On May 11, on the third anniversary of India's nuclear tests, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with top Indian government officials to talk about missile defenses and non-proliferation concerns. His message found a receptive audience. Three years after the nadir in U.S.-India relations, the turnaround in relations is striking.
On Wednesday, January 17, India conducted a successful test of the 2000 km-range Agni II nuclear-capable ballistic missile. The test demonstrates that India's nuclear weaponization program continues to progress, albeit in slow-motion. According to Indian officials, this was Agni II's first test in "its final operational configuration," and the mission's objectives were met "satisfactorily." With only two successful tests nearly two years apart, Agni II is still not ready to deploy, although it is a step closer.
On December 20, Pakistan announced a partial withdrawal from the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, responding to India's extension of a cease-fire against Kashmiri militants. India's Prime Minister Vajpayee cited "encouraging developments" in announcing the decision to extend the cease-fire beyond the original December 28 deadline to January 26, 2001. The latest developments suggest that the Indian cease-fire against the militants and Pakistan's commitment to exercise "maximum restraint" along the LoC have succeeded in creating a new dynamic in the region.
On December 3, Pakistan announced that its armed forces along Kashmir's Line of Control (LoC) would immediately "observe maximum restraint in order to strengthen and stabilize the cease-fire." This was in response to an unprecedented Indian cease-fire against Kashmiri militants, which took effect on November 27. India says there has been a "recognizable reduction" in firing across the LoC, but by December 6, Indian troops had killed twelve suspected guerillas trying to cross the LoC, arguing that the cease-fire did not extend to infiltrators. Even as each side wondered about the motivations of the other, these developments have engendered cautious optimism about peace prospects in nuclear-armed South Asia, while demonstrating the many hurdles ahead.
An effective Indian deterrent against Pakistan and China would require one hundred and fifty nuclear warheads, delivered by missiles or bombers, according to a key advisor to the Indian government on nuclear and strategic issues. Mr. K. Subrahmanyam, a leading member of the National Security Advisory Board, which authored India's Draft Nuclear Doctrine, argues that India should "project a credible deterrence," by working out strategies, policies and a command and control structure. He described India's Draft Nuclear Doctrine as a "most logical, most restrained and most economical" document.
"Armed incursions into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan by radical Islamists whose declared aim is to establish a religious state in Central Asia have sent shock waves through Central Asia and have drawn as much international attention to the region as any issue since independence."
Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to India has underscored Moscow's willingness to continue its nuclear cooperation with New Delhi, while strengthening Indo-Russian defense ties. Mr Putin's unprecedented visit to the center of India's nuclear weaponization program -- Bhabha Atomic Research Center - was perceived "like a blessing from the top for Indo-Russian nuclear ties." The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding expanding cooperation in peaceful nuclear energy. Details were not forthcoming, but The Hindu quoted sources saying the memorandum "is a Russian commitment to contribute to India's growing nuclear energy requirements."
Pakistan reportedly has begun full-scale production of the Shaheen I, a 600 km-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile, successfully tested in April 1999. On September 21, the Pakistani daily The News quoted an unnamed government official saying, "mass production of Shaheen, which can hit Indian strategic points like Mumbai [formerly known as Bombay] and others with 100% accuracy, has started.
India's Prime Minister, Atal Behari
Vajpayee arrives in Washington on September 13, amidst international fears
that South Asia remains a nuclear tinderbox. According to the outgoing
Indian Chief of Army Staff, "the chances of war are much more than they
were …five years ago."