Having shed ambiguous nuclear postures in the summer of 1998, India and Pakistan have yet to demonstrate an understanding of having entered a new era. This is evident from absence of follow up on the security agenda enunciated in the Memorandum of Understanding signed at Lahore. Pursuing the agreed agenda has benefit for both states in projecting themselves as responsible nuclear powers, an image they could cash in on politically and economically. It would help mitigate nuclear dangers that were so evident through the standoff resulting from their competitive mobilizations last year. An arms race could be averted by ensuring credibility of the 'minimum' in their doctrines of 'minimal deterrence'. Despite several advantages that accrue, non-existence of momentum in this direction is portentous for the collective future of the billion and half people living in the subcontinent.

On blasting its way into the nuclear club, India seeks a political dividend that can only brook multilateral nuclear disarmament. It has revealed its inclination for arms control for the first time in the concluding paragraph of the Draft Nuclear Doctrine put out for public debate by its National Security Advisory Board in 1999. Pakistan for its part can be expected to replicate Indian initiatives in both fields, knowing lip service to disarmament would not affect its insurance against Indian military superiority. It is not averse to arms control for such discussions could at worst 'cap', and not 'rollback', its capability. However, the fact is that arms control and disarmament are non-issues on a subcontinent riveted to existential threats, the foremost of which is the issue of Kashmir.

The likelihood of unilateral nuclear disarmament in the subcontinent can be actually discounted. Efforts to this end of liberal anti-nuclearists are unlikely to yield fruit as those who see political and military utility in nuclear weapons possession are within the security establishment. It would be more appropriate if the energy were used in more productive directions, particularly in concentrating on providing an arms control agenda for the two states to work on. There is also the China factor. The Indian perception of sufficiency or notional parity against China would give it a 'first strike' capability against Pakistan, resulting in expansion of Pakistani nuclear forces in order to preserve a second strike component. Higher combined Chinese and Pakistani figures would render India's 'minimum' elastic. In turn, this only strengthens the case for arms control.

And yet, since arms control agenda in South Asia has been neglected, it is important to consider the reasons. China can be reckoned to stay out of arms control negotiations involving South Asia, equating itself as it does with the two nuclear superpowers. While having China onboard would be part of India's design of weighing in China's Great Power category, the limited relevance of the nuclear issue to the India-China security relationship (despite India’s use of the China card to legitimize its overt nuclearisation) is likely to keep regional arms control negotiation bilateral.

Secondly, Indian decision makers wish to retain the widest field of options for as long as possible, to avoid getting boxed up in a posture that could turnout to be disadvantageous later. Deliberate ambiguity is seen as necessary to beget a ‘tous azimuths’ capability over the long term. In light of Dr Ashley Tellis’s revelations, India has a long way to go before operationalising a grander nuclear posture from its present ambition of nursing a ‘force in being’. The potential for Indian nuclear expansionism exists in extremist Indian thinking in including even the USA among the threats that the nuclear capability prepares India for. Indian hawks seeking political mileage from India’s nuclear card would prefer not to expose it to restrictions that arms control with its neighbors would eventually entail. Getting into arms control negotiations with Pakistan would amount to continuing their hyphenated relationship, a debilitating feature, India, as a self-conscious emerging power, would want to break out of.

Also presently, wider security issues have only apparently been held hostage by the twin issues of 'Kashmir' and 'cross border terrorism'. The handy availability of a frozen relationship enables the two states to utilize the interim for building up their nuclear capability. Blaming the deadlocked relationship partially on the inability of the 'international community' to pressurize the other side helps distract attention from this ongoing ‘slow motion’ effort. Once a viable arsenal, to include delivery means and payload, and satisfactory command and control elements are in place, security establishments on both sides of the border would be in a position to engage each other. This results in a bona-fide nuclear capability, absence of external pressure to keep it smaller than a self-defined 'minimum', and finally engaging in negotiations to further strengthen their nuclear credentials. India would then approximate the lesser nuclear powers, thereby embellishing its case for a place at the high table, best symbolized by a UN Security Council seat. Pakistan, with limited nuclear ambitions, would be amenable to a negotiated avoidance of an arms race.

A complicating aspect of the arms control and disarmament issue is the overlap between the conventional and nuclear planes. This aspect is not unique to South Asia, for the situation has echoes of the NATO-Soviet Union conventional-nuclear linkage. The linkage is essentially centered on Pakistan’s primary aim of going nuclear, it being to offset the adverse Indo-Pak ratio of tank divisions. India acquired a 3:2 advantage in the Nineties, while Pakistan was facing a US arms embargo dating from Oct 1990. This conventional asymmetry accounts for Pakistani reticence on a 'No First Use' commitment. Understandably, the ratio in its favor detracts from India obliging Pakistan with a 'No War Pact', as India acquired the conventional edge as dissuasive conventional deterrence. The stability-instability paradox has already manifested itself on the subcontinent with a covert nuclear capability emboldening Pakistani sub-conventional adventurism in Kashmir and elsewhere. An arms control agenda would require factoring in of this linkage. What then would a broad arms control agenda involve?

First, look at the wider compulsions of each side. In the Indian case, nuclear acquisition had a political intent of gaining recognition as an emerging 'great power'. It continues to require its conventional edge in order to preserve the option of 'limited war' for limiting Pakistani provocation in Kashmir. There are unlikely to be any major departures from its declaratory nuclear doctrine of 'no first use', 'retaliation only' and 'deterrence by punishment'. India would therefore be amenable to dialogue on CBMs guarding against accidents and misperception, and arms control aspects as preventing advent of tactical nuclear weapons on the subcontinental scene. Pakistan would aim at limiting space for India to 'up the ante' in extricating itself from its Kashmir predicament. Therefore it will try and preserve a low nuclear threshold predicated on tactical use of nuclear weapons. Even though India has escalation dominance at all levels of the escalation ladder, the self-deterrence factor influencing Indian leadership would give Pakistan space for manoeuvre against qualitatively and quantitatively superior Indian formations practiced in nuclear operating conditions.

A arms control dialogue would therefore have to be built around the relationship of tactical nuclear weapons to the ratio of offensive formations. The trade off could be between Pakistani accession to a mutually verifiable 'No First Use' pledge and a decline in offensive capacity of Indian mechanized forces. The advantage of this formulation is that both states are required to forfeit respective advantages, perceived by the other side as the primary threat. India is required to forsake the superiority acquired to enable it to prevail in either conventional or limited nuclear war, while Pakistan gives up its reliance on a low nuclear threshold to prevent such an outcome. This way India will lack the incentive to go to war, while Pakistan would be deprived of rationale to resort to its nuclear card.

The negotiations also require having on board three agenda items in the nuclear field. The aim has been well encapsulated in Tellis’s policy recommendations to his government in his magnum opus 'India’s Emerging Nuclear Posture’ – “keep ‘em small,…and slow”. The first is a broad understanding of 'minimum', taking into account the security compulsions of both states. Indian reluctance to put a figure on their appreciation of ‘minimum’ in their parlays with their American interlocutors in the Jaswant-Talbott talks, makes it clear that a definition itself may not be feasible.

However, the intent not to engage in an arms race can still be mutually embraced. This is advantageous in that that each step in the nuclear systems deployment contemplated by either state would be surveyed for its implications and impact on the perceptions of the other side prior to embarking on it. Since arms negotiators share a vocabulary and conceptual tools, such a preview would bring in the required trust into their nuclear relationship buffeted as it is by animosity arising in other spheres of interaction. Gaining an insight into the other side’s fears and motivation could help clear pathologies of policy making. Here India would require foregoing any inclination towards the recommendations originating in hawkish corridors.

Second, is the prevention of advent of tactical nuclear weapons that have a ‘use them or lose them’ characteristic. To counter momentum that results in deployment of short-range delivery systems, a pro-active approach towards keeping deployment ‘slow’ is imperative. There appears to be an untenable reliance of both states on the supposed ‘firebreaks’ along the escalation ladder. Both appear to be attempting to be capable of fighting a limited nuclear war, in order to forestall the feared strategic nuclear war.

And lastly, India and Pakistan could discuss the doctrines to operationalise 'No First Use' to include keeping nuclear payload and delivery systems at separate locations, its verification means and increasing response times for avoidance of misperception. The argument against ‘No First Use’, voiced most vociferously by Dr Karnad in his critique of India’s nuclear moderation, is that such a pledge can be rescinded at an opportune time. The nuclear hawks hold that dishonouring the NFU pledge by Pakistan would be decidedly easier than India’s re-raising of an armoured division. Clearly there is need to ensure crisis stability of the NFU, and this is best addressed in conjunction with the initiatives in the conventional plane dealing with the offensive-defensive conventional forces equation. Progress could lead up to 'non-offensive' defensive postures, debated during the Nineties, for the two militaries.

Broadly, such a strategic agenda would encompass the parallel tracks of nuclear arms control and conventional disarmament. The desired outcome is to make nuclear war less probable even if a conventional conflict were to break out, and to make conventional war a non-option by arriving at a conventional balance dissuasive of the resort to the military as an instrument of policy. It would certainly be an improvement over the minimalist beginning in the direction of CBMs made at Lahore at American behest. Contending with the motivated attacks of 'maximalists' and vested interests will only help flesh out proposals. A first step would be intellectual acceptance of the declining utility of military force in a nuclear environment - a departure from current theology of 'limited war', a euphemism for ‘limited nuclear war’.

Clearly, this completes the circle by bringing Kashmir back into the reckoning, since 'limited war' is seen as India's potential answer to the ongoing Pakistan inspired 'asymmetric war’ there. The tentative counter-intuitive conclusion here is that presently neither state is averse to their mutual relationship being bogged down in Kashmir. This hiatus gives each the breather necessary to give shape to its nuclear capability. On the other hand, once a semblance between actual and desired capabilities is arrived at, it can be predicted that both countries would look towards an elusive nuclear peace dividend, not excluding Kashmir and including the contours of their post Kashmir engagement.