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What's Next In India And Pakistan Flare-Up


At this hour, Pakistani officials are set to return a captured Indian pilot to his country. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, switching between English and Urdu, called the pilot's release a peace gesture.


PRIME MINISTER IMRAN KHAN: (Speaking Urdu) as a peace gesture (speaking Urdu).


INSKEEP: The applause there is no surprise since the two nuclear powers had been exchanging gunfire. Joining us to discuss this is Ramesh Thakur, who was assistant secretary general of the United Nations and is now director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, which is based in Australia. Welcome to the program, sir.


INSKEEP: Does it look like everyone is backing away from the brink?

THAKUR: It certainly looks like that. And as you said, the release of the pilot seems imminent at the border in Wagah.

INSKEEP: But there is still the underlying rivalry between these two countries, which is centered, at the moment, on the disputed and divided territory of Kashmir. This has been a sequence in which there was a terrorist attack on Indian soil, then an Indian response on alleged terrorist sites inside Pakistani-controlled territory. Have the two sides moved any closer to resolving the underlying dispute?

THAKUR: No, they haven't. And in fact, India has not responded to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's suggestion for direct peace talks. A part of the difficulty on the Indian side is they really don't know who to talk to because India policy, national security policy and nuclear policy and Kashmir policy - the Pakistan army has a veto on all that.

INSKEEP: Oh, so you're saying that if Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, says, I want to have peace talks with India, India might say, well, you're not actually the person we need to talk to. We need to talk to the top general.

THAKUR: Well, I don't think any Indian government would have confidence that Imran Khan could deliver on any deal reached if it violates red lines for the army.

INSKEEP: OK. So if just talking to each other is not a way that you could start to resolve this more than 70-year-old conflict, what is a way forward?

THAKUR: Well, they were going to have to talk at some stage. The basic problem from India's point of view is the nature of the Pakistan state. I mean, the old joke has it that other countries have a state. In Pakistan, the army has a state. The state has an army in other countries. In Pakistan, the army has a state.


THAKUR: So that remains a problem. And there are other complicating issues, as well, of course. You've got both countries with nuclear weapons that are increasing in numbers. Both have fewer than 150 and with Pakistan about 10 more than India.

They're expanding into - from land to sea-based and air-based platforms. There are disputes over territorial matters, Kashmir being divided between the two in terms of control. And of course, you have a huge problem of any number of jihadist groups, as the U.S. and NATO discovered for themselves through a long war in Afghanistan and elements of duplicity from the deep state in Pakistan.

INSKEEP: OK, a couple of things to...

THAKUR: And that makes for a very toxic cocktail.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about two of the ingredients in that cocktail. Husain Haqqani, the former ambassador from Pakistan to the United States, was on the program yesterday. And he said the U.S. is taking a different approach here - less sympathetic to Pakistan because Pakistan has allowed terror groups to operate from its soil. Has a different U.S. position successfully pressured Pakistan to reconsider its connections to terror groups?

THAKUR: Well, I think Pakistan has been doing quite a lot, but Pakistan has made a distinction between those jihadist groups that won't listen to the government or the military in the intelligence complex and those that are still useful to Pakistan for keeping pressure both on Afghanistan and on India, and that is a problem. As Hillary Clinton said when she was secretary of state, if you keep snakes in your backyard, occasionally, they might turn around and bite you, as well. So Pakistan has suffered, ironically, more than, I think, India and Pakistan from the terrorists that have gone out of - gone roguish-like (ph) from their point of view.

INSKEEP: OK, so one more ingredient in the cocktail here that I want ask about in a few seconds. From what you're saying, it sounds like it's possible there could be more flare-ups because there's no immediate solution in sight. Do both countries have their nuclear arsenals well-secured and controlled to avoid some accidental or overenthusiastic nuclear war?

THAKUR: Yes, they do. But one of the fears is that jihadist groups might launch provocations precisely to get these nuclear weapons out from safe, secure storage so that then they can get their hands on it or to provoke a crisis where it's used. And Pakistan has developed tactical nuclear weapons, which will have to be deployed on the forward edge of the battlefield.

INSKEEP: Ramesh Thakur of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, thanks for your insights - really appreciate it.

THAKUR: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.