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India, Pakistan agree on hotline for nuclear issues

By Amit Baruah

NEW DELHI, JUNE 20. India and Pakistan today agreed to put in place a "dedicated and secure" hotline between their Foreign Secretaries to prevent misunderstandings and "reduce risks relevant to nuclear issues."

In a joint statement issued at the end of two days of talks between experts on nuclear confidence-building measures (CBMs), both countries claimed that their nuclear capabilities, based on "national security imperatives," constituted a "factor for stability."

Aware of the fact that both nations remained outside the exclusive nuclear club of the Permanent Five members of the U.N. Security Council, they sought a dialogue with the P-5 on issues of common concern.

It is for the first time that India and Pakistan have jointly called for such a dialogue. "Both countries called for regular working level meetings to be held among all the nuclear powers to discuss issues of common concern." The statement, which breaks some new ground in the uncertain India-Pakistan nuclear equation, however, had nothing to say on the all-crucial issue of nuclear disarmament, a principle to which both parties attach considerable importance in international fora. They agreed that the existing hotline between the Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) would be upgraded, secured and dedicated and that they would work towards concluding an accord with technical parameters on pre-notification of flight-testing of missiles, a draft of which was handed over by India to the Pakistani side.

A senior official explained that a "hotline" between the Foreign Secretaries had existed till it fell into disuse in the 1990s and India had actually proposed its revival to Pakistan in October 1998. Now, however, it has been specified that the hotline would be used to prevent misunderstandings on nuclear issues. The official told this correspondent that by putting in place a "dedicated" hotline between the DGMOs it would be possible for these officers to speak to each other with ease whenever they wanted and not keep their conversation restricted to every Tuesday as is the practice. Currently, it is a dial-up (hotline).

The statement also had each side reaffirming their "unilateral moratorium on conducting further nuclear test explosions unless, in exercise of national sovereignty, it decides that extraordinary events have jeopardised its supreme interests."

In a clear indication that the two-day, expert-level talks that concluded today were not going to be a one-off affair, the statement said India and Pakistan would continue their discussions and hold further talks on implementing the Lahore Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of February 1999.

"Both countries will continue to engage in bilateral consultations on security and non-proliferation issues within the context of negotiations on these issues in multilateral fora. Both sides agreed to report the progress of the talks to the respective Foreign Secretaries who would meet on June 27-28 2004."

A set of principles has been identified that would enable specific measures to be taken: these include putting in place a hotline between the Foreign Secretaries to tackle risks pertaining to nuclear issues.

Both sides, the document said, were conscious of the need to promote a stable environment of peace and security between the two countries and their obligation to "their peoples and the international community."

India and Pakistan also committed themselves to "strategic stability" and to national measures to reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons under their respective control and to adopt bilateral notification measures and mechanisms to prevent misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

The ability of the two sides to state their differences on the "old issues" of "no-first use" of nuclear weapons and the Pakistani desire for a strategic restraint regime and yet move towards taking small step towards reducing nuclear risks is being seen as a positive development.

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