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June 2, 2022
Banking on an Outsider: Implications for Escalation Control in South Asia
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Moeed Yusuf

The potential for confrontation between India and Pakistan continues to worry many around the world. The two nuclear powers are highly crisis prone; they have been embroiled in at least three major crises since they declared their nuclear weapons capabilities to the world in 1998. Over the past decade, terrorism on Indian soil has become the number one trigger for Indian-Pakistani crises. The threat still remains clear and present. Prior crises were initiated due to provocative posturing (1987) and even confusion and misperception (1990). These also remain plausible drivers of the next crisis.[1]

Each Indian-Pakistani crisis implies increased tensions, tit-for-tat brinkmanship, and an inherent risk of escalation. This bodes ill for peace in the region because the most likely scenario leading to a nuclear war is an Indian-Pakistani military escalation caused by a crisis-triggering event. Crisis behavior in the past has tended to bring out the most dangerous elements of the Indian-Pakistani nuclear equation. Concerns emanate from the lack of transparency in nuclear postures and strategies, ambiguous red lines, lack of early-warning capabilities, concerns about the safety and security of the arsenals, structural realities such as geographical proximity, and, not least, a tendency to look to a third party—the United States—to avoid uncontrolled escalation.

This last aspect, namely the expected role of the third party as the principal agent for de-escalation in a nuclear environment, is destabilizing in that it attaches expectations that this outsider may be unable to fulfill. Moreover, it leads the principal parties to avoid institutionalizing bilateral mechanisms for escalation control. An absence of these mechanisms, in turn, makes the third party, in this case the United States, eager to mediate, not only because of its fears of uncontrolled escalation but also because of its important interests in the region. During the Kargil conflict of 1999 and the 2001-2002 military standoff—the two most serious crises since the 1998 nuclear tests—the third-party role was prominent. A significant proportion of the signaling also was routed through third parties. This was most obvious in the 2001-2002 crisis when both sides actively looked to the United States to weigh in on their side and force the other to pull back. In essence, escalation control was “contracted out.”

This model of escalation control is especially dangerous in the South Asian context, not only because future crises are believed to be highly likely but also because there is a strong belief among decision-makers on both sides that U.S. diplomatic intervention will be able to keep a lid on escalation. Even more worrisome, they wish for the United States to intervene in support of their position; they want cessation of hostilities, but on their terms. Such a belief has implications, both for escalation control in South Asia and for U.S. policy and actions during future crises. Will the United States be in a position to play the role each side envisages? Even more fundamentally, is its intervention likely to be stabilizing, or will it end up inducing further instability into the equation?

Behavior in Past Crises

The only two nuclear crises since the end of the Cold War that saw active mobilization of military forces on both sides were between India and Pakistan. In 1999, just a year after Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, Pakistan-backed operatives infiltrated Indian Kashmir and captured strategic heights at Kargil. Fears of escalation to the nuclear level were raised in many global capitals almost instantly. Even though the scope of this confrontation and the use of nuclear signals were limited,[2] two aspects of the crisis did have implications for future behavior.

The first was the third party’s role: rather than looking to resolve the conflict bilaterally, Pakistan sought external help. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reached out to China directly, and subsequently to U.S. President Bill Clinton, to seek assistance in stopping the fighting and pushing India to resolve the dispute over Kashmir.

Second, even if this was not one of Pakistan’s original objectives, the Kargil episode ended up indicating the possibility of limited conflict below the nuclear threshold. Pakistan, having the conventionally weaker military, could now potentially use space at the lower end of the conflict spectrum with relative impunity. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent could prevent all-out war—this amounted to a neutralization of India’s conventional superiority—while emboldening the use of limited war, either through regular troops or asymmetric means.[3] Glenn Snyder’s “stability-instability paradox” was in play, to Pakistan’s advantage.[4]

The 2001-2002 crisis, set off as it was by an attack on the Indian parliament by the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, was more obviously and explicitly a “nuclear crisis.” Nuclear signaling took place openly; both sides made a number of statements as well as veiled and blunt nuclear threats aimed at establishing the credibility of their resolve not to back down. Perhaps the most alarming aspect was that not one of these signals was conveyed through direct contact.[5] All verbal signals were transmitted through open sources or third parties. A significant proportion was addressed directly to the international community and the United States. Indeed, it was obvious that both sides were actively goading the United States to intervene diplomatically to back their respective cases.[6]

In the 2001-2002 crisis, India had mobilized its forces and threatened an all-out attack against Pakistan as part of a “compellence” strategy. New Delhi demanded that Pakistan sincerely tackle militant proxies, which it traditionally had used against India in a bid to raise New Delhi’s costs in Kashmir. By taking this position, India was attempting to reverse the perception generated during the Kargil episode that Pakistan’s nuclear capability had taken away India’s space to “punish” Pakistan through a conventional response.[7] In the final outcome, Islamabad walked away more satisfied because India, despite continuously threatening war, could not launch an attack. Furthermore, although the Pakistani state did commit to tackling anti-India militancy—this was India’s key objective—and undertook certain steps, it did not achieve irreversible progress in pacifying the militant groups targeting India.

The most recent crisis was triggered in November 2008 when Lashkar-e-Taiba, a prominent Pakistan-based militant group, attacked the city of Mumbai, killing 164 people. By the time that attack occurred, India already had assumed the role of the principal U.S. ally in South Asia. Thus, even though there was a greater effort from India and Pakistan to reach out bilaterally this time around, New Delhi tried to use its newfound stature in global politics to call on the international community to judge Pakistan; parallels were drawn between the Mumbai and September 11 attacks. Moreover, although India refrained from an immediate military mobilization, it did put its air force on high alert. In fact, two weeks after the attack, Indian air force jets entered Pakistani airspace, forcing Pakistani interceptors to scramble.

For Pakistan, the situation was much like it was during the 2001-2002 standoff: Islamabad was embarrassed, squarely on the back foot, and seeking to escape unharmed. It managed to do so by successfully distancing the state from the terrorist attack and promising to investigate the episode and take the perpetrators to task.[8] Indeed, for the second crisis in a row, the outcome favored Pakistan. India did not respond militarily, and the international community asked for little more than serious investigations. New Delhi was left seething with discontent.

The U.S. Role

In all three crises, the foremost U.S. objective was to reduce tensions before escalation dynamics set in. It did so by playing two roles: as a balancer and as a face-saving channel.

During the Kargil conflict, the United States had few pressing interests in South Asia. Pakistan, on the other hand, was seen universally as the aggressor whose reckless behavior had caused the crisis in the first place. Washington satisfied its objective of achieving de-escalation by urging Pakistan to withdraw while pleading with India not to undertake an open-ended military response that could lead to expansion of the conflict. India responded favorably while Sharif, in the face of multiple tactical losses on the battlefront, traveled to Washington to seek an end to the conflict. Clinton, while demanding Pakistan’s unequivocal withdrawal, did not agree to an immediate diplomatic intervention on the Kashmir issue as the Pakistani delegation had hoped.[9] By doing so, he came out in de facto support of the Indian position. Yet, by agreeing to mediate and impress on India the need to cease hostilities once Pakistan announced the withdrawal, he provided the Pakistani side with a face-saver. Pakistan could claim, as it did, that it had achieved a negotiated end to the conflict and internationalized the Kashmir issue. For India, the Kargil episode proved to be a fresh beginning with the United States. Years of sour relations were turned around shortly after the confrontation.

The 2001-2002 episode saw a much more elaborate U.S. role. By that time, both Pakistan and India had become critical to U.S. interests for different reasons. In fact, signaling from both sides during the crisis reflected a recognition of their importance for Washington. Interestingly enough, their behavior suggested that each believed it was more important and could sway the United States to its side. Nonetheless, the aim of ensuring a swift end to tensions meant that the United States could not side with either party overtly. Doing so could have emboldened the particular actor toward which Washington was leaning, thus raising the possibility of provocation. Commendably, the United States managed to keep its eyes on its ultimate objective and retain impartiality; its role was a textbook example of a “preponderant pivot” working to mitigate conflict.[10] It issued statements in India’s favor at times and in Pakistan’s at others. It requested that India back off and pressured Pakistan to deal with militants seriously as a quid pro quo. It also selectively shared intelligence, which helped to avoid misunderstandings at crucial moments.[11]

For India, the outcome was not exactly what it had hoped. However, as Pakistan had managed to do during the Kargil conflict, New Delhi did use the United States as a face-saver. By getting the United States to condemn militancy publicly and call on Pakistan, harshly on occasion, to curb militancy emanating from its territory, India could argue that it had achieved its aim of getting Pakistan to agree to change its policy. Yet, realizing that the outcome actually had gone in Pakistan’s favor—India’s effort at compellence had essentially failed—the United States offered India long-term benefits. Indeed, the years following the standoff saw significant U.S. concessions to India, which helped persuade New Delhi that it could repose its trust in Washington’s intentions. Between 2003 and 2008, military-to-military contacts were revived, and India became the recipient of multiple defense deals, a unique civil nuclear deal, and a much enhanced economic relationship with the United States.

The Mumbai crisis saw a repeat performance by Washington in terms of working to alleviate tensions, although in circumstances in which the Indian-U.S. warmth might have raised false expectations in New Delhi. The United States once again injected itself immediately. It came in with a message of calm, conducting diplomacy to ensure that neither side exercised the option to use force. Public statements from the very beginning showed extreme sympathy to India, but also called for restraint on its part.[12] At the same time, perhaps realizing that efforts in the Indian media at the time to link the Pakistani “state” to the attack might be used to legitimize an attack, Washington issued official statements affirming that there was no evidence that the Pakistani state was complicit in the attacks.[13] The face-saver for India once again was the U.S. condemnation of the attack and demands that Pakistan seriously investigate the matter in collaboration with Indian authorities. Unlike the 2001-2002 crisis, however, the post-Mumbai period did not see any fresh overtures from Washington to reward India for its restrained behavior. Promises of long-term counterterrorism support are frequently rehearsed, but even there, Pakistan’s vital role in Afghanistan has not allowed Washington to satisfy New Delhi entirely.

Will the Next Crisis Be the Same?

U.S. involvement in the nuclear crises discussed above proved instrumental in preventing uncontrolled escalation, but it did not satisfy both sides. In the Kargil conflict, India was the more satisfied party. In the next two crises, however, India left the scene discontented. In fact, the reasons for Indian disgruntlement with the United States’ role are structural in nature and would likely exist in future crises as well unless the original contracted-out arrangement is altered. Indeed, the Mumbai episode may well prove to be a watershed in terms of the approach India takes to the next crisis.

To begin with, India has suffered tremendous “reputational” costs in the past two crises.[14] The general perception is that Pakistani nuclear weapons have neutralized India’s conventional superiority and made it impotent in the face of terrorist attacks. This reputational concern strikes at the heart of the credibility of the Indian nuclear deterrent. If India cannot deter violence at the lower end of the spectrum and, at the same time, cannot follow up on its threats of military response, the effectiveness of its deterrent becomes questionable. At the same time, India’s inability to launch an attack strengthens the credibility of the Pakistani deterrent, which is meant to do exactly that: neutralize India’s ability to utilize its superior conventional capability. Additionally, New Delhi’s experience during the 2001-2002 standoff and the Mumbai crisis established that a compellence strategy aimed at fundamentally altering the landscape of anti-India militants in Pakistan does not deliver, not least because the Pakistani state is no longer in a position to control all activities of these groups.

India also has walked away from the last two crises with lessons on U.S. involvement in South Asian crises. The U.S. role in encouraging restraint after India is struck by a terrorist attack has given Pakistan an upper hand in the crises. Although New Delhi could not have completely overlooked Pakistan’s importance, Indian opinion makers did expect greater tangible support from the United States, especially during the Mumbai crisis. That was not forthcoming. The lesson, as drawn in New Delhi, was that no amount of warmth with Washington would prompt it to “gang up” against Pakistan during a crisis. Washington’s postcrisis utility is also limited, especially because Pakistan is likely to remain important to the United States for its own reasons for the foreseeable future.

All this has led to a shift in the sentiment in New Delhi. As a result of this shift, Indian restraint no longer can be taken for granted. In fact, many believe that an Indian retaliation to the next terrorist attack is all but inevitable.[15] This could take the form of the swift, surgical air strikes that seemed to have been contemplated during the Mumbai crisis. India even could put its Pakistan-specific “Cold Start” doctrine, which aims to conduct limited operations on Pakistani territory, to the test.[16] In terms of third-party presence, this implies an alteration in the contracted-out arrangement. Rather than being amenable to U.S. intervention to support its stance at the very onset of a crisis, New Delhi would aim to undertake limited use of force before Washington could step in. Only when it had completed its initial offensive would it look toward Washington to pacify Pakistan. This would make the U.S. task of ensuring escalation control much more challenging.

Let us play the scenario out. Assume that the next crisis is triggered by another Mumbai-type attack on Indian soil. The attack actually may have come from a Pakistan-based group, or Indian decision-makers may simply rush to conclude so either on the basis of past occurrences or due to faulty intelligence. Let us assume that, in the wake of the attack, India has decided to conduct a limited strike against militant targets in Pakistan. De-escalation now would require the United States to shift its focus to persuading Pakistan to show restraint. There have been suggestions that if the United States could not prevent India from striking, it might be able to convince it to strike relatively low-profile targets in Pakistan such that the strikes would not trigger a Pakistani response.[17] Although theoretically attractive from a deterrence point of view—it would satisfy India’s reputational concerns without causing uncontrolled escalation—such a view ignores the psyche of Pakistan’s military planners as well as the importance of public sentiment in today’s Pakistan. The author’s conversations with members of Pakistan’s strategic enclave suggest conclusively that even a minor Indian strike would elicit a response in kind. The Pakistani intelligence chief recently acknowledged during a hearing before the Pakistani parliament that the military already had identified and even rehearsed strikes that Islamabad could make on targets in India in response to any Indian surgical strikes.[18] The need to keep denying India the confidence that it could aggress militarily at any level remains the cornerstone of Pakistan’s deterrence calculus.

As soon as Pakistan reacts to an Indian strike, the deterrence equation will be back to square one from India’s perspective. The Indian effort to prove that its military option has not been foreclosed by the Pakistani nuclear deterrent and that it could compel Pakistan to act against anti-India militants present on its soil would stand neutralized. In fact, the credibility of the deterrent would have taken a greater hit than in the previous crises as Pakistan would have demonstrated that it had the upper hand even in a “one-shot” confrontation. As a result, Indian threats of a surgical strike in the next crisis ring hollow unless decision-makers in New Delhi are willing to escalate the crisis further. Indeed, India may well feel the need to set the record straight by exercising direct brinkmanship, upping the ante and threatening to escalate further.

From here on, the South Asian powers would be in uncharted territory. Neither India nor Pakistan would want uncontrolled escalation, but they would face the classic brinkmanship challenge: on whose terms will the conflict end? For India, an extra shot would have to be fired, so to speak, for it to walk away satisfied. Pakistan, on the other hand, would want to exit immediately after it has responded to India’s initial aggression.

The United States would find itself in a serious dilemma. By the time an Indian response and Pakistani counteraction has taken place, the U.S. interlocutors may have lost control over the pace of escalation. The U.S. message of restraint against the temptation to escalate further is much less likely to be heeded by India at this point. This is especially true because, as in the Mumbai crisis, it is difficult to imagine the United States being able to offer an attractive enough reward to India to back off. The United States also would not be able to punish Pakistan tangibly and instantly to India’s satisfaction, not least because doing so would undermine the Pakistani-U.S. relationship, fuel further anti-American sentiment in the country, destabilize it to an even greater extent internally, and strengthen the ultraright nationalists. On the other hand, although global opinion is on India’s side already, the option of the United States supporting India outright would be extremely risky. It would embolden India to consider overwhelming punishment, and in Pakistan, it would be seen as a “gang up”; the present sentiment in Pakistan indicates that such a move would quickly be viewed as an Indian-U.S. effort to disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons.[19] It likely would cause panic and might lead Pakistan to act even more provocatively to raise the stakes and prompt the United States to seek immediate de-escalation.[20]

In any case, if the crisis fails to wind down after each side has fired one shot, escalation dynamics may generate a momentum of their own. In the South Asian context, this not only implies belligerence and propensity for risk taking among Indian and Pakistani decision-makers, but also brings in the risk of miscalculations and inadvertent use. India and Pakistan use delivery systems that can be employed for conventional as well as nuclear weapons; in the absence of advanced early-warning capabilities, this has a destabilizing effect. Any incoming aircraft or missile could be perceived as an attempt at pre-emption. Moreover, the vulnerability of Pakistan’s nuclear decision-making chain of command—the entire hierarchy is housed within a 50-mile stretch in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi and therefore could potentially be neutralized in a pre-emptive strike—may prompt the Pakistanis to consider dispersal of the high command or to delegate launch authority in advance. Pakistan’s lack of geographical depth provides an additional incentive for this latter step.

Delegation in advance also becomes likely if either side introduces tactical nuclear weapons for battlefield use. Pakistan recently signaled its intent to do so by conducting a flight test of the Nasr, a nuclear-capable ballistic missile with a range of 60 kilometers.[21] Pakistan’s move is reportedly a response to the Indian Cold Start doctrine. Next, although both countries claim robust command and control structures, very few details are available, especially for the Indian program. In an escalated crisis, if either side contemplated mating warheads with delivery vehicles and then deploying them, the other likely would follow suit. Each side would have to transport its arsenal, disperse it, and make ground preparations for deployment, a process that easily could be misconstrued by the adversary as an imminent attack. The likelihood of this misperception (and others) is enhanced greatly by the acute trust deficit between the two sides; traditionally, each party has been inclined to expect the worst from the other.[22]

Way Forward for U.S. Policy

The original contracted-out model of escalation control was hardly one that instilled confidence in neutral observers, and even that may have run its course in South Asia, only to be replaced by a more tenuous one. With India seeking to exercise greater autonomy, the third party would have much less control over how a future crisis unfolds. A further complication is that India does not necessarily want the United States to detach itself completely; rather, it wants Washington to intervene at a slightly later stage in the crisis. Pakistan remains wedded to its belief that the United States will intervene right at the onset and restrain India. These misaligned expectations not only put the United States in a virtually impossible position, but also increase the likelihood of a miscalculation. Depending on how the United States approaches a specific crisis, at least one of the two sides is certain to view things as not going according to plan.

Addressing the conundrum requires the United States to provide a reality check to both sides. Washington should be forthcoming in explaining that it is in no position to guarantee a positive role in future Indian-Pakistani crises and that to expect it to be able to support one side or the other would be delusional. Indeed, to time an intervention perfectly in a fast-moving crisis and to be able to convince both parties to act against their inclinations would have to depend more on luck than any thought-out strategy in Washington.

Challenging India’s and Pakistan’s beliefs that the United States will show up and “save” them may well nudge the two sides toward greater efforts at institutionalizing bilateral escalation control. This would have several positive effects.

For starters, direct communication and signaling during crises must be encouraged. In the past, contacts either have been suspended or used extremely sparingly.[23] This urgently needs to be corrected. Hotlines between Indian and Pakistani political leaders, diplomats, and militaries must remain operational and be utilized to their full potential. The United States should play a proactive role in ensuring that the two sides use these channels during crises. It even may consider facilitating a binding protocol that requires all direct communication channels to remain operational in periods of tension.

Next, Washington should avoid raising false expectations. For instance, promising to punish a particular group on Pakistani soil after a terrorist attack in India is unfeasible at this point given the repercussions for the Pakistani-U.S. relationship and for Pakistan’s internal stability. Similarly, offers of additional support, such as for counterterrorism, to India as a reward should be made only if Washington believes that these can be delivered tangibly. Lack of follow-up has implications for the United States’ reputation in future crises; the implications go beyond the South Asian crises that are the subject of this article. U.S. allies elsewhere also observe this behavior and draw lessons for their own interactions with Washington.

Nevertheless, U.S. interlocutors should not shy away from pointing out misperceptions that either side may have, especially when these misperceptions undermine escalation control. For instance, it would be prudent to point out to the Pakistani authorities that impatience in Washington with their inability to tackle militancy may make it untenable sooner or later for any U.S. administration to continue with the current policy of engagement. The harsh rhetoric emanating from Washington and the virtual breakdown of the bilateral military relationship in the wake of the recent U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan underscores this possibility. By the same token, the United States should work to dispel any belief in New Delhi that the international community will accept Indian aggression after a terrorist attack, irrespective of its escalatory effects.

More broadly, there is also a need to address the instability-inducing elements in the nuclear calculus that make escalation more likely. These include complete lack of transparency on command and control procedures and nuclear postures, mismatched views on what qualifies as “limited” war (what India views as limited, Pakistan may consider an all-out attack given the proximity of some of Pakistan’s major cities to the international border), use of dual-use missiles, absence of any agreements to bar pre-emption of each other’s arsenal or chain of command, and absence of nuclear risk reduction centers.

It is also pertinent to highlight the link between escalation control and broader U.S. policies for South Asia. From Pakistan’s perspective, the Indian-U.S. alliance has tilted the South Asian regional balance decisively in India’s favor. This growing asymmetry may lead Pakistan to bank more heavily on its nuclear capability; even its nuclear posture may become more aggressive if, at some point in the future, Pakistan believes the disparity to have become overwhelming. In fact, Pakistan’s efforts to stall any forward movement on negotiations for a fissile material cutoff treaty, its recent test of the Nasr short-range nuclear-capable missile, and the swift pace at which it is expanding its nuclear arsenal already are beginning to reflect this mind-set. Washington needs to reassure Pakistan through a long-term military-to-military relationship and by impressing on New Delhi the need to reconsider limited-war doctrines such as Cold Start and some of its Pakistan-specific deployments.

Finally, efforts toward crisis prevention are critical. The most prudent yet challenging way to avoid escalation is to address the underlying causes that unleash crises in the Indian-Pakistani context: anti-India terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil and the motivations for such attacks in the first place.

Addressing terrorism requires Pakistani political will and enhanced capacity to tackle groups known to have designs against India. Simultaneously, the two sides will have to show resolve to work together in defeating this menace. The existing “joint terrorism mechanism” provides the most obvious channel to do so. Moreover, a dialogue between the two sides’ intelligence services aimed at sharing information about potential dangers and at addressing complaints and removing misunderstandings generated from false intelligence also ought to be considered.

As for the motivations for anti-India terrorism, all of them directly or indirectly link up to the dissatisfaction of Pakistan-based militant groups with the status quo in Kashmir. Indeed, both India and Pakistan acknowledge the centrality of Kashmir to crisis prevention. The two countries made significant progress toward resolution during the bilateral peace process before the Mumbai attacks stalled their efforts. This, in addition to many previous ones, was a moment at which a proactive U.S. role could have been pivotal in preventing a breakdown of negotiations on Kashmir. In the future, a more proactive role in facilitating an uninterrupted Indian-Pakistani dialogue on the dispute must be viewed as a direct U.S. national interest in South Asia.

The contracted-out model of escalation control in South Asia is inherently risky. It attributes to the United States a task that would be made impossible by the likely actions of India and Pakistan in the next crisis. This situation could help trigger or deepen an Indian-Pakistani crisis. It must be changed.

Moeed Yusuf is South Asia adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where he manages the institute’s Pakistan program. Previously, he was a research fellow at the Mossavar-RahmaniCenter at HarvardUniversity’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a fellow at the FrederickS.PardeeCenter at BostonUniversity.


1. Chari, Cheema, and Cohen conclude that tensions in 1987 were a result of Indian hawkish posturing with unclear motives while the 1990 crisis was unintended and accidental. See P.R. Chari, ParvaizI. Cheema, and Stephen P. Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process: American Engagement in South Asia (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2007), pp. 39-117, 204-205.

2. For an analysis of the nuclear dimension of the Kargil conflict, see Timothy D. Hoyt, “Kargil: The Nuclear Dimension,” in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict, ed. Peter R. Lavoy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 144-170.

3. Rajesh M. Basrur, “Coercive Diplomacy in a Nuclear Environment: The December 13 Crisis,” in Prospects for Peace in South Asia, eds. Rafiq Dossani and Henry S. Rowen (Stanford: StanfordUniversity Press, 2005), pp. 302-304.

4. The stability-instability paradox holds that although nuclear weapons may induce stability at the higher end of the conflict spectrum, they simultaneously introduce instability at the lower end by increasing the likelihood of limited conflicts below the nuclear threshold. See Glenn Snyder, “The Balance of Power and the Balance of Terror,” in The Balance of Power, ed. Paul Seabury (San Francisco: Chandler, 1964), pp.184-201.

5. The author has identified a total of 65 verbal nuclear signals, conveyed through open sources or third parties.

6. For a complete list of signals conveyed during the crisis, see Moeed Yusuf, “Nuclear Signaling Between India and Pakistan: An Evaluation of the 2001-02 Crisis,” 2008 (on file with the author).

7. The need to reverse the perception was prevalent in India’s strategic enclave at the time the standoff began. The sentiment was captured most aptly by noted analyst Raja Mohan in a newspaper column: “[T]here is a growing belief in New Delhi that the time has come to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. If it does not, India places itself in permanent vulnerability to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.” C. Raja Mohan, “Between War and Peace,” The Hindu, December 20, 2001.

8. For more than five weeks, Pakistan denied that any of the attackers were Pakistani citizens. When the national security adviser, Gen. Mahmud Durrani, acknowledged the nationality of the lone surviving attacker in the Mumbai carnage, Durrani was sacked for not having cleared his comment with the prime minister. From the very beginning of the crisis, however, Pakistan emphasized that the “state” had no prior knowledge of or connection to the attacks. “Spoke Too Soon on Kasab, Pak NSA Durrani Sacked,” CNN-IBN, January 8, 2009.

9. For a firsthand account of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington and the negotiations, see Bruce Riedel, “American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House,” in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict, ed. Peter R. Lavoy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 130-143.

10. Timothy Crawford uses the term for a third party that exercises overwhelming superiority in terms of relative power over the two principal actors in any confrontation and thus holds significant sway over the situation. Timothy W. Crawford, Pivotal Deterrence: Third-Party Statecraft and the Pursuit of Peace (Ithaca, NY: CornellUniversity Press, 2003).

11. For a discussion of the U.S. role in the 2001-2002 crisis, see Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, pp. 161-171.

12. “Rice Flies to India to Ease Tension With Pakistan,” Reuters, December 3, 2008; K. Alan Kronstadt, “Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai, India, and Implications for U.S. Interests,” CRS Report for Congress, R40087, December 19, 2008, pp. 2-3.

13. Anwar Iqbal, “U.S. Trusts Pakistan, Says White House,” Dawn, December 2, 2008.

14. The “reputation” of actors is considered a key determinant of bargaining behavior. Fred Iklé said, “[R]eputation can serve as a commitment to your negotiation position; and the more you enjoy a reputation of always remaining firm, the more convincing is this commitment to the opponent.” Fred C. Iklé, How Nations Negotiate (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1964), p. 83. Daryl Press takes this concept one step further in what he calls the “past actions theory”: a state’s track record on keeping its commitments is used to determine whether it is likely to carry out its threats in any present and future scenario. See Daryl G. Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threats (Ithaca, NY: CornellUniversity Press, 2005), pp. 11-20.

15. Leaked diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks reveal Indian officials categorically stating to U.S. officials that India will not have a choice but to respond to another Mumbai-like attack through force. For a statement by Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram, see “India Warned of Response to Pakistan Attack: Wikileaks,” Dawn, May 20, 2011.

16. India officially has retracted its position on Cold Start, arguing that the doctrine was never considered for operationalization. Independent opinions, however, suggest that not only has the doctrine been considered but efforts were being made to operationalize the plan as far back as 2005-2006. For an excellent analysis, see Walter C. Ladwig III, “A Cold Start for Hot Wars? The Indian Army’s New Limited War Doctrine,” International Security, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Winter 2007/08): 158-190.

The author has also been part of policy conferences and simulations dedicated to Cold Start in which Indian participants discussed the rationale for and progress toward operationalization of the doctrine fairly candidly.

17. Daniel Markey, “Terrorism and Indo-Pakistani Escalation,” Contingency Planning Memorandum, No. 6 (January 2010), p. 7, http://i.cfr.org/content/publications/attachments/CPA_contingencymemo_6.pdf.

18. “If India Strikes, We Will Give Befitting Response, ISI Chief Tells Parliament,” India TV News, May 15, 2011.

19. In the Pakistani public narrative, there is, as one major Pakistani newspaper’s recent editorial put it, a “‘universalized’ belief…that America actually wants to ‘take out’ Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.” “Pakistan, U.S.—Different Wavelengths,” The Express Tribune, April 14, 2011.

20. Ganguly and Wagner argue that Pakistan’s ability to use provocativeness to its advantage holds in every crisis. See Sumit Ganguly and R. Harrison Wagner, “India and Pakistan: Bargaining in the Shadow of Nuclear War,” The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3 (September 2004): 499-501.

21. “Pakistan Successfully Test-Fires Nuclear Capable Hatf-9,” The Express Tribune, April 20, 2011.

22. See Moeed Yusuf, “Stability in the Nuclear Context: Making South Asians Safe,” Policy Brief, February 2011, www.jinnah-institute.org/images/ji_policybrief_nuclear_security_jan-25-2011.pdf.

23. Direct communication channels were used sparingly in 1999 and were completely suspended during the 2001-2002 standoff. In 2008 the two prime ministers did converse immediately after the attack, but the exchange backfired. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani offered to send Pakistan’s spy chief to India for discussions, but later withdrew the offer under pressure from the military. The incident added to the mistrust and further inflamed Indian public sentiment. See “Pak Backtracks, to Send ISI Rep Now and Not the Chief,” Express India¸ November 28, 2008.