Pakistan and India are ‘comfortable’ with N-status
WASHINGTON: A conference held here recently to assess the key military elements that affect strategic stability in a nuclearised South Asia, came to the conclusion that both countries are comfortable with their present nuclear status.
While India feels that its large geographic size and abundant natural boundaries make its nuclear force relatively invulnerable, its more relaxed retaliation-only strategy affords it time to react to any irrational nuclear attack. Indian planners are at least publicly adamant that any Indian response to nuclear use would be certain and massive. Pakistan feels that a mobile and dispersed nuclear arsenal is nearly invulnerable, even from increasingly advanced Indian conventional capabilities.
The conference, sponsored by the Naval Postgraduate Schools, Monterey’s Centre for Contemporary Conflict, was attended by about 60 serving and retired military officials, diplomats, intelligence analysts, and non-governmental experts, several of them from Pakistan.
Dr Rajesh Basrur of the Centre for Global Studies, Mumbai, told the conference, “In contrast with the Cold War, there has been no direct nuclear component in the confrontations between India and Pakistan. Though there is much talk of an arms race, there is no evidence of haste in the development of a range of capabilities.” The conference was told that the untested nuclear weapons in the Indian and Pakistani arsenals are low-maintenance devices. Force postures, doctrines, delivery systems, and command and control practices developed slowly, outside of the public glare, because there was no strategic urgency to do otherwise. While both India and Pakistan had dueling missile tests in the mid-1990s, their pace was more indicative of a research and development effort than a crash programme to achieve nuclear deterrence.
It was noted that the Indian “draft” nuclear doctrine articulated a strategy of massive retaliation after the absorption of a nuclear first strike. One aspect of this policy - that India would not be the first to use weapons of mass destruction - comforted US policymakers, although it failed to adequately reassure strategic planners in Islamabad. Pakistani delegate Air Commodore Khalid Banuri of the Pakistan Strategic Plans Division stated, said, “Considering ‘No First Use’ (NFU) as a flawed argument, the possibility of an Indian pre-emptive strike cannot be ruled out. To cater for such an eventuality, Pakistan has to factor in all options to ensure that its response remains viable. Thus the rising conventional imbalance and the lack of confidence in NFU are viewed as potentially destabilising and risky.”
Dr Riffat Hussain of the Pakistan National Defence College reminded the gathering that Pakistan’s initial attempts to externally balance against India - through alliances - failed. During the 1965 war, the United States cut off military supplies to both countries, despite Pakistan’s membership in the SEATO and CENTO alliances. In 1971, as Pakistan lost its eastern wing to an Indian-supported Bangladeshi insurgency, the United States stood by. As a result, Pakistan launched its own nuclear weapons programme, to “internally balance” the neighbouring threat.
By 1985, Pakistan had developed a recessed nuclear weapons capability. Pakistani officials felt that their displays of military readiness - and their undeployed nuclear deterrent – had prevented war during the 1987 Brasstacks Crisis and 1990 Zarb-e-Momin exercises and during several other crises over the past two decades. Their decision to go ahead with a nuclear capability allowed them to quickly respond in 1998 when India tested. They believe that nuclear weapons and conventional forces were crucial in deterring India from prosecuting a “limited war,” as a response to either the 1999 Kargil operation or the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi. Today, nuclear weapons are central to Pakistani strategic thought, especially with regard to deterring India from initiating large-scale military operations against Pakistan.
Dr Hussain argued, “In the absence of both an offensive conventional capability, which will allow it to disrupt an Indian offensive pre-emptively, and the geo-strategic space in which to manoeuvre and fight in a defence-in-depth strategy, Pakistan’s physical protection can only be assured by nuclear weapons. Islamabad expects that in the event of an Indian attack, its offensive would be met in the first instance by a non-nuclear defence of the forward areas close to the border. Should Islamabad fail to hold the front by non-nuclear combat, it would warn New Delhi that small-yield nuclear weapons would be used to strike at the invading Indian forces. And then, as a last resort, it would strike with such weapons if the warning went unheeded.” The question of how Pakistan would employ nuclear weapons, if it ever did do so, generated considerable debate.
Pakistani participants included former ISI chief and ambassador Asad Durrani, retired Brigadier Feroz Hassan Khan, Brig. Naeem Salik and Capt. Khawar Hussain of the Pakistan Air Force. khalid hasan