Wednesday, November 30 2022


Historically, the relationship between India and Pakistan has been mired in conflict, war and lack of trust. Pakistan has continued to loom large on India’s horizon despite the growing gap between the two countries. Ambassador (Retired) Sharat Sabharwal’s book “India’s Pakistan Conundrum: Managing a Complex Relationship” examines the nature of the Pakistani state, its internal dynamics and its impact on India. The text examines key issues in India-Pakistan relations, assesses a range of India’s policy options for resolving the Pakistan conundrum, and offers a way forward for India’s Pakistan policy. Drawing on the author’s experience of two diplomatic stints in Pakistan, including as High Commissioner to India, the book offers a unique insider’s perspective on this critical relationship.

Here are selected excerpts from the book:

The Pakistani military sees the nuclear arsenal as an umbrella under which it can use its terror card with impunity without inviting Indian retaliation. It has often been said in Pakistan that there can be no war under a nuclear overhang. During my lectures to Pakistani army officers at their national defense university, I told them that their statement would make more sense if it were amended to state that there could be no war – open or covert. – under a nuclear overhang.

Pakistan is known to have acquired its nuclear weapons capability based on the design of a bomb provided by China and a test allegedly carried out for Pakistan by China at its Lop test site. Nur, long before he went openly nuclear in 1998. His nuclear blackmail too, therefore, began long before 1998. In an interview given to veteran Indian journalist, Kuldip Nayar in January 1987, during Operation Brasstacks , Pakistani nuclear scientist, Dr AQ Khan said: “They told us that Pakistan could never produce the bomb, and they doubted my ability, but they know we did it. After Nayar went public with the story, Khan described the comments attributed to him as fake and concocted, but the cat was already out of the bag. It is unlikely that someone in his sensitive position could have met an Indian journalist without permission from high places and made the above comment. It is therefore more than likely that he did so with the necessary authorization to pose a nuclear threat to India. The subsequent refusal appears to have been intended to appease Pakistan’s US bosses.

In the middle of the night of May 27-28, 1998, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Satish Chandra, was summoned to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry by Foreign Minister Shamshad Ahmad and I accompanied him. The meeting took place around 1 a.m. Shamshad, who was accompanied by senior Foreign Ministry officials, said they had credible information that India was going to attack their nuclear facilities. When asked how, Shamshad replied that the attack may have been mounted by F16 jets stationed at Chennai airfield and added that he had been instructed by his government to inform the Indian government. through the High Commissioner that in the event of such an attack, there would be “massive retaliation with devastating consequences”. The High Commissioner expressed surprise at what Shamshad had said. He

pointed out that India does not have any F 16 aircraft. Shamshad said the aircraft he referred to could be Israeli. The High Commissioner also asked whether the Foreign Minister had discussed a possible attack on the nuclear installations and installations on the list given by Pakistan to India at the beginning of each year under the bilateral agreement on nuclear power. ban on attacking each other’s nuclear facilities. Shamshad mumbled that he had referred to these and “other” facilities. The meeting ended within minutes with the High Commissioner assuring Shamshad that his approach would be conveyed to the Indian government. The High Commissioner and I went to the High Commission to report the rather alarmist and unusual move of our hosts in New Delhi. Given its nature, we decided to transmit it by telephone before sending a cable. But we found that for the capital of the country, which the Pakistanis said was about to mount a major attack on their country, New Delhi seemed extraordinarily relaxed and it took us some time to reach the Indian Foreign Minister, who had been alerted to the Pakistani approach a few minutes earlier by the Indian mission to the UN in New York. Unbeknownst to us, the Pakistanis had also taken up the issue with all the P5 countries in their capitals and through their missions to the UN in New York.

High Commissioner Chandra and I discussed Shamshad Ahmad’s approach before sending our assessment to Delhi. We were of the opinion that the Pakistanis were about to carry out their nuclear tests (which happened on May 28) and feared that India would attack their test site in the Chagai Hills of Balochistan , which were not on the lists given to India at the beginning of each year under the agreement on the ban on attacks on the other’s nuclear installations. This explained Shamshad’s use of the word “other” when answering the High Commissioner’s question about the facilities he had in mind.

The policy of massive retaliation was announced by then US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1954 when he declared that the United States would protect its allies through deterrence with massive retaliatory power. . His benchmark was to rely on the US nuclear arsenal against Soviet aggression. Since then, the term “massive retaliation” has come to refer to disproportionate retaliation with nuclear weapons to an attack by an adversary. Thus, using the phrase “massive retaliation with devastating consequences”, Shamshad spoke of a nuclear response, thus confirming the Indian position that Pakistan already possessed a nuclear weapons capability acquired with Chinese assistance. The impending tests aimed, among other things, to bring this capability to light. The Pakistanis certainly did not believe that India would take such a measure in the air and not retaliate with the nuclear capability it had at this point. All in all, it seems to have been a case of overreaction and nuclear bluster in response to a non-existent threat.

Years later, a retired official from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, who was present when we met with Shamshad Ahmad, told me that they had reports of the presence of Israeli planes at the airfield in Chennai in an attempt to attack their nuclear test site in Balochistan. At the same time, there was a US naval presence off Karachi. Their defense experts believed that if reports of a planned attack from India were correct, the American ships would pull away before it was up and the ships pulled away on May 27. These developments convinced them of the need for urgent action. From what my interlocutor told me, they seemed to believe that the Americans were complicit in the plan to attack the Chagai Hills test site.


Reproduced from India’s Pakistan Conundrum: Managing a Complex Relationship by Sharat Sabharwal with permission from INFORMA UK Limited via PLSclear. No part of this extract may be reprinted or reproduced or used in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or later invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any storage system or information retrieval, without written permission. from publishers.

(Disclaimer: The views of the author do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also does not endorse the views of the author.)

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