Strategic Stability and Nuclear Security – Global and Regional Perspectives
Keynote Address by Lt Gen Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, NI, HI, HI (M) at The Center for
International Strategic Studies (CISS) International Conference Islamabad 08 December 2021
1. Ladies and gentlemen. Good evening, and good morning, to all of you in your different time zones. I start with good wishes for everyone and the hope that since I last spoke at the IISS-CISS Workshop on the 6th of February 2020 at London everyone has remained safe from the ravages of the Covid-19 Pandemic which started to engulf the world just about the time as we dispersed that day.
2. Given the construct of today’s topic the way I see it, there are four clear notions that need to be addressed in an integrated manner: there is Strategic Stability; there is Nuclear Security; Global Perspectives and Regional Perspectives on these. And because of the cooperative nature and context of the IISS-CISS traditional academic focus, when we will talk of regional perspectives South Asia will take center stage as the relevant context. Further, since today’s event is in the nature of a continuum, I have considered it appropriate in my talk to first reconnect with the essence of what I had to say on the 6th of February 2020 as a recap, and from there pick up the threads of international and regional developments that have taken place during the last two years in as much as these are relevant to today’s topic.
3. To recap I am highlighting three main points that I had made in the context of South Asian Strategic Stability two years ago in London:
a. The first point I made was that in the strategic stability-instability paradigm of South Asia it has become Pakistan’s responsibility to ensure that strategic stability will not be disturbed to Pakistan’s disadvantage at any stage despite India’s consistent efforts to swing the pendulum towards instability. At each stage of the swing of the pendulum towards strategic instability Pakistan restored the strategic balance through appropriate and effective counter measures. In the last two years, the upward trend has continued unabated with India inducting, amongst others, destabilizing systems like the Rafael fighters, the S-400 System, the Predator Drones and generally upping the ante while pursuing the nuclear triad on land, air and particularly in the Nuclearization of the Indian Ocean. Pakistan will not let these destabilizing inductions or even doctrines to create instability; strategic stability will be maintained or re-established at all cost. Pakistan’s responses should therefore be seen in that context.
b. The second point I made was with reference to India’s failed air strike against Balakot in mainland Pakistan on 26th February 2019 consequent to its false flag operation at Pulwama, as a reckless strategy for domestic electoral purposes. In this regard I had said two things:
(1) One, that Pakistan’s nuclear policy of Full Spectrum Deterrence had prevented the conflict from escalating to higher dangerous rungs and further therefore, I had cautioned India not to consider Pakistan’s robust nuclear capability as a bluff as was then evident in the flawed thinking and statements of most in India’s civil and military higher echelons.
(2) Two, if an irresponsible military adventure were to be undertaken by India, Pakistan will respond forcefully under its retaliatory doctrine of Quid Pro Quo Plus. And indeed Pakistan did lay out an effective practical demonstration of the Quid Pro Quo Plus doctrine successfully the very next day of Balakot on the 27th of February 2019. Pakistan launched retaliatory air strikes around, not one, but three sensitive Indian military targets, shooting down two Indian fighters in the process, capturing one of the pilots (and letting him go home), creating operational paralysis in the IAF system of forces leading to the shooting down of an Indian helicopter by India’s own air defences, generously sparing the Indian Army’s very senior military leadership present at one of the ground targets and, at sea, allowing one Indian Naval submarine which had deliberately entered into Pakistani waters on an operational mission, to turn around and go home safely with a warning only. These Pakistani responses on land, air and at sea, I think, were ‘plus’ enough for one Balakot – and for one day! Let me caution India once again that if challenged Pakistan will do it again. I say this with emphasis because one hears again the whispers of a possible false flag operation by India as a signature Modi/BJP electoral strategy prior to the upcoming State Elections in February 2022 in 5 States including the critical States of Uttar Pradesh and East Punjab.
c. The third point I made was with reference to India’s unfortunate transition from a vibrant secular democracy to a religious extremist-cum-fascist autocracy. I had said, and I quote, “…..the gloves are off, the mask is off, and the veneer of secularism is dead. India in 2020 is now well and truly Hindustan, of the Hindus, by the Hindus and for the Hindus. The transformation from India to Hindustan, over a period of 72 years, now carries the duly stamped ownership of the vast multitudes of the Hindu population which voted for the BJP/RSS heavily,” unquote. Today, at the close of 2021, India’s transition stands consolidated as reflected in India’s formal state policies inside India, inside occupied Jammu and Kashmir, all across on the streets of India, in acts, in deeds, in formal legislation, and in the psycho-social schisms between communities and castes that have been promoted and encouraged by the State. These trends run contrary to the accepted norms of civilized societies and civilized behavior, and carry within them the germs of not only internal social mayhem for India but also from Pakistan’s perspective, the potential to destabilize the region at large. The hardened extremist mindsets and attitudes prevalent in India today prevent rational thinking, discourage dialogue and diplomacy as instruments of peace and security, choose instead ill-considered indirect military and intelligence based strategies as simplistic solutions to complex regional conflicts. The cumulative effect of India’s transformation from a vibrant secular democracy to a religious extremist autocracy has put at serious risk the notions of regional strategic stability and security; it is unsettling for India’s neighborhood.
4. Having recapped the three essential points that I had made in my talk two years ago, I shall now move on to recall some of the major global and regional events that have shaped geo-politics broadly in the last two years and how these have impacted strategic stability and security especially in South Asia.
5. While the world grappled with the pandemic, global and regional competitions and confrontations did not take a back seat. If at all the contours of the competition and confrontation have assumed sharper and more defined shapes with fallout effects everywhere especially, from our perspective, in South Asia. Strategic stability and security of nations continues to remain under pressure and the four countries directly affected, that is, the US, China, India and Pakistan continue to make policy adjustments according to their respective national interests. This is history in motion and in the making even as we enjoy observing it from our ringside seats. The final outcomes will perhaps be more clearly visible in the coming years only when the dust has settled and hopefully the strategic competitions have stabilized into a more manageable pattern.
6. The US election in November 2020, even though disputed strongly by both sides, resulted in President Joe Biden replacing President Trump in January 2021. The change of guard however signified no significant change in what may be labelled as a defining US C3 policy against China: Containment, Competition and Confrontation, not necessarily in that order. The threat of a rising, and some think an already risen, China has focused sharply the undivided attention of the US and its allies. If at all the C3 policy has become only more strident generating far reaching global and strategic effects in different regions. While the C3 Policy is likely to vary in intensity and emphasis, on Containment, on Competition, on Confrontation according to the demands of a particular time, it does somewhat unfairly compel countries to choose sides reminiscent of the two decades ago syndrome of “you are either with us or against us”. Many countries find that discomforting.
7. The world now seems to be on the cusp of a new cold war; groupings interestingly are being defined in near geometric terms and shapes. While we had long gotten used to the shape of the Pentagon as an international driving force but then we got the Quadrilateral or the Quad, and now recently the Triangular AUKUS. Nevertheless, the effects of the rise of China and the US C3 policy now being articulated through some of these groupings touch South Asia in different ways.
8. In this context I would like to mention two recent developments, one political and the other military, which are open to interpretations in more than one way but whose immediate effects have been felt but long term implications will take time to emerge.
9. First, the virtual meeting between President Biden and President Xi Jin Ping. It was historic, it was timely but above all it was an act of statesmanship. While future results will take time to emerge, one immediate effect probably should be to bring down by a degree or two the geo-political global warming – and that undoubtedly is good for global and regional strategic stability. Pakistan welcomes the dialogue.
10. Second, the test by China of a nuclear capable missile carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle including the launch of a separate missile from that vehicle after the vehicle had flown into space and completed a partial orbit of the earth. To put it mildly, it was impressive, it was unprecedented, and it was a surprise for most, some of whom quickly termed the event as a possible Sputnik moment! Whether it was a Sputnik moment or not, the impact of the test on global and regional strategic stability or instability will be determined in the coming years. There lurks, however, the danger that the missile test and the reported alarm about the exposure of a serious technology gap would be used or hyped to secure greater military budgets under the garb of closing the reported technology gap. This may open another avenue for an arms race down the strategic chain, a sure recipe for strategic instability globally and in regions like South Asia.
11. From global developments of the last two years I shall now move on to some of the key regional developments that from Pakistan’s perspective have either impacted or have the potential to impact strategic stability and security in South Asia. Amongst these I shall count Kashmir, the Indo-China clashes of the summer of 2020, Afghanistan and the consequences of US withdrawal.
12. First Kashmir. The strategic effects both political and military of the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A of the Indian Constitution on the 5th of August 2019 continue to reverberate strongly in the region. The Indian action of unilaterally declaring the territory of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as Union Territories has had politico-military consequences which are not going to go away. Both China and Pakistan rejected the action instantly as did the under occupation hapless Kashmiris who continue to suffer immense barbarities at the hands of nearly 900,000 Indian occupation forces as well as an open ended inhumane lockdown of their lives and society. 7 million human beings have been locked up in prison. That does not however weaken in any way the well-recognized fact that the Kashmir conflict remains the fundamental source of strategic instability in South Asia and an internationally acknowledged nuclear flashpoint.
13. Second, the Indo-China clashes on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The un-demarcated borders between India and China have a long history of being unstable which in the past led to the Indo-China War of 1962, the routing of India’s Army, loss of territory and in 2017 to the Doklam standoff. The 1962 War has left indelible scars on India’s politico-military psyche. Despite this, India’s ill-considered expansion of its road communications network and infrastructure development in the disputed areas of Ladakh on the Line of Actual Control with China together with the unilateral announcement of the absorption of Ladakh as Union Territory in 2019 invited what one might call the self-inflicted disaster in the summer of 2020. Consequent to China’s reactions to the provocations, India reportedly lost over a thousand square kilometers of claimed territory without firing a bullet and was humiliated. Some of the strategic consequences of the clashes were:
a. Political acceptance of the losses by India’s political leadership as fait accompli when Prime Minister Modi declared with a straight face that “no post has been lost, no territory has been lost”. It amounted to capitulation indicating neither the capability nor the intention of recovering the lost territories.
b. The Indian military’s follow-on redeployments on the Chinese border of nearly 3800 kilometers from Ladakh in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east following the major intelligence failure and operational paralysis in mounting a response at Ladakh may affect its strategic and operational capabilities on its western borders with Pakistan. These redeployments in the north over time may even become permanent exacting a cost in men and materials as well as in strategies and doctrines in the coming years.
c. The emergence of a massive logistical effort in the extreme cold, barren winters of Ladakh at altitudes close to 14000 feet plus, is many times the size of the logistical effort required to maintain the Indian military occupation of the disputed Siachen Glacier.
14. To begin with, India made an exaggerated choice of strategic overreach in the last two years, driven by gung-ho political over drive rather than military logic. Resultantly today, India is riding three tigers simultaneously; the LAC (Line of Actual Control with China), the LOC (Line of Control with Pakistan) and the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Now having trapped itself in a strategic quandary, India is propagating and selling the effects of its ill-considered strategic overreach under the bogus threat of a two-front war scenario with China and Pakistan. This in order to appeal to its distant allies for more and more military and advanced technological assistance and play on the concerns of the US C3 Policy against China; this is typical and reminiscent of what India did post the 1962 Indo-China War debacle. If India’s allies buy into these clever politico-military ploys of India, which they seem to, and introduce technologically advanced weaponry in the region, strategic stability in South Asia would be poorly served. It will create the effects of instability for Pakistan and will be unacceptable. Pakistan will be compelled therefore to respond as it deems fit and enhance reliance for its security in cost effective deterrence areas of its choice. History is witness to Pakistan’s determination.
15. Third, the developments in Afghanistan. The successful conclusion of talks between the Trump Administration and the Taliban at Doha culminated in a framework agreement for withdrawal of US and allied troops from Afghanistan. However, in the implementation stage under the Biden Administration, the chaotic withdrawal of US and allied troops from Afghanistan together with the surprisingly rapid collapse of the Afghan National Army and the Ashraf Ghani Government led to the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban on the 15th of August this year. This was followed by a relatively short consolidation phase as the Taliban established their writ across all of Afghanistan including the Panjshir Valley.
16. The rapidly emerging adverse situation in Afghanistan came as a body blow to India as its two decades old strategy of bleeding Pakistan on its western borders through blatantly organized state terrorism collapsed overnight. The Indian contingents found safety in beating a hasty retreat from Afghanistan and India was in a state of shock over the debacle. India not only lost its politico-military-intelligence network and influence but also its heavy monetary and strategic investment in Afghanistan. Pakistan for now breathes easy because the security situation on the western border has started to improve.
17. At another level with reference to Afghanistan, however, Pakistan has been disappointed by the post-withdrawal policies of some in the international community towards Pakistan. Despite Pakistan’s sincere cooperation and facilitation in the Doha talks for nearly two years, subsequently in the evacuation of foreign citizens from Afghanistan, Pakistan has been scapegoated ruthlessly for the failings of others. A strange narrative was coined whereby Pakistan was held responsible for 20 years of follies. It remains quite beyond Pakistan’s comprehension. As an important and responsible regional country, Pakistan nevertheless will exercise strategic patience for the headwinds to blow away and the dust to settle. Pakistan is a pivotal regional country and cannot be ignored for long.
18. In the meanwhile, in the immediate aftermath of the rapid power transition in Afghanistan, Pakistan has a vital role to play in preventing a looming humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan in the upcoming winter. Pakistan has taken a series of urgent steps in terms of sending large quantities of wheat, food, medicines and other relief goods to the stricken people of Afghanistan. Pakistan has also gone the extra mile in making an exception on humanitarian grounds and allowing the flow of 50000 Metric tons of wheat and medicines by road from India to Afghanistan. Pakistan stands ready to offer facilitation in this respect; this has got to be beyond politics.
19. And finally a few thoughts on the notion of nuclear security. In this context, let me start with recalling one of the fundamental principles of global perspectives on nuclear security. The fundamental principle that was agreed upon at the conclusion of the initiative taken by President Obama in the series of Nuclear Security Summits (NSS) was that nuclear security was a national responsibility. Let me repeat for emphasis nuclear security was a national responsibility. These summits were meticulously planned and professionally conducted by top ranking experts from a large number of countries after much debate. We are grateful to the experts for making the world a safer place
20. Pakistan values and follows the NSS conclusions in letter and spirit. Post 9/11, with the commencement of the War on Terror there were serious concerns the world over about nuclear materials falling in the hands of terrorists. The spectre of a nuclear Armageddon as a consequence of such an eventuality happening, or at the very least the possibility of a dirty bomb exploding in cities, became a catalyst for laying the highest emphasis on securing nuclear materials and infrastructure the world over – but as a national responsibility. That is the global perspective. I recommend strongly that the focus on worldwide nuclear security must remain; however, the focus must be apolitical and not a tool for selective political intimidation.
21. As for Pakistan, we took our responsibilities and obligations with the seriousness that nuclear security demanded not only to address the broader international concerns on the issue but in Pakistan’s own interest as a responsible nuclear power. Not after the post Nuclear Security Summit process but 11 years before that since the establishment in April 1999 of Pakistan’s National Command Authority and the Strategic Plans Division as the one window institution for all matters nuclear in Pakistan, nuclear security of men, materials and infrastructure became a leading Pakistani priority. A professionally conceived comprehensive national nuclear security plan was implemented across the country in quick time. Some of the elements comprised of robust physical security including the raising of a variety of dedicated, well trained and well equipped security and intelligence forces, Personal Reliability Programmes (PRP), Material Control and Accounting (MC&A), establishment of a state of the art Training Academy, later renamed as PCENS or Pakistan Center of Excellence for Nuclear Security. PCENS has earned the distinction of recognition by the IAEA as a nuclear security regional training hub and is open to visitors. Similarly, on the diplomatic side, Pakistan entered the mainstream of a variety of international nuclear security related regimes. We went to the extent of saying that for nuclear security there were no upper limits to education. Where we felt necessary, we did not hesitate to cooperate and learn from the world while retaining our red lines.
22. I would like to say that like education in nuclear security, we also strongly believed that there were no upper limits to investment in nuclear security. Nuclear security is a process, a continuous process, where more and more investments reward you with more and more professionally satisfying solutions to different threats and instils confidence. Pakistan invested heavily and today draws the benefits, comfort and confidence of a nuclear weapons power that has secured its nuclear men, materials, and infrastructure according to the highest international standards. I would like to mention with satisfaction that in Pakistan, despite the geographical spread of vast numbers of nuclear facilities, there has not been a single instance of a nuclear security lapse; this includes the most intense period of foreign sponsored terrorism inside Pakistan between 2007 and 2014. Now that Pakistan has won its own war on terror through determined and professionally conducted operations, the overall internal threat has largely receded, and the security environment has vastly improved. Having said that, the process of continuous improvements in nuclear security must go on because there must never be complacency. There are countries that I believe have strong National Technical Means (NTMs). I am sure they must have made good use of these because a large number of responsible international personalities whether visiting Pakistan or not, appreciated and expressed confidence on record in Pakistan’s efforts in the areas of nuclear security.
23. Before I end, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to express Pakistan’s disappointment with the revival lately of uncalled for insinuations about Pakistan’s nuclear security in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan post 15 August. First, in a consistent pattern of negative media reporting as an extension and veritable arm of pressure policy. Second, strangely enough, by some senior important personalities who I thought ought to know better from the vantage points of professional information and their high offices. The apprehensions expressed in certain otherwise responsible quarters about events in Afghanistan impacting Pakistan’s nuclear security, are not only misplaced and ill-founded but, in my opinion, stretch one’s professional imagination beyond reasonable logic.
24. Nuclear security is too serious a business to be used as a tool of political intimidation, point scoring or subjected to inadequately deliberated statements. Pakistan would expect that considered opinions must reflect objectivity, evidence, professionalism, and meet the high standards of confidentiality lest these become counter-productive. If the canvass of genuine concern for global and regional nuclear security were to be broadened, politically and geographically, I can recommend areas in Pakistan’s immediate neighborhood which need more focused attention and help in order to prevent smuggling of nuclear materials leading to international catastrophes.
25. I thank you ladies and gentlemen.