Originally Published 2003-11-17 07:31:27 Published on Nov 17, 2003
After decades of being on the backburner, the 9-11 terrorist attacks forced America to take a fresh look at the South Asian region. The last time the US had focused on this region was immediately following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which required US policymakers to structure their policies to fit the Cold War paradigm.
Analysing South Asian Analysts
After decades of being on the backburner, the 9-11 terrorist attacks forced America to take a fresh look at the South Asian region. The last time the US had focused on this region was immediately following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which required US policymakers to structure their policies to fit the Cold War paradigm. However, the post 9-11 focus on South Asia required America to view South Asia with completely different policy objectives in mind, foremost of happens to be the eradication of anti-American Islamic terrorism.

As before, US policymakers as well as legislators base their policy decisions on the analysis provided to them by independent analysts. The robustness of the analysis, therefore, is critical to prevent poor decision-making. The intelligence analysis leading up to the 9-11 attacks, as well as the WMD-program in Iraq are classic examples of where the data was analyzed to fit what was thought of as "common sense" conclusions. In both cases, the holes in the analysis have themselves been subject to further analysis. However, it does not appear that the fundamental mistakes underlying poor analysis are being corrected. The reports generated for the Congressional Research Service on Missile Proliferation in South Asia as well as on India-US and Pakistan-US relationships seem to suffer from a fundamental flaw of groupthink, where the analyses follow a predetermined thought chain and data is selectively used to justify the analyses.

What is Group Think?

Groupthink is not a new concept. It was first conceived in the 1950s and has since been used to explain many policy and decision-making failures. Janis defined groupthink as:

"A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive group, when members striving for unanimity override their motivations to realistically appraise alternative courses of action."

Janis was analyzing the poor decisions that led to the Bay of Pigs invasion, for example, and has based much of his conclusions on the seminal work of Asch on Social Psychology. The process leading to poor decision making is briefly described as deriving from (a) Isolated, cohesive, and homogeneous decision making leading to the classic symptoms of groupthink exhibiting (b) closed mindedness, rationalization, squelching of dissent and a feeling of righteousness and invulnerability leading to (c) an incomplete examination of the alternatives, a failure to examine risks and contingencies and an incomplete search for information all of which then lead to (d) poor decision-making.

GroupThink in the India-Pakistan Context

In the India and Pakistan realm, groupthink dictates that India and Pakistan must always be hyphenated and every obvious deleterious act by Pakistan has to be "balanced" with a reference to a "causal" action by India, however gratuitous or illogical the "causality" sounds. In essence, the "experts" review all the data from within the established paradigm and force-fit the anomalous data to the paradigm by resorting to logical gymnastics. In this process the "experts" dismiss data that is inconsistent with the paradigm as "questionable". By not questioning the India-Pakistan dyad paradigm and its underlying assumptions, no new ideas are generated, and more importantly, key trends are missed because of faulty analyses.

Why India and Pakistan are Not a Dyad

Tracing all the way back to the partition, India and Pakistan have a history of conflict that has resulted in three major wars (1971, 1965, and 1948), one minor one (1999), and proxy wars in Kashmir (1984-present) and Indian Punjab (1981-1993). It is therefore easy to assume that the other drives each nation's foreign policy objectives, and strategic imperatives. Further, since the two nations were hewn by the British along religious lines, it is easy to assume that the conflict is between Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Finally, since much of the conflict has occurred over the territory of Kashmir, it is easy to conclude that the future of Kashmir is the root cause of the tension. The reality is significantly different.

Religious Definitions are flawed

India is a functioning democracy, where a variety of religions and races live in harmony. While India does suffer from occasional ethnic, religious or regional tensions, they generally tend to be localized and remain so due to the strong democratic infrastructure. The only other multi-cultural parallel to India is the United States. Although the United States is a Christian majority state, it is well recognized that viewing US actions from a religious prism is flawed. Viewing India as a Hindu State is just as incorrect. Pakistan, on the other hand is a religious state. Its entire raison d'etre is based on its claim that it is the home for the subcontinent's Muslims. Its very name, in Urdu, means "Land of the Pure", meaning wherein the pure are implicitly defined as being Muslim. Pakistani actions and government statements are routinely couched in Islamic terms. Creating an analysis that is based on Muslim Pakistan versus Hindu India is doomed to failure, because it fails to understand the fundamental drivers of the two states. The Indian ethos is secular and democratic, while the Pakistani ideology argues that Muslims should reject all non-Muslim governments, even if they are democratic. Accepting that ideology at face value strengthens the arguments of Islamic fundamentalists everywhere.

Kashmir is not the Root Cause

The other basis involves positioning Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint. Often, the discussion circles around the "self-determination" of the Kashmiris, without ever questioning the meaning of "self-determination" in the appropriate context. The notion of self-determination was one that gained currency during the colonial age when vast peoples were under occupation and without basic individual rights. The notion of self-determination implied providing to the people the right to democratically elect their leaders, make their own laws and taxation. In the Indian state of Kashmir, the citizenry are free to elect their leaders and routinely replace their leaders through elections. The most recent elections had a voter turnout that was observed by the US Embassy, and saw larger percentage of people casting their ballot than vote in the US general elections. All this occurred despite a ferocious campaign of terror unleashed by Pakistan based Islamic terror groups. American troops facing a terrorist insurgency in Iraq will probably appreciate that it is hard to conduct democratic elections in the face of terror. On the other hand, the part of Kashmir that is under Pakistani control has never had a free election in its history.

As the Kashmir linked terrorist groups themselves admit, Kashmir is just the first step in their campaign to impose their version of intolerant Islam on the world. Therefore, any argument linking Pakistan's fulfillment of its obligations to curtail terrorism with "concessions" from India over Kashmir is both facile and dangerous. Should the terrorists win in Kashmir, they will be more emboldened, not less. The same Islamism that calls for "liberation" of Kashmir shouts anti-American slogans in Pakistan and engages in proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to America's enemies.

Analyzing Pakistan

As noted above, any analysis of Pakistan that ignores the fundamental role played by religion is doomed to failure. Not only is Pakistan an Islamic state, it is a state that depends on Islamism to survive. The only nationalist sentiment that keeps Pakistan together is grounded in Islam, and enmity to other religions. There is a strong correlation between a Pakistani ethos of aspiring to be the "leader" of the Islamic world and the fact that every global Islamic terrorist act has a Pakistani connection. To the rational observer, though, it is evident that the emergence of Al Qaeda, the sanctuary provided to them by the Taliban, the ability of the 9/11 planners to move funds freely and operate from a comfort zone could all be tied to the Pakistani policy of encouraging Jihad. This Pakistani policy has still not changed for the most part. By Gen.Musharraf's own admission, Pakistan's support for the United States in its war on terror was grounded in the Treaty of Hudabiya, where Prophet Mohammad urges a temporary alliance with the enemy until the time is right to turn on the enemy.

Many South Asian analysts treat the Islamists and the Pakistani Army Establishment as distinct entities. The reality is that the Musharraf led Army and the Islamists represent two sides of the same coin. Pakistan cannot completely shut down the Jihad machine because it cannot let go of the Islamists, and it cannot let go of the Islamists because it will not let go of its irregular war with India over Kashmir. Permitting Pakistan to link an end to its support to Islamist terrorists with an ever-elusive comprehensive Kashmir settlement allows it to maintain open-ended support for Islamist terrorism against American and Western interests around the world. If anything, any Kashmir compromise would likely free up the Pakistani Jihadi hordes to focus more on American interests, rather than killing Indians.

Analyzing India

India is typically analyzed from within the framework established for Pakistan. Since Pakistan is an Islamic state, and it is at war with India, this must be because India is a Hindu state. Pakistan is known to have been the recipient of nuclear weapons proliferation from China and missile technology proliferation from China and North Korea, therefore India must be the recipient of proliferation from other states. Since Pakistan is known to have proliferated nuclear technology to North Korea, India must be a likely proliferator as well.

This framework is fundamentally flawed. India is a civilization-state that believes it has a role on the world stage because of its democratic polity, population, historical ties and multi-cultural ethos. It understands that the greatest threats to its long-term strategic position derive from China, not Pakistan. It has built up a significant pool of highly scientific talent, which is starting to play a major role in the global marketplace. With regard to Indian nuclear weapons technology, there is not so much as a whisper of technology transfer to or from any other nation. Similarly, the allegations regarding missile technology transfer have been thoroughly discredited.

The technical capability that India has developed has enabled it to steadily build up a space launch and satellite fabrication capability. Suggesting that it is the recipient of proliferated or stolen technology severely underestimates the strength of its indigenous technical capability. India's record with regard to not proliferating either nuclear or missile technology is also one of long standing. There are no reports of any kind, that suggest that the Indian government has ever proliferated nuclear or missile technology to any nation, much less to nations that are known to be state sponsors of terror or failing states (such as North Korea, Syria or Saudi Arabia). Again, quite clearly, the equality-theorem fails. India does not behave like Pakistan, because it is not like Pakistan.

Examples of Flawed Conclusions

Congressional Reports, by their very nature, are intended to provide all sides of the discussion, without prejudice. However, one must not use this as a crutch for a failure of analysis. A scientific discussion of Earth's shape including all sides of the argument, for example, will devote very little time to the Flat Earth theory, because it has been discredited. Consequently, it is essential that such discredited notions not make their way into such reports. There are a number of suggestions made in the CRS Report on Missile Proliferation that trace their antecedents to the above referenced groupthink. This article will address some of the more egregious ones. It is not suggested that this is the extent of the groupthink evident in the report.

"MTCR-Related Issues. Some experts have expressed concern that India or Pakistan might export their missiles or nuclear technology to other nations, increasing the number of nuclear missile-armed nations thereby increasing the security risk to the United States and other countries."

This is a classic example of the flawed conclusions that derive from the discredited India-Pakistan dyad. The reality is that there is plenty of non-classified, open source material, including CRS reports, confirming that Pakistan has exported its nuclear technology to other nations including North Korea, and has been continuously obtained missile technology from North Korea and China. Therefore, not only is there a "risk" that Pakistan "might" export its missiles or nuclear technology, it is a well-known fact that this has occurred. Worse, there are clear links between Al Qaeda and Pakistan's nuclear establishment.

In contrast, there has been only one case of export violation concerning a private Indian company. Indian authorities have fully cooperated in the multilateral investigation and punished the concerned individuals and private entities. Clearly, the nature and pattern of India's behavior show that it makes more sense to put India in the same bracket as major industrialized nations where private organizations may break export laws for profit, but the governments guard sensitive technologies vigorously. This contrasts with the Pakistani patterns of behavior, which puts it in the category of rogue governments deliberately engaged in proliferation. The Pakistani entities that have been sanctioned are fully government owned and the responsible people have still not been brought to justice. Clearly, the gratuitous mention of India as a proliferator in the same league as Pakistan, is egregious and misleads American lawmakers.

"Export Controls. Another option that could be explored is a multilateral initiative to assist India and Pakistan in improving their export control systems, particularly as they pertain to missile technology."

The only time there is a need to improve an "export control system" is if there has been demonstrated to be a flaw in it. In the case of Pakistan, it is clear that WMD technology has been exported. As to whether this is due to a lack of control, or despite it - due to the will of the Government of Pakistan - is debatable. In the case of India, such controls are clearly irrelevant - as it has never exported the technology. Given its irrelevance to India, is the exploration of such an option in the case of India a valid recommendation? Alternatively, is this merely another aspect of the dyad that suggests that if a recommendation is relevant to Pakistan it is relevant to India?

"Were the United States to provide such systems to India and Pakistan, issues related to technology transfer would arise. Policymakers, including many in Congress, would be concerned about the potential for onward transfer of advanced U.S. missile defense technology to countries such as North Korea, Iran, China, and Russia."

Again, the authors attempt to create equivalence between a state that has been known to engage in technology transfer (Pakistan) and one that has not. Clearly, India has the potential to transfer missile technology to a third party, but so do other "responsible" missile powers such as the United Kingdom. The suggestion that the UK might be a potential proliferator to interests inimical to the US would be met with scorn. Yet, the proliferation record of India compares with that of the United Kingdom. When recommendations and suggestions are made that are divorced from the facts, as they exist, they will result in poor conclusions and decisions.

"Congress might also review the scope of the PSI in terms of India and Pakistan - will proscribed shipments to or from these countries be interdicted or will we choose not to interdict in order to maintain favorable relations with both countries and their continued cooperation in the global war on terror?"

"A series of U.S.-sponsored naval interdiction exercises called "Pacific Protector" were conducted in September 2003, involving Australia and Great Britain, as part of the PSI.85 While the Administration claims that the PSI does not target any particular country, many experts believe that the PSI was developed in response to growing North Korean missile exports and technological assistance to countries of concern. In theory, both India and Pakistan could be subject to seizures of WMD and missile-related items under the PSI."

The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is relevant in the context of countries that may be believed to be engaging in the trafficking of proscribed materials. Prime candidates in this regard include China (for trafficking to Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Iraq) , Pakistan (for trafficking to North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia) . India on the other hand, has not only never engaged in proliferation, but has been the only nation to actually interdict third-party vessels to recovery missile components when it seized the North Korean vessel, the KuWolSan while it was on its way to deliver missile parts to Libya and perhaps Pakistan. In other words, a review of the facts at hand will suggest that India is a prime candidate as an enforcer of PSI, whereas Pakistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and China are likely to be the targets of such activity. Yet, the groupthink tainted analysis leads to the laughable conclusion that India and Pakistan are to be treated in the same fashion with respect to the PSI.

"Another facet of U.S. concern in this area regards fears that terrorists in Pakistan or India might gain access to nuclear materials in those countries. Options for addressing this possibility include authorizing expansion of Cooperative Threat Reduction programs aimed at securing Pakistan's and/or India's nuclear assets, or otherwise seeking to make the region's nuclear arsenals safer through new initiatives"

This suggests that terrorists operate in a similar fashion in India and Pakistan, suggesting that there is an equal probability of their acquisition of nuclear materials. The actuality is that there is a preponderance of Islamist terrorists in Pakistan, many of whom have links to the very top of the Intelligence services, the Armed Forces and the Government of Pakistan. Top Pakistani nuclear scientists, including the purported "Father" of Pakistan's nuclear program, have openly associated themselves with Al Qaida linked terrorist groups. In addition, the past few chiefs of Intelligence as well as many retired Generals have also supported the same terrorist groups. Given this and the fact that the Pakistan army provides the security of Pakistan's nuclear material, this is an alarming threat.

In India, on the other hand, for terrorists to obtain nuclear materials they would have to organize an attack on the nuclear and military establishment. Indian nuclear security, however, appears to be strong. There have been no reports in Western, Indian or other media of security problems in DAE, DRDO or IAF facilities. Therefore it seems unlikely that terrorists could break in and steal such material in India. Certainly any theft of nuclear material from India is far less likely than the former USSR, which cannot account for all of its nuclear material.

"Among the future developments that could exacerbate regional tensions are the increased influence of Hindu nationalism in New Delhi and/or the increased influence of Islamic fundamentalism in Islamabad."

The author makes the critical flaw of suggesting equivalence between "Islamic fundamentalism" and "Hindu nationalism" in understanding the regional threats. While the current democratically elected Indian government has a good number of Hindu nationalists, the Islamic fundamentalists already control Pakistan. Indian Hindu Nationalists have also never had any record of threatening the US or any of its allies, unlike the Islamists in Pakistan. Comparing the threat to American interests from Pakistani Islamists with a theoretical one from Hindu nationalists is as absurd as comparing Al Qaeda with the Christian Right in America. As to regional tensions in South Asia, the most likely reason for any escalation is a terrorist attack by the supposedly banned Pakistan based terrorist groups in India. Any US efforts to reduce tension, consequently, must pay most attention to the Pakistani unwillingness to rein in the Islamist terrorists.

"Some experts believe that India's ballistic missile program is motivated primarily by a desire for political and technological prestige, and to a lesser extent, strategic military considerations towards Pakistan and China."

Clearly there may be "some experts" that believe that Indian missile program is motivated by "prestige". Equally there are "some experts" that believe that the Earth is flat or in the "Creationist Theory" of humans. Granting their views credibility serves the dangerous role of undermining a true understanding of the drivers behind India's acquisition of ballistic missile technology.

India has a long, contested border with China, which still occupies a large area of land it took from India in the bloody 1962 border war. China still has claims on more Indian territory. Given this, it is patent that the impetus for India's Integrated Guided Missile Development Program was the rapid advances made by China in the field of missile development and more importantly due to the weak American response Chinese nuclear and missile proliferation to Pakistan. Any one else in the position of Indian planners need only have seen the rapid advancements in the range, payload and numbers of Chinese missiles and the total failure of global non-proliferation regimes to affect Chinese transfer of missiles and nuclear technology to Pakistan would have reached the same conclusion - India needs to develop indigenous missiles to ensure a credible deterrent. To deny this causal chain of events and to claim that a nation of the size of India has democratically elected rulers who make national security decisions to assuage egos is preposterous to say the least.

"The BrahMos Cruise Missile. Concerns have been raised about current and proposed U.S. missile defense vulnerability to the alleged supersonic, stealth enhanced BrahMos cruise missile being developed by Russia and India. Could these missiles in the hands of hostile states and non-state actors, provide them with a dangerous asymmetric military advantage?"

There is no doubt that the provision of these missiles to hostile states and non-state actors would provide them with a dangerous asymmetric military advantage. Equally, the provision of the Trident, by the United Kingdom to "hostile states and non-state actors" would provide them with a similar asymmetric military advantage. However, the United Kingdom shows no such inclination. Understanding the strategic compulsions of the various nations will introduce clarity of conclusion.

The Government of Pakistan has consistently believed it can compensate for its lack of strategic depth and military inferiority with regard to India, by using non-state actors to advance its strategic goals. It is compelled by the same strategic compulsions to obtain nuclear technology from China, to trade the same technology to North Korea in exchange for missile technology, and to trade both to Saudi Arabia in exchange for financial and religious considerations. Pakistan has also never been willing to end such dangerous dealings, even when US officials point out that it endangers American and global security, preferring instead to take superficial actions to show false results. Pakistan also seems to believe that its possession of nuclear weapons and its apparent recklessness with them would insulate it from any adverse actions by America. India on the other hand is a status quoist state. Antagonizing the United States or consorting with non-state actors does not serve any of its goals.


The CRS report on Missile Proliferation in South Asia singularly fails to take a deeper look into Pakistan's proliferation pattern. The report underplays the fact that Pakistan's nuclear/missile "partners" include Iran, Iraq and North Korea, all anti-American regimes. Worse, the report fails to discuss the well-documented links between Al Qaida and many Pakistani nuclear scientists as well as high-ranking Pakistani military officers. The report also leaves unsaid the various statements by high ranking serving and retired officers of the Pakistan Army as well as political leaders advocating using the strength of Pakistan's "Islamic Bomb" to "make a stand" against America and even Israel. This, in conjunction with the nuclear proliferation by Pakistan cannot be construed as anything but a threat to American interests. Instead, the report seems to gloss over what many dispassionate observers see as an ever-growing threat from Pakistan by linking it with a non-existent threat posed by India. This only serves to underestimate and becloud the clear and present threat faced by America. Unless American analysts make an attempt to think out of the India-Pakistan box, any analysis of South Asia will remain fundamentally flawed.

Kaushik Kapistalam is an IT professional based in Atlanta who has an abiding interest in the geo-politics of south Asia.
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