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A Level Playing Field

A Level Playing Field

THE recent Washington Post leak that some Prithvi surface-to-surface guided missiles were moved to Jalandhar and stored there have led to holier-than-thou sermons by non-proliferation pundits. Never mind the fact that there has been no whistle blowing over the presence of Chinese-made M-11s at the Pakistani air base, Sargodha. Worse, the war of words that ensued has diverted attention from the tactical and diplomatic rationale behind the Indian move.

Prithvi is seen as a deterrence instrument, which means that its presence deters the other side from attacking for fear of retaliation. However, one crucial element of deterrence is that it should be believable and that is possible only if the other side believes that were it to launch an attack, there would be a retaliatory attack. This may explain why the army felt it necessary to move the missiles to Jalandhar and why it may actually move them right up to the border. Once the regiment is certain that it has perfected the tactics and is confident that it can move the missiles  from its peace locations to the forward positions in a reasonable amount of time, it may actually move back to its peacetime location at Secunderabad. This is standard military practice for all new weapon systems. Another reason why the Prithvis are unlikely to be kept at Jalandhar is that there they are sitting targets for a pre-emptive strike by the Pakistani Air Force.

There are two diplomatic reasons behind the Indian move. First, it calls the Pakistani bluff and forces them to reveal the presence of their own M-11s, especially following the Pakistan government's assertion that India's move could trigger a dangerous arms race in the region and prompt Pakistan to take necessary measures. And were that to happen, it calls the US bluff that it does not have adequate evidence to prove the presence of M-11 missiles in Pakistan to impose sanctions on China. Second, by moving the missiles forward, India has created a level playing field and made it possible to put the issue of missile deployment on the agenda of the Indo-Pakistan talks.

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