0 comments | by Raashid Wali Janjua
Pakistan’s nuclear odyssey was a direct consequence of India crossing the nuclear Rubicon. Its nuclear programme was a defensive response to security paranoia, spawned by India’s role in the dismemberment of the country in 1971.
India’s testing of a nuclear device in 1974 was the last straw. Against a clear and present danger to the nation, Pakistan was already mulling over options to address its perpetual conventional force asymmetry with India, when the Indians – in pursuit of their grandiloquent geo-strategic objectives – conducted a nuclear test in 1974.
The “Smiling Buddha” epithet was an ironic allusion to India’s peace pretensions, and the irony was not lost on a worried international community, which came up with a punitive response against India’s use of a research reactor to develop weapons-grade fuel. The response was the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, which is now being cajoled into acquiescing to India’s original sin to break its nuclear isolation. A reluctant Pakistan was led pell-mell into nuclear testing in 1998, after highly provocative sabre rattling by the jingoistic Indian media in the wake of nuclear test explosions.
Pakistan responded to India’s nuclearisation through a uranium enrichment route that tested the limits of Pakistani scientists’ ingenuity and technological adroitness. Pakistan was a veritable example of the famous dictum by a nuclear thinker that “more is not necessary when less is enough”. Pakistan’s strategic equalisers, in the shape of air launched and missile-based weapons, were deemed to be sufficient antidotes to the Indian nuclear juggernaut, in a competition where the numbers did not matter. Pakistan, therefore, underwrote its security through deterrence based upon the minimum essential nuclear weapons, conceptualising the employment of weapons through a well-articulated and publicised (for transparency) doctrine of Credible Minimum Deterrence.
This doctrine relied on the sufficient number of nuclear weapons (ranging from 80 to 120, according to some estimates) based on air launched and ground-based missile warheads. There was a strategic logic, as well as a non-proliferation angle to Pakistan’s calculation, as it sought to avoid a costly nuclear arms race without sacrificing the credibility of its deterrence. Pakistan’s sedulous attempts at co-opting India into a Strategic Restraint Regime – based on the three interlocking elements of nuclear disarmament, conventional force reduction and dispute settlement – were spurned, as the deterrence stability was continually disturbed by India, both through vertical proliferation in nuclear arms and increasing conventional force asymmetry.
The Indian propensity to seek space for the use of its superior conventional military instruments, under a nuclear overhang, was manifested in the form of a Cold Start Doctrine, which relied upon short, swift ‘salami slicing’s forays into Pakistan’s territory, with balanced mechanized groups supported by the Indian air force and Navy. The ostensible aim was to degrade the force infrastructure and capture territory, while staying well below the nuclear threshold of Pakistan.
The concept, however, had its technical, political, and military shortcomings, due to which its operationalisation was questioned even in India. Pakistan responded initially to the threat by operationalising its own conventional response through a ‘new war fighting concept’, relying on the early employment of reserves and rehashing defensive plans. Pakistan had always held that its nuclear forces were the ultimate guarantors of security and therefore did not adhere to the ‘no first strike option’.
Pakistan has always considered the conventional forces as one of the means to enhance the credibility of its nuclear deterrence. A more secure Pakistan in response to Indian vertical proliferation might have eschewed going the way of ‘Full-Spectrum Deterrence’ but prevailing distrust between the two countries and a diplomatic hiatus induced by successive Indian governments’ hauteur, compelled it to counter Indian nuclear and conventional build-up through its own vertical proliferation.
The aim was to deny India space to exploiting the gaps in Pakistan’s deterrence. India’s attempts at the continual development of long and short range ballistics, sea and air launched cruise weapons and ballistic missile defence capability compelled Pakistan to look beyond the classic notions of strategic deterrence through counter value targeting.
The short-range Nasr missiles, with a range of 60 kilometers, have therefore been developed to reinforce Pakistan’s deterrence at the tactical level. The deterrence is predicated on strong nuclear signaling, so that Indian attempts at Cold Start type operations can be stymied through these short range missiles. According to ex-DG Strategic Planning Division Lt General (retired) Kidwai, in his talk with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,
Pakistan’s full-spectrum deterrence has achieved 95 percent completion. When asked whether the remaining 5 percent would be completed through sea-based deterrence, he assented and indicated the future development of submarine-based nukes for assured second-strike capability. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence would truly become full spectrum when its survivability, command and control and employment of assured second-strike capability are ensured. Pakistan’s tactical nukes are merely a hedge against India’s conventional adventurism, which indicate nuclear abstemiousness in actuality.
Real and lasting deterrence stability in the Subcontinent will be engendered when Pakistan achieves assured sea-based second-strike capability, thereby realising true full-spectrum deterrence.
The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.