Lack of mechanism to prevent use of India-Pak nukes worries US

Lack of mechanism to prevent use of India-Pak nukes worries US

The absence of any mechanism to prevent the use of atomic weapons by India and Pakistan worries the United States, even as their nuclear arsenals make war unthinkable, a top Pentagon official has said.

"Pakistan and India, obviously, have a history of very tense relationships. Both countries possess nuclear weapons, which I know the Indian government recognises is the kind of weaponry that makes war really unthinkable, yet another reason for making it more unthinkable," said Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B Carter.

"I think the leaders on both sides recognise that," Carter told PTI in an interview.

"Therefore, our principal concern is that there not be any mechanism that could lead inadvertently to the use of nuclear weapons or resort to nuclear weapons. That's my principal worry, as was during the Cold War (the) principal worry with respect to the US and the Soviet Union," he said.

Carter said he did not think the leaders of India and Pakistan "were crazy enough or foolish enough" to use nuclear weapons against one another's people, but "there was always the possibility that this thing could get out of control".

Ahead of a visit to the region, including Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, Carter said the Obama administration is trying very hard to keep the momentum going with Pakistan which it regained about five or six months ago.

"We all need, I think, a good security relationship with Pakistan. They have internal challenges, and I think they're increasingly seeing that the internal insurgency in Pakistan is a threat to the Pakistani state," he said.

"And that, in turn, is a threat to Afghanistan, because those insurgents (come over the) border in Afghanistan, and that's a threat to India, because those groups have shown the willingness and the capability to make attacks in India."

The US is continuing to "work very hard, including with the new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif", on the defence relationship with Pakistan and to emphasise that "Pakistan's relations with its two neighbours are very critical, not just to Pakistan, but to the US, and obviously to India and to Afghanistan", he said.

Pakistan's ties with the US hit an all-time low after CIA contractor Raymond Davis gunned down two men in Lahore in early 2011 and Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a unilateral American raid in Abbottabad a few months later.

The CIA-operated drone campaign in Pakistan's tribal belt continues to be an irritant in bilateral ties ahead of the drawdown of foreign forces in war-torn Afghanistan.
Responding to questions, Carter made it clear the US is not leaving Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

"I expect that the bilateral security agreement will be signed, which is the only sort of technical obstacle to the enduring presence, the continuing presence of American forces in Afghanistan, helping the Afghan forces to continue to grow in size, but especially in their capability," he said.

"And they're really showing it now. They're really showing it this summer."

Carter said though the campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan has fallen off the world's radar screen and out of the media, it has been successful in defeating the insurgency in many key areas and in building the Afghan security forces. "I'm very optimistic about it," he said.

"What we want is, as the Afghan security forces get more powerful, that we can slowly wind down the international coalition forces so that the sum, in any year, of Afghan power and coalition power is much greater than insurgent power," he said.

"That's what we've had for several years now and the balance is shifting, but the fact still remains that we're defeating the insurgency. And that's going to continue to go on after 2014."

The US, Carter said, is in Afghanistan for the long run. "So I say that because some people seem to think that we're leaving at the end of 2014 or something. I know that would be a concern to India, because it would mean that there was a greater risk of instability in Afghanistan, and that's your neighbourhood."

The US administration's Asia-Pacific rebalance is not aimed at China and India is a key player in this new policy, Carter said.

"India's right at the centre of things. It's the only country that is called out by name in our new strategic guidance that the President gave us a year-and-a-half ago that enshrines the so-called rebalance," the Deputy Secretary of Defense said.

"We like to say that our rebalance is not only a rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, Indian Ocean area, but a rebalance within that region. The traditional American focus, going back to the Cold War, was on Northeast Asia. And now our focus is all around Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and very importantly, the Indian Ocean area."

India has "tremendous interests" in the Indian Ocean region and can exercise a lot of responsibility on behalf of the countries in the area, he said.

"I know that's important to India, and it fits right into our idea of a rebalance," Carter said in response to a question.

The philosophy behind the rebalance, he said, is the perpetuation of a role the US has played in the Asia-Pacific for decades - its military power has had a pivotal role in keeping peace in a region with lots of flashpoints.

"You see antagonism between China and Japan, between China and Korea, between Korea and Japan, and...a lot of historical animosity, no formal security structure like NATO," he said.

The US has had a "balancing and reassuring role" in the region that has made possible the political and economic development that started in Northeast Asia, then Southeast Asia, and now South Asia. "I think that was enabled by the role and posture of the US," he said.

Carter said the rebalance is "not aimed" at China. "Our leaders have made it very clear that they don't want competition between our two countries. They don't want an arms race between our two countries. My own view is that that is unlikely as it is unwise," he said.

"So if you think about it, China has benefited from the stability that the US has contributed to. It is the US which has in part created the climate in which China can pursue its own path to economic and political development."

Responding to a question on India-China relations, Carter said India wants to have good relations with China. "Quite apart from what we're doing, we respect the Indian view, which I think is pretty much the same as hours, namely that India, too, wants to have good relations with China," he said.

"But, you know, nothing's automatic in...the world of security. You have to work to keep good, sensible results going. Peace within the Asia Pacific region isn't guaranteed.  We all have to play our role to earn it. I think that's what the leaders of India and China and the US and all the other countries are trying to do in Asia right now," he said.