from diplomatic etiquette by embarrassing the Pakistani delegation led by Sartaj Aziz. Indeed, it was conduct unbecoming when one of the highest echelons of the Pakistani government was not even seated at the centre table at the official dinner hosted by Prime Minister Modi. Moreover, the scene caused by Indian officials who tried to stop the Pakistani High Commissioner from speaking to Pakistani journalists was incongruous to say the least.


This makes it evident that ‘Hindutva’ inspired logic of New Delhi compels India to pursue becoming economic, strategic, and military hegemon in South Asia and the Indian Ocean.

 

By boycotting the 19th SAARC Summit, India has confirmed that all its claims about regional integration and cooperation are nothing but a hoax. India not only sabotaged the SAARC summit but it also coerced other small SAARC members to follow in its footsteps thus aiming at isolating Pakistan. The forum despite being weak could still have been used for bilateral and multilateral dialogue. In a globalized world where cultures, economies and interests are becoming increasingly interdependent and interlinked, South Asia is probably the only region which is deprived of good opportunities for integration because of Indian insolence and pursuance of hegemonic agenda.

China’s demand for full membership in SAARC challenges India’s dominance thus India opposed China’s entry into SAARC at the Kathmandu Summit in 2014. China’s successful diplomacy, trade and investment policies, and many cooperative agreements with SAARC nations inevitably give her greater influence in South Asia. It is fair enough to say that China’s entry in SAARC as a full member can give a push to the organization to grow as a regional bloc since China’s global economic influence can help provide the boost it needs. At the 2016 summit, Pakistan was expected to repeat its demand that Beijing be granted full membership in SAARC; Modi left no stone unturned to block that. Cleverly using information warfare campaign and a willingly agenda-driven Indian media, he promulgated his country’s economic and societal potential while marginalizing the need for conflict resolution.


In the current South Asian theatre, Pakistan, enabled by its prime geographical position, seeks to bring and maintain a balance of power in the region by brokering and balancing the power dynamics with and between bigger powers like China, Russia, the United States, and regional powers like Iran, the Gulf Cooperation Council States, and India. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) strategically aims at providing links between the overland Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road and has been made open for all regional countries, including India, although it seems Modi has decided to pass on the opportunity and has instead decided to seek to destabilize the project.


By boycotting the 19th SAARC Summit, India has confirmed that all its claims about regional integration and cooperation are nothing but a hoax. India not only sabotaged the SAARC summit but it also coerced other small SAARC members to follow in its footsteps thus aiming at isolating Pakistan. The forum despite being weak could still have been used for bilateral and multilateral dialogue. In a globalized world where cultures, economies and interests are becoming increasingly interdependent and interlinked, South Asia is probably the only region which is deprived of good opportunities for integration because of Indian insolence and pursuance of hegemonic agenda.


There is no question that the SAARC subterfuge will have visible impact in the short run. Nonetheless, it is designed to fail. If the hands-on support from Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh can be labelled a geopolitical victory for India, the silence of Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives is nothing short of a victory for Pakistan. For the sake of their own nations and the regional progress and prosperity, the leaders of all the member states need to put their differences aside and return to the negotiating table for a peaceful and durable resolution of existing issues. The trust deficit can be reduced only by discussion, dialogue and communication. However, if SAARC does not revert due to India’s stubborn attitude, Pakistan will have no option but to forge new alliances with all regional countries. This time CPEC should be the pivot of new alliances and regional grouping.

 
08
February

The Middle Eastern Crucible

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Zarrar Khuhro

When Dick Cheney thinks you’ve gone too far, it’s time to take note. Known as the power behind the throne during the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency, the former vice president and neo-con extraordinaire developed a reputation as a cynical manipulator and is widely credited with being the driving force behind USA’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Lest we forget, that’s the very same invasion that destabilized Iraq and eventually led to the destabilization of the entire region and the birth of the terrorist organization known as Daesh.


Reacting to Donald Trump’s immigration ban, Cheney said that it "goes against everything we [the USA] stand for and believe in". He is joined by a chorus of condemnation from prominent American politicians and policy-makers, all of whom are decrying what they see as the negative fallout of Trump’s executive order.


But while Cheney and others are framing it in terms of American values, what is probably of greater concern to the former VP, the State Department and Pentagon is the damage this move will do to American standing in the region and the effect it will have on future U.S. military adventures.


To illustrate that, let’s take a look at the tale of Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi who was detained and questioned for hours at JFK airport shortly after the ban was announced and who was only released after lawyers intervened. Darweesh was no ordinary Iraqi; he was one of the many Iraqis who had collaborated with the U.S. army during their occupation of Iraq and had spent ten years serving as an interpreter for the U.S. Marines, a position which placed his life in danger. Now, he and many others like him stand disposed by the very country they served and were promised safety by. Regardless of whether the ban remains in place, the damage to American credibility is permanent and has been noted by its current and potential allies. Speaking of allies, the Iraqi parliament has also recommended a ban on Americans entering the country in response to Donald Trump’s move to suspend U.S. visas for its citizens – quite a comedown for a power that not too long ago effectively ruled Iraq.

 

themiddleeastr.jpgMeanwhile, miles away in the Kazakhastani city of Astana was another sign of the USA’s waning influence as Russia, Iran and Turkey sat down to hammer out a Syrian peace deal. Not only were Western countries conspicuous by their absence, the very choice of venue – a country once part of the USSR – was a message in and of itself and that message is that the U.S. was no longer relevant in the Middle East.


The talks came shortly after the fall of East Aleppo, which marks not only a major shift in the ground situation in Syria, but also the culmination of major strategic shifts in the Middle East with effects that will resonate far beyond the region.


At the local level, it marks the end of the urban rebellion against Bashar Al-Assad and a major milestone towards Damascus reasserting its control over the rest of the country. Indeed, a heartened Assad has called Aleppo the ‘tipping point’ in the conflict and a step ‘on the way to victory’.
Congratulatory rhetoric aside, it is unclear exactly how much say the Syrian government will have in the final dispensation of Syria.


After all, the fall of East Aleppo is not due to the Syrian Arab Army – a largely ineffective and undisciplined fighting force known more for looting and atrocities than for martial prowess – and is a factor of the indiscriminate use of Russian air power combined with ground forces in the shape of militias trained, financed and deployed by Iran. Hezbollah has also played a major role in Syria as a whole and when rebel fighters made a final attempt to break the Aleppo siege in October last year, it was Hezbollah fighters – possibly the most experienced and battle-hardened of the regime’s allies – that defeated the attempt. Bolstering these forces are troops belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) itself.


Going forward, it will be interesting to see how these diverse allies manage their competing interests. Already we see the beginnings of some tensions, with Damascus displaying annoyance against not being included in earlier talks on Syria held between Iran, Russia and Turkey in Moscow. However, so long as mutual interest ties these forces together no major spats should be expected – at least in the short term. Assad will remain beholden and subordinate to Russia and Iran in order to secure the territory he holds and in order to gain more territory and will have little political space to maneuver on his own.


On the macro level, intervention in Syria has yielded many benefits for a resurgent Russia, distracting the West from its actions in Ukraine and Crimea. Tactically, the support they have lent Assad has also secured Russian access to the Mediterranean in the shape of the port of Tartus, and Moscow recently dispatched Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the largely obsolete Admiral Kuznetsov, to the Mediterranean in a symbolic show of force. Syria has also proven to be a testing ground for Russian weaponry and tactics, an advertising campaign of sorts and a rather successful one, given that many states, from Iran to the gulf monarchies, have expressed interest in purchasing Russian weapon systems.


But most importantly it was a message to the world that the Bear still had claws and was more than capable of taking advantage of the retreat of American power in the Middle East. This pays dividends for Russia in several ways, one of which is as the Middle East’s new power broker. Take for example, the crisis that erupted between Turkey and Russia when Turkey shot down a Russian jet in November 2015. Ankara and Moscow were soon at loggerheads, hurling threats and imposing punitive measures on one another. But a little over a year later, both countries are sitting down together and discussing the future of Syria in a relatively amicable atmosphere. Here, one of the reasons for this shift in Turkish policy is a recognition that Ankara’s Syria gamble has failed and that the Russians are very much here to stay.


It is indeed a bitter cup that the Turks have to drink from, given that despite their efforts the regime of Bashar Al-Assad looks more secure now than any point since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. To add to Ankara’s miseries, it is now being targeted both by Daesh and Kurdish extremists while also facing internal threats and divisions. Faced with the prospect of a Kurdish statelet on its borders, Ankara has little choice but to reach out to Moscow and Tehran to secure its strategic interests, and that it has done so also speaks of the importance of flexibility when it comes to foreign policy. Regardless, Turkish influence in the region should not be underestimated and thus far Erdogan is sticking to his stance that “a united, peaceful Syria will [not] be possible with Assad remaining in power”.


While any settlement in Syria will be difficult to achieve, reports now say that a de facto division of Syria into ‘zones of influence’ with a face-saving exit and guarantees for Bashar Al-Assad and his family is one of the options being considered. While there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip, one thing is certain: Iran will have a major say in any future dispensation in Syria, and indeed it is Iran that has emerged as one of the greatest victors in this conflict.


It is hard to imagine that just a decade ago think tanks in Washington were actively advocating regime change in Iran, whether through covert means or a full-fledged invasion like that of Iraq. Heavily sanctioned and largely isolated in the region, with U.S. troops firmly ensconced in both neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran seemed surrounded.


Just eleven years later, the entire strategic outlook has changed – largely thanks to the U.S. itself. The removal of Saddam Hussain created a vacuum in Iraq, allowing militias like that of Moqtada Al-Sadr to mobilize freely for the first time. The dismantling of Iraqi security forces also allowed other non-state actors and terrorist groups to fill the void, notably Abu Musab Al Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq, which would later morph into Daesh. The sectarian attacks by Zarqawi further polarized Iraqi society, something that was exacerbated by the perceived sectarian leaning of successive Iraqi governments, creating resentment and a recruiting pool among Iraq’s once-privileged Sunni tribes.


As the chaos deepened, Iran began making inroads into Iraq’s political spheres, and the depredations of Daesh in Iraq finally provided the opportunity for a more direct role – as exemplified by the growing influence of the head of the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force, General Qasem Sulaimani in Iraqi politics and policy-making. With this, the Iranian sphere of influence now extended to Saudi Arabia’s borders. Then came the Syrian civil war, and this too provided the space for Iran to further extend its influence, albeit in a low-key way at first. While Iran tended to initially deny deploying combat troops in Syria, state media and leading governmental figures now report on, and pay tribute to, Iranian military casualties in Syria and those casualties are now said to exceed 1000. Other groups recruited, trained, funded and deployed by Iran in Syria are the Al-Zenabiyoun and Al-Fatimiyoun militias, comprised of Pakistani and Afghan recruits respectively, and then there is Hezbollah, the role of which has already been discussed. A cursory look at the map of the Middle East thus shows us that Iranian influence now extends in an unbroken crescent from Iran, across Iraq into Syria and Lebanon right up to the Israeli border. Buoyed by battlefield success and flushed with cash as a result of the unfreezing of Iranian funds after the nuclear deal, Tehran is now openly boasting of its success in Syria, in contrast to the more ambiguous tone of the past.


Seyed Yahya Rahim-Safavi, a former military commander and currently an advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khameini even went so far as to say: “Aleppo was liberated thanks to a coalition between Iran, Syria, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah”, and that, “Iran is on one side of this coalition which is approaching victory and this has shown our strength. The new American president should take heed of the powers of Iran”.


The reference to America is particularly interesting, given that the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal was supposed to (at least as far as its American proponents thought) usher in a new era of reconciliation with the U.S. However, Iran’s regime has successfully portrayed this as the result of its unwavering stance on the issue, even going so far as to imply that it was a show of American weakness in the face of Tehran’s resolve. Actions on the ground seem to confirm this; just last year the capture by Iran of two U.S. naval vessels and their crew was portrayed by state TV as a victory for Tehran and a sign of American impotence, and in January this year a U.S. destroyer fired warning shots at advancing Iranian attack boats in the Strait of Hormuz. Add to that the opportunity for grandstanding provided by Trump’s immigration ban and you see Tehran also occupying the moral high ground.


The unfreezing of funds and the eagerness of Western companies and states to do business with Tehran is yet another sign of how Iran has now emerged as a major power broker in the Middle East region.
But there is such a thing as overreach, and Iran’s very success carries within it the seeds of failure. The use of militias may be cost-effective and convenient but such non-state actors have a tendency to act independently as they accrue more and more power and influence. Add to that the sectarian slogans and imagery used to motivate these militias and you see the seeds of a possible pushback from those on the other side of the sectarian divide. There are reportedly murmurs of dissent within Hezbollah itself, as fighters question whether involvement in the Syrian conflict is distracting from the group’s original mission. Subhi Al Tufaili, the first Secretary General of Hezbollah, even vociferously condemned Hezbollah for its ‘aggression’ in Syria and for siding with the Russians against their co-religionists. In a fiery sermon, he even went so far as to relate Aleppo to Karbala.


If and when stability returns to Iraq and Syria, the respective governments of these countries are also likely to assert themselves and look for ways to counter-balance Iranian influence. However, at this point in time, these are distant concerns at best.


Finally, the Iranian ascendancy is causing alarm bells to ring in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, which are scrambling to develop counter-measures and responses.


Saudi Segment
Iran’s gain has been Saudi Arabia’s loss, and that country is now faced with the prospect of its ultimate strategic nightmare quickly becoming a reality; that of de facto encirclement by its regional arch-rival Iran. With a country the size of Western Europe and a population less than that of Sindh, Saudi Arabia is largely geographically indefensible and home to vast energy reserves – a dangerous combination if ever there was one. Riyadh’s problems are compounded by the fact that the bulk of its oil reserves are located in the eastern province, where members of the Shia minority are dominant and it has been a long-standing fear of Saudi planners that any unrest there could potentially jeopardize oil supply and production. Indeed, that scenario almost came to pass in 1979 – the year of the Iranian revolution – when a revolt in the Eastern Province coincided with Juhayman Al-Oteibi’s bloody takeover of the Masjid Al-Haram. Since then, Saudi Arabia has been wary of the prospect of unrest in that economically and strategically crucial province.


Saudi Arabia watched the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal unfold with a sense of alarm and betrayal, given Riyadh’s decades-old position as a major ally of the United States. Differences with U.S. policy in Syria and litigation against the Saudi government by 9/11 survivors and their families also deepened the growing divide between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, relations with Iran fell to an incredibly low ebb following the execution by Saudi Arabia of cleric Nimr al-Nimr and the subsequent attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, which led to the breaking of diplomatic relations. Adding to Riyadh’s woes are financial hardships caused largely by low oil prices and also a very costly and practically unwinnable war in Yemen along with the constant threat of attacks by terrorist groups like Daesh and Al-Qaeda. The challenges are immense, and Saudi Arabia has responded in a variety of ways such as attempting to build a coalition of states to check Iranian influence. This includes the gulf emirates and also Bahrain, the rulers of which are terrified of the prospect of a possibly Iranian-influenced revolt has openly aligned with Riyadh, even going so far as to sever diplomatic relations with Iran. The row even spread to Africa, where Sudan threw in with the Saudis by expelling the Iranian ambassador. While Sudan is a peripheral player at best, Saudi diplomacy did achieve something of a win by getting Oman – which has usually tried to avoid being drawn into an anti-Iran alliance – into its multinational ‘anti-terror alliance’, an alliance which pointedly does not include Iran and Iraq. This is significant when you consider that Muscat acted as a broker in the recent rapprochement between Iran and the West.


Parallel to this, both Saudi and the Gulf states have embarked on a weapons buying spree (much as Iran has) and Riyadh spent $9.3 billion on arms purchases in 2015 alone, a major increase over previous years. Similarly, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have purchased weapons – ranging from attack helicopters to ballistic missile defence systems to precision guided munitions – worth $33 billion from the U.S. alone in 2015.


On the domestic front, Saudi Arabia is also belatedly planning for the economic future by launching an incredibly ambitious restructuring of its economy which aims at lowering its dependency on oil revenues and public spending in favour of a more production-driven growth model. To make matters even more difficult, economic reform in Saudi Arabia is not possible without social reform, notably when it comes to increasing the participation of women in the country’s economy. A study by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security puts it like this: “Due to the rapidly changing economic situation, Saudi families now need two incomes if they want to maintain their lifestyles. According to Saudi Arabia’s Central Department of Statistics and Information, employment of Saudi women has increased by 48 percent in the last five years, more than double the rate for Saudi men.


Despite the need for increased female labour participation in the kingdom, it remains extremely difficult for women to work in a country where laws and customs prevent them from doing so. Women now make up 49.6 percent of Saudi university graduates, yet they make up only 16 percent of Saudis with jobs, and are limited in the work they are allowed to do”.


This is perhaps why Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal, recently called on his country to lift its ban on women driving cars, saying it was a matter of economic necessity.


This could be seen as a trial balloon to gauge the extent of the reaction from Saudi’s conservative and influential clergy which has in the past reacted violently to such proposals.


It is likely that chaos in the Middle East is improbable to end with the fall of East Aleppo and that increased confrontation and rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia will be the ‘new normal’. Here one hopes that cooler heads do finally prevail and both rivals manage to hammer out, at best, an agreement to respect each others’ zones of influence but if history is any gauge, such an agreement is unlikely. While it is easy to consider the current stand-off in the Middle East as primarily sectarian in nature, this merely obscures the reality of the basic struggle for power and influence that is at the heart of the conflict. However, we cannot afford to ignore the sectarian undertones, given that it is this dimension that could prove to be the most destabilizing for Pakistan and we must make all efforts to avoid being entangled in this power play.

 

The writer has worked extensively in Pakistan's print and electronic media and is currently hosting a talk show on a private TV Channel.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 
08
February

‘Yes’ to Criteria Based Approach Only!

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Ghazala Yasmin Jalil

India and Pakistan have been seeking the membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which is a group comprising 48 states that seeks to regulate nuclear trade with the view to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and related technology. Both India and Pakistan formally applied for the membership in 2016 which was denied. There were two meetings in 2016, one in June and one in November where the question of membership of non-Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states was debated. There has been intense lobbying from both countries to sway the votes in their favour. The NSG has mainly been divided among those who want to admit India immediately, creating an exception for it, and those who oppose membership on exceptional basis and instead argue for criteria-based approach to NSG membership.


The existing criteria for NSG membership requires states to be either a party to the NPT, or a member of the Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (NWFZ), have comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, and have good non-proliferation standing as well as have the capacity to export nuclear items. One criterion on which both India and Pakistan clearly fail is that they are not party to the NPT.

 

Given the grossly discriminatory nature of the proposal many countries like China, Turkey, New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland, Austria, Belarus, Italy, Switzerland among others have raised objections to the proposed criteria developed by Grossi. The objections have ranged from procedural aspects such as lack of transparency and selective engagement but also over the clear absence of impartiality and objectivity of the proposal. Russia has also called for greater transparency and the need for due process of consultations.

The U.S. has led the campaign to welcome India to the club on exceptional basis. The U.S. also won an India-specific waiver from the NSG in 2008 for export of nuclear technologies for its nuclear energy programme. This was followed by civil nuclear deals with the U.S., France, the UK and most recently with Japan. In effect, the 2008 waiver was partly motivated by commercial gains. It had politico-strategic significance as well. It was part of U.S. grand design of building India up as a regional power and a strategic counterweight to China. India is central to the U.S. Pivot to Asia policy, forcefully promoting India’s case for NSG is, thus, part of the U.S. larger geostrategic design.


The U.S. gained the waiver for India on non-proliferation arguments that the regime would be strengthened with India’s membership. However, India has clearly disregarded the essential norms of non-proliferation by keeping its nuclear reactors outside IAEA safeguards, continuing to produce fissile materials, continuing to refuse signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and continuing to pursue modernization of nuclear armament, including sea-based nuclear capability and development of thermonuclear weapons. This is a clear disregard for the non-proliferation norms.


In 2008, some members of the NSG did express concern about India expanding its nuclear arsenal by diverting the fissile materials for the production of nuclear weapons. There are also international reports on how India has expanded its nuclear arsenal after the NSG waiver. During a U.S. senate hearing, Senator Markey said, “Since 2008, when we also gave them the exemption, India has continued to produce fissile materials for its nuclear programme virtually unchecked. At that time Pakistan warned us that the deal would increase the chances of the nuclear arms race in South Asia”.


There has been growing support within NSG for developing criteria for non-NPT states. China has led the campaign for a criteria-based approach. In the November 2016 meeting in Vienna, China proposed a two-point approach for induction of new non-NPT states to the NSG. Step one would be to find a solution applicable to all non-NPT applicants through consultations. Step two would be to discuss admission of specific non-NPT countries into the NSG. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Chinese stance was that ‘the solution should be non-discriminatory, applicable to all non-NPT members and must not damage the core value of the NSG as well as the authority, effectiveness and integrity of the NPT’. According to reports, during the Vienna meeting about a quarter of NSG members supported the criteria-based approach, while another quarter supported India’s sole entry into the group and the other half did not take any specific positions. Besides China, the countries that supported the criteria-based approach included Russia, Brazil, Austria, New Zealand, Ireland and Turkey.


Argentinian Ambassador Rafael Grossi, who was appointed Special Envoy by the NSG chairperson to develop a consensus regarding the entry issue, presented a nine-point proposal for NSG membership on December 6, 2016. There are a number of issues with these points which largely favour India and seem tailored to win membership for India while keeping Pakistan out of NSG.


One point of the proposed membership criteria is regarding the separation of current and future civilian and nuclear facilities. India has already notified a separation plan as part of the requirements of the 2008 NSG waiver. Pakistan has separate military and civilian facilities but has not formally notified its separation plan to IAEA. At present, if the current proposal is adopted, this point would make Pakistan technically ineligible for NSG membership.

 

In the unlikely event that Grossi’s criteria is adopted then India can claim that it has already taken all measures according to NSG guidelines, while leaving Pakistan at a disadvantage. The biggest problem with the latest proposed criteria is that it seems tailor-made to smuggle India in the group. It would not only be discriminatory but would also make a mockery of the non-proliferation regime and principles. This would be of grave concern for Pakistan which is lobbying hard for a non-discriminatory approach to the issue whereby it hopes to get admitted to the group alongside India.

The second point proposes that states must have signed IAEA’s Additional Protocol. This point also favours India since it has already signed the Additional Protocol. In principle Pakistan has no problem with signing the Additional Protocol but it would take some time which means that India would have advantage over this point as well. Another point is that the candidate must commit to not conduct any nuclear explosion in future. Both India and Pakistan are eligible as per this criterion if they undertake not to conduct nuclear tests in the future. In fact, Pakistan has time and again proposed to India simultaneous signature of the CTBT and even a regional test ban agreement. All such proposals have been rejected by India.


Another point is a commitment not to use any item transferred either directly or indirectly from an NSG Participating Government or any item derived from transferred items in unsafeguarded facilities or activities. Both India and Pakistan can easily fulfil this criterion.


The most interesting point is: “An understanding that due to the unique nature of the non-NPT party applications, [non-NPT applicant] would join a consensus of all other participating governments on the merits of any non-NPT party application.” The last clause implies that there is a pre-condition on India that it will not oppose Pakistan’s entry. This clause has the inbuilt assumption that India would be admitted first, while Pakistan may enter later when it fulfills the new criteria. It is imperative that a simultaneous rather than sequential consideration of the two countries’ applications should take place. Once India is a member, it would not let Pakistan become a member. The countries that are lobbying for India’s entry into the group could lobby to keep Pakistan out as well.


Given the grossly discriminatory nature of the proposal many countries like China, Turkey, New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland, Austria, Belarus, Italy, Switzerland among others have raised objections to the proposed criteria developed by Grossi. The objections have ranged from procedural aspects such as lack of transparency and selective engagement but also over the clear absence of impartiality and objectivity of the proposal. Russia has also called for greater transparency and the need for due process of consultations. Pakistan has also rejected the proposal. Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said: “This would be clearly discriminatory and would contribute nothing in terms of furthering the non-proliferation objectives of the NSG.” He further said that Pakistan continues to emphasize the imperative for a non-discriminatory criteria-based approach for the NSG membership of non-NPT states in a non-discriminatory manner which would also advance the objective of strategic stability in South Asia.


In the unlikely event that Grossi’s criteria is adopted then India can claim that it has already taken all measures according to NSG guidelines, while leaving Pakistan at a disadvantage. The biggest problem with the latest proposed criteria is that it seems tailor-made to smuggle India in the group. It would not only be discriminatory but would also make a mockery of the non-proliferation regime and principles. This would be of grave concern for Pakistan which is lobbying hard for a non-discriminatory approach to the issue whereby it hopes to get admitted to the group alongside India.


Even international analysts see these proposals as very flexible and in essence designed to accommodate India. Daryl Kimball of Arms Control Association in the U.S. says: “The formula outlined in Grossi’s draft note sets an extremely low bar on NSG membership and its wording is vague and open to wide interpretation. Furthermore, this formula would not require India to take any additional non-proliferation commitments beyond the steps to which it committed in September 2008 ahead of the NSG’s country-specific exemption for India for civil nuclear trade.”7


The Obama administration has tried its best to win NSG membership for India. However, it is now upto the new U.S. administration on how aggressively it wants to pursue the matter. The NSG Chair has postponed the scheduled December informal NSG meeting till February 2017. During this period, he intends to engage in further consultations in an effort to develop consensus. For the time being Pakistan has scored a small success by working with principal countries to prevent India’s membership on preferential basis. However, the struggle for impartial and equal treatment as an aspiring member for NSG is far from over for Pakistan.


The matter of India and Pakistan's membership of the NSG will remain a much debated and pressing one. For Pakistan, it would be prudent to be well prepared once the matter of membership is debated by the NSG. According to the latest proposal, the separation of civilian and military nuclear facilities and signing of the IAEA additional protocol are two main issues over which Pakistan’s candidature may be rejected. Pakistan should formally notify IAEA of its separation plan of civilian and nuclear facilities and signing and ratifying the additional protocol to the safeguards agreement so that Pakistan can enhance its credentials for NSG membership.

 

The writer is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad and focuses on nuclear and arms control & disarmament issues.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

4,7 Daryl Kimball, “NSG Membership Proposal Would Undermine Nonproliferation,” Arms Control Association, December 21, 2016, https://www.armscontrol.org/blog/ArmsControlNow/2016-12-21/NSG-Membership-Proposal-Would-Undermine-Nonproliferation

 

Follow Us On Twitter