Dhaka, Bangladesh
Sqare the triangle

Sqare the triangle

It is fashionable, though less now in the West, to refer to South Asia as a nuclear flashpoint. Its key votaries were Pakistan and the US. Pakistan perpetuated instability in the region to keep Kashmir in the spotlight; the US attempted to initially cap and roll back Indian and Pakistani nuclear programmes, and once they had gone overtly nuclear, to establish a nuclear risk restraint regime. Caught between the two, India contended that instability emanated from Pakistan's proxy war and not from possession of nuclear weapons. This book is by three authors-from India, Pakistan and the US, the countries involved in this cycle of conflict and diplomacy. The nuclear factor prevailed in all the four crises and after the diffusion of each, there was a consequential fillip to CBMS and the peace process. The Brasstacks crisis of 1986-87 started as a large-scale military exercise conceived by army chief Gen K. Sundarji. Hand in glove with him was de facto defence minister Arun Singh, a man unusually equipped with knowledge of military history. Brasstacks spun out of control into a high-decibel military confrontation when Pakistan responded with a masterly counterstroke. The breakdown of institutionalised civilian oversight and communication on the Indian side showed us up as rash and irresponsible. The crisis could have "triggered a conflict as much by accident and misperception as by design". Sundarji, the authors say, believed it was India's last chance to inflict a conventional defeat on Pakistan before it went nuclear. The Compound Crisis of 1990 was the result of the Punjab and Kashmir insurgencies, both fuelled by Pakistan and exacerbated by their counter to Brasstacks, Exercise Zarb-e-Momin. India was overstretched with four divisions in Sri Lanka. Tension, yes. But never in the mind of army chief Gen V.N. Sharma was there any threat of war, least of all a nuclear crisis, as projected by the US. American analysts have argued that Kashmir on the boil and nuclear weapons made a heady cocktail though the authors conclude that the nuclear dimension was exaggerated as neither India nor Pakistan had a deliverable bomb then. US deputy national security advisor Robert Gates has hailed his intervention as an example of "preventive diplomacy". The third crisis at Kargil was actually a limited war. To ensure escalation control, India declared ab initio that the LoC would not be crossed. Kargil was the first serious instance of a possible, though not probable, nuclear exchange as by then both sides had deliverable weapons. Besides conventional reasons for the Kargil conflict, less known is Pakistan's wish to avenge India's punitive firing into the Neelam valley. The Americans have claimed credit for forcing a Pakistani withdrawal, nuclear-tipped missiles and all, in the Kargil conflict. By July 4, when Nawaz Sharif met An N-factor loomed in allfour crises: Brasstacks in '86-87, Compound crisis, Kargil and Op Parakram. Bill Clinton, the Indian army had already captured Tiger Hill. The rest was a wrap-up. But Pakistan made a virtue out of necessity: securing a safe passage yet cribbing they could have fought on. As for use of nuclear weapons, US central command's Gen Tony Zinni's alleged threat to Gen Musharrafto "back down or face nuclear annihilation" is analogous to US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage's famous post-9/11 ultimatum to Musharraf: comply with US demands or face being bombed back to the stone ages. Earlier this year, Armitage denied having said this. The fourth crisis is the 2001-02 border confrontation called Operation Parakram in India. This story is not as well researched and analysed as the others. It does not discuss the military options to back coercive diplomacy which the authors dismiss as a failure. Describing the US role as "ambiguous" is missing the woods for the trees. The US had a one-point agenda: to prevent war to fight its own in Afghanistan. For this, it required Pakistan's full support and backing. How US diplomacy was able to deter India and coerce Pakistan into meeting its political goal is nothing short of a triumph. While India's restraint under grave provocation was truly puzzling, was it ready to go to war or merely playacting? There were many gains and lessons from this military and diplomatic stand-off, the most prominent being the composite India-Pakistan dialogue. Barring a few factual errors and some printer's devils, the book illuminates the crisis behaviour of the two nuclear neighbours and the salient but sometimes exaggerated role of the US in defusing crises. The authors remain optimistic that India and Pakistan will learn from their own "mistakes and successes."

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