Towards Regional Stability: Establish An Indo-Pak Nuclear Commission


By D Suba Chandran

Between India and Pakistan, there is little understanding of each other’s nuclear capabilities and doctrines. There is likely to be an increased international pressure on both countries, as a part of the renewed efforts towards global nuclear disarmament. Both regional instability and the likely international pressure calls for an intensive dialogue and innovative approaches.

At the regional level, Pakistan does not consider India’s nuclear doctrine (especially the No-First-Use and Minimum Credible Deterrence) as credible. Rather, Islamabad in Pakistan believes that during crisis period, India will not adhere to its NFU. Besides, the NFU will result in India preparing for a second strike capability, thereby increasing its nuclear arsenals considerably. According to Pakistan, this makes India’s credible deterrence anything but minimal, besides the fact, leading to an arms race. More importantly, Pakistan today believes, that after the Indo-US nuclear deal, India will be able to amass sufficient fissile materials, enabling it to lead the nuclear arms race in South Asia, at a considerable pace, leaving Pakistan behind.

On the other hand, India believes, that its doctrine including the NFU and minimum credible deterrence, is a source of stability. A section within India even believes that the NFU actually provides the space for Pakistan, to engage in overt and covert activities, as India will not be the first use nuclear weapons. Regarding the nuclear deal with the US, a section believes, that this agreement has come up with certain military costs (besides the economic costs), in terms of opening its nuclear facilities to international inspection. India has made substantial commitments to the international organizations including the IAEA and NSG. Pakistan, however, has got a similar understanding with Beijing, without any such commitments.

At the international level, after the relative success of the NPT Review Conference 2010, one is likely to see an increased international pressure on India and Pakistan; especially relating to certain international nuclear treaties – primarily the CTBT and FMCT. The fact that it will not be easy for Obama to get the CTBT ratified will provide space for India and Pakistan to debate the CTBT or prolong the decision. Unfortunately, the FMCT does not provide that space to both countries. Despite the bold statements, it is unlikely that the two countries would be able to withstand the international pressure. Pakistan is dilly dallying with calling for a FMT (Fissile Material Treaty) instead of an FMCT. This suits India, for New Delhi can argue that it will be willing to sign the FMCT, if Islamabad is ready to do the same. Pakistan is afraid that if it signs the FMCT now, it will not be able to match up with India’s already produced fissile materials.

While the Lahore Memorandum provides space for a nuclear dialogue, and there already exists an earlier agreement on sharing each other’s nuclear installations, there is not much trust between the two countries. The reason is the lack of any meaningful and intensive nuclear dialogue, sustained over a period – either at Track-I or Track-II levels. As a part of confidence building, numerous nuclear risk reduction measures have been proposed already. Establishment of Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers (NRRCs) on the models of US-Russia has been widely discussed in the strategic circles. Undoubtedly, the NRRCs are a welcome suggestion, but are limited and negative in approach. It hopes to establish two nuclear centers, which will be technical in nature, providing details/alerts regarding nuclear dangers, accidental use and related issues.

What is needed now, at the Indo-Pak level is a positive, larger institution that provides space for continuous and intensive interaction on nuclear issues, which remain uninterrupted with other political/militant developments in Indo-Pak level. None of the major nuclear treaties at the international level are a result of casual one-off meeting, held over a period of two days. International nuclear agreements are the result of an intensive interaction, over a period of years. If India and Pakistan are to have any productive debate leading to a stable understanding, then the nuclear dialogue needs something larger than a mere NRRC, at the technical level.

This is where an Indo-Pak Nuclear Commission on the models of Indus Water Commission may be an idea worth pursuing. Indus Water Commission, created in 1960 after a prolonged negotiation, which resulted in the famous Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), provides two Indus Water Commissioners in India and Pakistan. The Indus Water Commission has met periodically ever since 1960, irrespective of wars and proxy wars, and regime changes. If the IWT is hailed as a major example, of a treaty that have survived four wars and numerous proxy wars, it is because that the Indus Water Commission never broke down, and its Commissioners never failed to meet each other. Two positive ideas from the Indus Water Commission are worth borrowing: an exclusive commission and periodic meeting, irrespective of the prevailing political climate.

The Indo-Pak Nuclear Commission, unlike the proposed NRRC should not be only technical. It could be an ideal forum for the discussion of nuclear doctrines and understanding each other’s anxieties and fears. While the NRRCs will contain two centers in India and Pakistan, the Nuclear Commission could facilitate regular meetings, alternatively in India and Pakistan. In fact, the NRRC could be the technical arm of the Nuclear Commission. Such an Indo-Pak Nuclear Commission has the potential to become a great stabilizer of nuclear relations between the two countries.

D Suba Chandran, Deputy Director, IPCS, may be reached at [email protected]


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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