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Vajpayee’s Political Bomb

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Numerous important studies exist explaining why do states acquire nuclear warheads across the globe. Security, regional hegemony, power, prestige, status, technology and domestic determinisms have largely accepted by optimists and pessimists for nuclear proliferation.

For instance, the United States and the United Kingdom develop nuclear weapons for regional hegemony, former Soviet Union, France, China, Israel, South Africa, Pakistan, and North Korea have manufactured nukes for security.  

However, India’s case is dissimilar with rest of all nuclear weapon states. Indian as well as non-Indian academic pundits provide different studies and explanations regarding India’s nuclear tests. Realists and neo-realists argue that India went nuclear for security and regional hegemony. While some argue that India has tested nuclear devices in summer in 1998 for prestige, power, and status factor. Interestingly, few academic think tanks have argued that India joined the nuclear club for domestic politics considerations.

My study also understands that domestic factor played an important role for Vajpayee’s government to go overtly nuclear in May 1998. Atal Bihari Vajpayee first appeared in Indian politics as a foreign minister from 1977 to 1979 in the Janata government under Morarji Desai. His tenure was short that is why Indian people hardly got inspired by him. After the Pokhran explosion in May 1974, Congress was praised by the RSS and other Hindu hardliners who worshipped nuclear energy for prestige, power, and status. However, Congress did not succeed to continue their government with the nuclear explosion. Also, Congress did not consider nukes as a tool for power, prestige, and status rather a regrettable necessity, a terrible weapon fit only for deterrence.  

In 1996, Vajpayee became prime minister of India. However, he enjoyed the office only for thirteen days. Before Vajpayee’s tenure of prime ministership, Congress government under Narasimha Rao was willing to go nuclear in 1995 but due to fear of economic sanctions and the US detection of nuclear test preparations in Pokhran desert, he decided not to proceed. The opportunity was left for Vajpayee, who without losing much time ordered the nuclear scientist for the atomic bomb tests in 1996. Unfortunately, the tests were halted when it became clear that Vajpayee would not be able to win a parliamentary vote of confidence.

Vajpayee was struggling for survival in Indian politics. He had lost the opportunity in 1996 to win the confidence of Indian people. Vajpayee again became prime minister of India on 20 March 1998 after forming a great alliance of nearly twenty allied parties under National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The maximum number of ministries were under the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The opportunity for nuclear tests which Vajpayee lost in 1996 was in his mind. After holding the office of prime ministership in 1998, het met nuclear scientists and discussed about the future of India’s nuclear programme. Subsequently, military engineers were ordered to prepare the site for testing. Interestingly, Pakistan’s Ghauri missile test on 9 April 1998 helped Vajpayee to went nuclear. However, Ghauri missile test was an excuse, Vajpayee was desperately searching for justifications to go overtly nuclear in 1996 and 1998.  

Vajpayee thought that nuclear tests will provide a boost to his image and BJP will be truly declared a ‘nationalist party’. Also, Vajpayee was cautious about the 1996 fractured electoral verdict. To survive in politics, nuclear explosion was an important option. There was uproar at that time that the Vajpayee government will survive only for six months. There were numerous challenges before Vajpayee gave an order for the nuclear tests. Vajpayee was heading the cabinet with the support of allied parties, it was very difficult for him to get majority of votes for nuclear tests. It was the main reason that Vajpayee did not consult the union ministers for the actual date of nuclear tests. Brajesh Mishra and Jaswant Singh were only two ministers with whom Vajpayee had discussed the actual date of testing. L. K. Advani (Home Minister) was told about the test a day before the actual testing. Surprisingly, majority of ministers were totally unaware of the secret nuclear meetings and about the decision to blast the deserts of Pokhran once again.  

On 11 May and 13 May 1998, five nuclear devices were tested in Pokhran desert of Rajasthan. After the tests, the reason for nuclear explosions were claimed mostly external threat form China and Chinese nuclear technology to Pakistan. The domestic political factor was totally eschewed to win the emotions of the Indian people.

However, numerous studies and explanations place India’s nuclear programme in the ‘domestic politics model’. The nuclear experts like Kanti Bajpai, Achin Vanaik, Praful Bidwai, Scott Sagan, Itty Abraham, George Perkovich and many others have listed India nuclear tests in domestic determinants. The nuclear weapons have served the parochial interests of at least some actors within the states. Vajpayee case fits to justify the domestic political consideration factor for nuclear testing, who had intentionally ordered nuclear tests in summer 1998 for his survival and image.

After the nuclear tests, Vajpayee was declared a national hero, ‘the right man in the wrong party’. Indian media particular television has praised Vajpayee for a daring decision which Congress failed to take in its tenure after having all the time to do so. The BJP succeed to play politics with a bomb. The election slogan of BJP Sabko dekha baar-baar, humko parkhen ek bar (You have seen every party; now test us once) justifies that BJP was going for nuclear tests which Congress failed to do.

It was Vajpayee and his decision for nuclear tests in 1998 that BJP achieved strength and popularity in India. Also, the party was succeeded in claiming itself as a ‘nationalist party’. Vajpayee who was unknown to general pubic was projected with Nehruvian figure with charming personal qualities after the nuclear explosions. The nuclear tests gave Vajpayee a warm welcome from the middle class Indian people, who perceived him as being moderate, simple, and fun-loving man.

Kanti Bajpai argued that Vajpayee became a crowd catcher in India after the nuclear tests. The Congress was blamed as a party of “pseudo-secularists’ by L.K. Advani. Sonia Gandhi was taunted as ‘foreigner’ not fit to rule India. It was over all the ‘nuclear bomb’ that gave a momentum to the BJP to attack Congress and changed the political journey of BJP in general and Vajpayee in particular in India. Interestingly, Congress took lessons of the nuclear politics from the BJP, the US-India civil nuclear deal was signed between India and the United States in 2005 under the Congress government to accelerate the nuclear weapons programme.

In better terms, when government faces troubles at home, it starts focusing on external threat to divert the attention of the general public. Karthika Sasikumar and Christopher Way argued in his piece Testing Theories of Proliferation in South Asia that for vote bank, the government with an insure hold on power may seek to rally support around nationalism by going nuclear. The BJP used the nuclear card after the nuclear tests to win the emotions of the people. Several occasions during the election rally, BJP have highlighted India’s success from “cow dung power” to “Nuclear Power”. Also, Scott Sagan argued that the nuclear weapons were perhaps relevant to the unresolved Kashmir issue to win the emotions of public in India.   

Thus, it is clear that the domestic determinant plays an important role in India’s nuclear decisions. Also, it is true that both the BJP and Congress now highlight the nuclear card for winning the emotions of the public to strengthen the domestic politics for their own interests. For instance, the importance of nuclear submarines, nuclear air bombers, missile defence systems are highly debated in India. During republic days, different varieties of nuclear capable missiles and nuclear air bombers are disclosed annually to win the confidence of the public.

Rameez Raja is pursuing Ph. D at Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He specializes in India’s nuclear policy. His writings have previously appeared in Rising Kashmir, Café Dissensus Everyday, Kafila, South Asia Journal, Foreign Policy News, Modern Diplomacy, Pakistan Observer, Kashmir Observer, and Kashmir Monitor. Email ID: rameezrajaa23[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Pakistan not a Threat for Israel: Clearing Misconceptions

Uzge A. Saleem

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Ever since 1998; the beginning of Pakistan’s nuclear age, the state’s self-defense mechanism has been a source of worry and unrest for India and the US. Both these states never really accepted that a small state like Pakistan could develop the prestigious asset and was now well capable of defending itself against external threats. US opposed the program on the grounds that it had been tested after the signing of NPT and that it is an “illegitimate” program. Their basic concern was Pakistan not being a party to NPT and US non-proliferation efforts failing. India, though very much against the program, could not openly oppose it on the same grounds because its own Nuclear Program had the same issue i.e. it was tested after the signing of NPT and they had also not signed the treaty.

There  are  a  lot  of  ambiguities  surrounding   Pakistan’s  nuclear  program  which  are  there intentionally for the benefit and security of the program and state. However, there is one thing which has been kept very clear since day one and that is the Indo centric nature of Pakistan’s nuclear program. The program was developed because the conventionally strong next door neighbor had developed their program. Pakistan, in an attempt to ensure territorial security, had to develop its own program as well. US, China, Russia, France or the UK were never a threat to Pakistan nor was Pakistan on their attack agenda. India on the other hand was in close territorial proximity, a historic enemy, conventionally stronger and now also a nuclear power. After evaluating all these factors any national strategist would suggest a nuclear program for Pakistan and that is exactly what the state did.

There have been news in an Israeli newspaper,  Haaretz, that Pakistan is more of a threat to Israel than Iran. This was published on 20 May, 2018. The grounds for this allegation have been identified  as  Pakistan’s  growing  arsenal  and  other  similar  reasons  which  have  always  been popular in the western policy circles. Iran, a conventional enemy, one with which there have been numerous conflicts, has been ruled out as a threat to Israel since they do not have a nuclear arsenal.

However, there are many concrete facts that have been ignored in this propagating debate. For instance Pakistan has had no wars with Israel. Both the states have never even been on the verge of an all-out war. The states have never even had a conflict that could’ve led to war. Although Iran does not have  a nuclear arsenal at present but that did not stop the states from indulging into conflicts before and although initiating a nuclear war might not be a possibility for Iran but a conventional war is very much within their skill set.

Pakistan is already indulged in a two front defense strategy on its eastern and western borders. The Taliban threat from the west and the ever present Indian threat from the east, particularly along the  line of control is already consuming most of the state’s energy, attention and resources. Under such circumstances, jumping into any sort of venture as far as Israel without any apparent or direct conflict seems like an amateur move which is not expected from Pakistan whatsoever. If any linkages are being made based on the fact that Iran and Israel have cordial ties then they are weak to begin with. On the other hand India and Iran have more than friendly ties and India’s nuclear arsenal is growing rapidly with the US help. However, this does not mean that just because India is a nuclear state and a friend of Iran, it will be inclined to attack Israel.

Pakistan’s nuclear program is solely for the safety and security of the nation against any external threat.  The program  is not for the state  to pick  and choose  enemies  and start  non-existing conflicts. That is definitely not how Pakistan intends to use its resources and deviate from the real agenda which is to protect the state of Pakistan. The only condition under which Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons against any state would be if they choose to attack the territory of Pakistan in a nuclear or non-nuclear manner. The state has been absolutely clear about this from the very beginning of its  nuclear era.

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South Asia

Behind Indo-Pacific Vision

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Mike Pompeo’s recent speech titled, ‘America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Vision – at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum’ at the US Chamber of Commerce, Washington DC has been carefully observed across Asia.  Beijing has understandably, paid close special attention to it. Pompeo emphasized on the need for greater connectivity within the Indo-Pacific, while also highlighting the role which the US was likely to play (including financial investments to the tune of 113 Million USD in areas like infrastructure, energy and digital economy). The US Secretary of State while stating that this vision was not targeted at anyone, he did make references to China’s hegemonic tendencies, as well as the lacunae of Chinese connectivity projects (especially the economic dimension).

The Chinese reaction to Pompeo’s speech was interesting. Senior Chinese government officials were initially dismissive of the speech, saying that such ideas have been spoken in the past, but produced no tangible results.

An article in the Global Times ‘Indo-Pacific strategy more a geo-political military alliance’ response is significant. What emerges clearly from this article is that Beijing is not taking the ‘Indo-Pacific vision’ lightly, and neither does it rule out the possibility of collaboration. The article is unequivocal, in expressing its skepticism, with regard to the geo-political vision of the Indo-Pacific vision. Argues the article:

While the geopolitical connotation of the strategy may lead to regional tensions and conflicts and thus put countries in the region on alert

It is optimistic with regard to the geo-economic dimension, saying that this would be beneficial, and would promote economic growth and prosperity. What must be noted is that, while the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ has been put forward as a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the article also spoke about the possible complementarities between the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ and China’s version of BRI. While Mike Pompeo had spoken about a crucial role for US private companies in his speech, the article clearly bats in favor of not just between Indian, Japanese, Chinese, US governments as well as companies. This is interesting, given the fact that China had gone to the extent of dubbing the Indo-Pacific vision as the foam on the sea” “that gets attention but will soon dissipate”

While there is absolutely no doubt, that there is immense scope for synergies between the Indo-Pacific vision, and BRI especially in the economic sphere. China’s recent openness towards the Indo-Pacific vision is welcome, but one of the propelling factors is the growing resentment against the economic implications of some BRI projects. While in South Asia, Sri Lanka is a classical example of China’s debt trap diplomacy, where Beijing provides loans at high interest rates (China has taken over the strategic Hambantota Project, since Sri Lanka has been unable to pay Beijing the whopping 13 Billion USD). Even in ASEAN grouping, countries are beginning to question the feasibility of BRI projects, Malaysia which shares close economic ties with Beijing is reviewing certain Chinese projects (this was one of the first steps undertaken by  Mahathir Mohammad after taking over the reigns as Prime Minister of Malaysia).

Second, that while for long the Indo-Pacific Vision has been dubbed as a mere ‘expression’ and one of the criticisms has been a lack of gravitas in the economic context (and even now 113 Million USD is not sufficient). Developments over recent months, including the recent speech, indicate that The Department of State seems to be keen to dispel this notion that the Indo-Pacific narrative is bereft of substance. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that Pompeo’s speech was followed by an Asia visit (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore).

Countries which are key stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific narrative need to keep in mind the following:

US needs to walk the course and apart from investing, more it needs to think of involving more countries, including Taiwan and more South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific partnership.

Second, the Indo-Pacific speaks in favor of democracy as well as greater integration, but not only are countries becoming more inward looking, even their stand on democracy, and Human Rights is ambiguous.  Japan is trying to change its attitude towards immigration, and is at the forefront of promoting integration and connectivity within the Indo-Pacific. Neither US, nor India, Japan or Australia have criticized China for its excesses against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.

Finally, there is scope for China to be part of the Indo-Pacific, but it needs to look at certain projects beyond the rubric of the BRI. A perfect instance is the Bangladesh China, India Myanmar BCIM Corridor which India was willing to join, but China now considers this project as a part of BRI.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Beijing can not be excluded from the ‘Indo-Pacific’ narrative, but it can not expect to be part of the same, on its own terms. It is also important, for countries like US and India to speak up more forcefully on issues (within their domestic contexts, as well as external) pertaining to Freedom of Speech, Human Rights and  immigration issues, given that all these are essential for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’

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Chimeras and Realities of the Indo-Pacific Partnership

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The new American initiative for the creation of the Indo-Pacific Partnership (IPP) has grabbed the spotlight in many political discussions of late. Although the idea to set up such a forum was proposed at the end of 2017 and to this day has been no more than a general slogan, now the Trump administration seems set to stake on it. Why?

As a reminder I would like to point out that on May 30 the US Secretary of Defense announced the renaming of the Pacific Command into the Indo-Pacific Command (although the Command’s responsibility zone a priori included the Indian Ocean waters).

A few days later, at the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) conference in Singapore, the idea of IPP was spelled out by the American side, with an emphasis on the aspects of regional security. When commenting on the change of the name of the American command, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked that for India the unification of the Indian and Pacific oceans into a single geographic array looked “natural”.

The practical implementation of the IPP strategy will most likely be carried out both through the strengthening of US bilateral relations with countries of the region and through the creation of multilateral cooperation formats. The most important of these cooperation initiatives is the so-called. “Quadro”, which is designed to bring together the four “democracies” of the Indo-Pacific region – the United States, Japan, Australia and India.

It is believed that the United States, Australia, Japan and India, united in the Quadro, will consider the two oceans a single strategic space. Since 2016, the United States, India and Japan have been conducting joint naval exercises “Malabar”. Washington is clearly giving New Delhi ever more attention, counting on India as one of the future regional security poles, along with Japan, Australia and its other allies.

The feasibility evaluation of IPP was proposed in the concept of “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy”, FOIP). And the recent report of the US National Security Strategy states that “in the Indo-Pacific region, there is a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of the world order.”

Apparently, this is about China. Therefore, the idea of IPP, which is motivated by the value and geostrategic approach, did not cause immediate enthusiasm from the American allies in the region.

Assessing the US initiative to establish IPP, Japanese experts, for example, say that Japan has no objections in principle to such an initiative as long as it is “transparent and inclusive”. To this, they add that this initiative can play a role in the development of interregional relations involving East Asia, South Asia, Africa and Eurasia; the main thing is that it should not be directed against China, since Japan is interested in China’s sustained development and Japan-China relations.

In response, South Korea argues that it is too early to suggest a full approval for the IPP as this initiative has been put forward in the form of a general slogan. Seoul has yet to understand what it is and needs more time to examine it in more detail. If it turns out that the initiative aims to deter China, participation in it of the Republic of Korea will be a “difficult choice” to make.

According to experts of the US Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Indo-Pacific region may account for half of the global economy within decades, but this requires investments of almost $ 26 trillion. Now it is obvious that from the point of view of trade and economic cooperation, the IPP is set to replace the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), which Donald Trump chose to reject, and offer an alternative. US Secretary of Commerce William Ross explains in this respect that TPP agreements require too much effort to conclude and too complicated: “With such major geopolitical phenomena as the TPP, it is impossible to carry out a controlled experiment.”

Verbally, Washington welcomes China’s contribution to regional development, emphasizing that IPP will not be aimed at containing China or opposing China’s Belt and Road Initiative. At the same time, the emphasis is put on the need to adhere to “international standards of transparency, the rule of law and sustainable financing”.

However, in practice, the main reason underlying IPP is the attempt to conduct a “controlled” geostrategic and geoeconomic experiment, by constructing a partnership framework artificially, in the American interests, without taking into account the interests of potential partners who are not interested in political or economic deterrence of China

Supporters of conventional geopolitical approaches say that the creation of IPP means the advance of the US into Eurasia still further from the east to the west by strengthening ties with predominantly “naval” powers in the eastern and southern peripheries of the Eurasian continent (from South Korea to countries of the Arabian Peninsula) and with island states of the Pacific (from Japan to New Zealand). The main purpose of the IPP is the political and military-strategic deterrence of China, the creation of a rigid “framework” that would prevent Beijing from assuming a dominant position in the region.

Whatever the case, American attempts to artificially “patch together” the IPP “from the material at hand” indicate the need for the Russian diplomacy to boost efforts to cement the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership by developing security mechanisms and fostering cooperation in the land areas of the Eurasian “heartland”.

In the first place, such mechanisms involve the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), measures towards linking the Eurasian integration and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the consistent implementation of the Russian initiative to establish the Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP).

India’s participation in these organizations and initiatives is a matter of special concern, while the three-party consultative arrangement Russia-India-China needs further strengthening as well.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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