IPCS Debate

India, Pakistan and Tactical Nuclear Weapons: What’s in a Name?

07 Jan, 2014    ·   4241

Usman Ali Khan says that the issue affecting South Asian stability is not SRLY (short-range-low yield) weapons but growing Indian militarisation and offensive doctrines

India has chosen to fight at sub-conventional level but evidence in this regard is not taken into account. In a recent article, an author considered Pakistan’s development of the so-called tactical nuclear weapons. ‘Nuclear Insanity’, that is wastage of money and increase in risk of nuclear escalation between Pakistan and India. In making such exaggerated claims, the authors tend to focus only on Pakistan’s reaction and not the triggers. The only lesson to draw here is to check sources and not believe everything written on a webpage. It is easier said than done. Pakistan reluctantly entered the nuclear fray due to repeated Indian provocations. Likewise, its decision to develop short-range-low yield (SRLY) nuclear weapons is not an initiative, rather a measured reaction to the Indian adoption of a dangerous nuclear doctrine to fight a limited war under Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. Islamabad looks at these SRLY weapons as deterrence stabilisers. It is up to the Indians take this capability into account and resist initiating a war with the ‘hope’ that Pakistan would not respond.

Lt Gen Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, the outgoing Director General of Strategic Plans Division, once termed Hatf-IX (Nasr) SRLY as a ‘weapon of peace’. The Nasr missile has poured cold water on the Indian Cold Start Doctrine and is a source of great Indian frustration. India’s large conventional force advantage and a fast growing nuclear arsenal have come to naught because Pakistan has been able to plug the gap India perceived and wished to exploit at the tactical level of operations.

The analogy creates a misperception that American reliance on battlefield nuclear weapons in the European theatre ended with the Cold War. Both the US and Russia still have battlefield nuclear weapons on European soil and thousands in their inventories. Deterrence is still at play in Europe. 

Frustrated, India threatened massive retaliation in April 2013 should Pakistan chose to employ SRLY weapons in response to CSD. Likewise, there were Indian forward dispositions and the development of new cantonments close to the border. Indian conventional force developments indicate that they are creating sufficient means to operationalize the CSD. They have restyled it as the Proactive Operations/Proactive Defence Strategy and have publicly disowned CSD because they have developed ‘cold feet’ from the Pakistani response. It is amazing that India considers Pakistan’s right to defend itself against so-called ‘limited’ incursions unfair. India‘s offensive military doctrine and rapid arming to the teeth affects Pakistan’s calculus. The assumption of initiating war and punishing Pakistan without invoking an appropriate response is foolhardy. Interestingly, India tries to convince that there is a decreasing salience of nuclear weapons in its policies – yet, despite a conventional and nuclear force edge over Pakistan, it does not give up resorting to sub-conventional aggression. It is amazing to see that this has been overlooked.

Given the current and projected trends in West-assisted Indian military build-up, the existing asymmetries between India and Pakistan shall exacerbate and may force Islamabad to rely more on nuclear weapons are balancers. The onus of this growing instability partly lies on the West, which wants to make the best use of the Indian market. Every state has a right to pursue trade, but also has the responsibility to maintain peace. Therefore, the larger issue affecting South Asian stability is not SRLY weapons but growing Indian militarisation and its offensive doctrines.

Pakistan’s policy has always been of credible minimum and proportionate response to Indian provocations. It was India that dragged Pakistan into nuclearisation and now feels frustrated by the latter’s effective responses. Unfortunately, India enjoys political support due to the geo-economic incentives it offers to the West. As George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace states, while Pakistan’s nuclear programme is security-driven; the same cannot be said for India which has a prestige-driven problem.

Pakistan has repeatedly proposed the initiation of a strategic restraint regime in the subcontinent but India has dismissed such peace overtures. It is ironical that a State that aspires to revise the global order is not amenable to make peace in its immediate neighbourhood. Charity usually begins at home. Pakistan has no regional or global power ambitions. It has always aspired to live peacefully, if unencumbered with such challenges on its borders. Pakistan’s nuclear programme is for deterrence against India and to stabilise the subcontinent.