India's coercive diplomacy

NEW DELHI, DEC. 30. Coercive diplomacy has never been a characteristic feature of India's foreign policy. But by threatening an all-out war with Pakistan that could escalate to the nuclear level, India has entered the uncharted waters of nuclear brinkmanship. This atypical Indian behaviour arises from the exhaustion of all other options in dealing with the threat of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.

For nearly a decade, India has sought to engage Pakistan under the shadow of cross-border terrorism. It made a serious bid at Lahore in February 1999 and Agra in July this year to develop a political framework that would address Pakistani grievances and encourage Islamabad to normalise bilateral ties.

But on neither occasion, India could persuade Pakistan to put the gun down. With its level of tolerance breached on December 13, New Delhi has had few options other than nuclear brinkmanship to force Islamabad to modify its unacceptable behaviour.

Brinkmanship in this case is about manipulating the shared risks of a nuclear conflict - which neither side wants - to get the other to back down. Brinkmanship is clearly a high risk strategy that would force India to confront rather difficult choices in the near future if Pakistan does not agree to crack down on the sources of terrorism on its soil.

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Brinkmanship between nuclear powers has never been an easy game. Mr. John Foster Dulles, the American Secretary of State during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s, was one of its early exponents as he routinely pushed the world's first two nuclear powers to the edge of a war. ``The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war,'' Mr. Dulles said, is a ``necessary art.''

``If you cannot master it, you inevitably get into war. If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.'' Words, one hopes, New Delhi will not lose sight of.

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The risks of India's strategy of ``nuclear compellance'' against Pakistan have been somewhat lowered by the fact that there has been a convergence of Indian and American interests since September 11. Without the current American war against terrorism, it would have been impossible to think of Indian nuclear brinkmanship against Pakistan.

Since India's current demands from Pakistan are minimal and in tune with the norms of behaviour prescribed by the international community since September 11, there is a reasonable prospect that the world will lean on Pakistan to move decisively against terrorist groups that act under its nose.

Until recently the U.S. was not willing to breathe down Pakistan's neck to end support to terrorism in Kashmir. It is doing so now because it has begun to recognise that terrorist groups undermine nuclear stability between the subcontinental rivals and the state in Pakistan itself.

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Experimentation with nuclear coercion is not the only thing new in India's strategy in the present crisis. In the past India sought to prevent the world from intruding into its dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir. New Delhi is now trying to use the weight of the international community to get Pakistan to end its support to cross-border terrorism.

India's new ways of dealing with Pakistan reflect the on-going transition towards realism in the practice of its foreign policy. The last 10 years have shown that India does not have the power differential to force Pakistan to act in a reasonable manner on cross-border terrorism.

New Delhi has recognised that it needs to act with the international community in persuading Islamabad to change its national course towards political moderation, economic modernisation and regional harmony. Only such a reorientation of Pakistan is likely to facilitate a normalisation of bilateral relations.

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India is pleased with the British response in the current crisis. Unlike the United States which often seemed to waver on the question of terrorism originating in Pakistan, Britain has been steadfast in its recent focus on sources of terrorism in the subcontinent.

Britain had proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e- Mohammad earlier this year, well before September 11. The American decision to designate them foreign terrorist organisations came last week after a long period of hesitation. All this augurs well for the first visitor to the capital in the new year - the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair. The two sides are all set to put behind them the memories of Queen Elizabeth's disastrous trip to India in 1997 and the down-turn in Indo-British ties when the Labour party returned to power.

A lot of credit also goes to Sir Rob Young, the British High Commissioner in India who came here at a difficult moment in the relations between New Delhi and London. Sir Rob, who has spent nearly three years here overseeing a revival of Indo-British ties, is believed to be staying on for two more.


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