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Nuclear Rivalry of Neighbours
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Indo-Pak Relations - Part 3

Continued from "When State Sponsors Terrorism"

So far as India’s nuclear policy or aspirations are concerned, it is envisioned in one of the early statements of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru when he said, “As long as the world is constituted as it is, every country will have to devise and use the latest devices for its protection. I have no doubt India will develop her scientific researches and I hope Indian scientists will use the atomic force for constructive purposes. But if India is threatened, she will inevitably try to defend herself by all means at her disposal.”

Homi J. Bhabha became the pioneer of the nuclear programme in India when he founded the nuclear research centre, the Institute of Fundamental Research in March 1944. Clearly, it was not neither directed against any particular threat or country nor it was only weapon specific, instead many decades later achievement of nuclear weapons capacity was an integral part of its vision as a great power commensurate with the strategic location, size and population, and for its prestige and security doctrine. However, the fact cannot be ignored that India’s debacle and loss of territory to China during the brief war in October 1962 too provided impetus for developing nuclear weapon capability as deterrence for any future conflict.

On the other side, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, late President and Prime Minister of Pakistan was the founder of Pakistan's nuclear weapons research programme and is often branded as the Father of nuclear deterrence programme. While there were speculations since 1965 but after India’s first nuclear test at Pokhran in May 1974, Bhutto sensed a greater urgency and shortly thereafter he reportedly said, "Pakistan will fight, fight for a thousand years. If India builds the (atom) bomb.... (Pakistan) will eat grass, even go hungry, but we (Pakistan) will get one of our own (atom bomb).... We (Pakistan) have no other Choice". Thus Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme clearly emerged out of its sense of rivalry and perceived threat from India and till date its India centric character is maintained. Of course, it gained impetus in response to the loss of its East Wing in 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

Nuclear Milestones and International Response

Under the code-name ‘Smiling Buddha’, India tested its first nuclear device in May 1974 under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and named it a "peaceful nuclear explosion." The device was plutonium based possibly produced in the Canadian-supplied CIRUS reactor. Though US and some other western countries raised concerns that nuclear technology supplied for peaceful purposes could be diverted to weapons purposes but this didn’t lead to any sanctions. However, under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Bajpai India carried out final round of nuclear tests after more than two decades in May 1998 under the code-name ‘Operation Shakti’.

Under the Operation Shakti, India carried out the detonation of four fission and one fusion devices on 11 and 13 May, the venue remaining same i.e. Pokhran in Rajasthan desert. Unlike the fissile technology used in the conventional nuclear devices, the fusion device suggested that India had also achieved technology for manufacturing neutron bomb too - a low yield thermonuclear weapon designed to maximize neutron radiation in the immediate vicinity of the blast – more lethal as a tactical weapon. The then Indian government simultaneously declared India a full-fledged nuclear state and stated that neither there was a need nor they had intention to carry out any further tests. This, however, led to widespread criticism of the country in the international arena and several nations including the United States and Japan imposed sanctions on India in related scientific and technological fields.

In a direct response to this development, Pakistan carried out five underground tests under the code-name Chagai-I on 28 and 30 May 1998 at Ras Koh Hills in Baluchistan on 11 and 13 May. Thus Pakistan became the seventh nation in the world to publicly test nuclear devices in 1998 although it was a result of the nuclear weapon development programme started in 1972. UN Security Council passed the Resolution 1172 where under economic sanctions were imposed on both on India and Pakistan by many developed countries including the major powers.

Later in 2005, Benazir Bhutto reportedly testified that "Pakistan may have had an atomic device long before, and her father had told her from his prison cell that preparations for a nuclear test had been made in 1977, and he expected to have an atomic test of a nuclear device in August 1977." However, the plan was postponed indefinitely to avoid international criticism and possible punitive action. In the same year, in an interview aired on Geo News, Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, scientist and director of the test team, confirmed that Pakistan had indeed developed the design of an atomic bomb in 1978 and successfully conducted a cold test after assembling the first atomic bomb in 1983.

Ever since, sanctions have largely been lifted and the United States, quietly accepting India’s nuclear programme, has signed the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, more popularly known as Indo-US nuclear deal of 2005. Under the agreement, India has agreed to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and place all its civil nuclear facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and, in exchange, the United States would work toward full civil nuclear cooperation with India. On the other hand, US and other major developed countries continue to treat Pakistan’s nuclear programme as dubious and opaque raising concerns towards the safety and security of their nuclear weapons from time to time. Though this led to some countries claiming double standards on the part of the US for making exceptions for India, this also underlines the strategic importance and credibility of India and its commitment for peace and stability in the global perspective.

Nuclear Doctrine

Though India was largely compelled to expedite the nuclear weapons development programme after Indo-China 1962 War and China’s continued edge in the conventional war machinery and manpower, it officially adopted and formally declared nuclear no-first use doctrine. It can be reasonably held that India though developed and tested nuclear devices first but it was never intended towards Pakistan. However, with the repeated aggression and enemy action along the LOC over the years, apart from continued support to insurgency and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s nuclear weapons have gained importance as a deterrent towards Pakistan too.

India openly professed nuclear no-first-use policy and pursued a nuclear doctrine based on "credible minimum deterrence." The Indian government had released a draft of the doctrine in August 1999 which asserted that nuclear weapons are solely for deterrence and that India will pursue a policy of "retaliation only". The document also provides that India shall not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should the deterrence fail. The decision to authorize the use of nuclear weapons rests with the Prime Minister or his 'designated successor.

On the other hand, Pakistan does not subscribe to the no-first use policy. The nuclear doctrine of Pakistan is actually only a theoretical concept of military strategy that promotes deterrence by guaranteeing an immediate "massive retaliation" to an aggressive attack against the state. For instance, in the event of war with India, the Indian Armed Forces with their numerical strength and stockpile of conventional weaponry are likely to overwhelm Pakistan. Hence in a deteriorating situation of Indian forces penetrating through Pakistani defense, that cannot be reversed through conventional warfare, the latter would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons with a first use to stabilize the situation.

The apparent logic behind this doctrine is to deter India from any military intervention, conventional or surgical that would lead to heavy losses and ignominy to Pakistan, as it happened in India-Pakistan war in 1971 or even in the limited Kargil War in 1999. Though Pakistan officially proclaimed a no first attack policy in 1971 and this policy was reiterated after the nuclear tests in 1998 too, unfortunately past experience shows that this cannot be taken on face value. Pakistan army constantly violates ceasefire on LOC almost perennially either to give cover to infiltrators or to invite international attention to keep alive the issue of Kashmir. In fact, on many occasions of perceived threat or escalation of sentiments at LOC, including Kargil War, political leaders and Pakistan army generals have openly threatened to strike India with nuclear weapons. India may deny but Pakistan's asymmetric nuclear posture has indeed influenced on occasions their decision and ability to retaliate, as was evident in 2001 and 2008 crises, when non-state actors sponsored from Pakistani soil carried out deadly terror attacks on Indian Parliament and Mumbai, respectively.

It is likely that he continued unsolicited intervention and support of Pakistani establishment to insurgency and terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir branding it a freedom struggle and unprovoked enemy action across the LOC would compel the Indian establishment to revisit their nuclear doctrine sooner or later. If the recent utterances of high placed Defence strategists is taken on face value India may indeed consider allowing pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Pakistan’s arsenal in the event of a war. This may not necessarily require a formal change in India’s nuclear doctrine, but would simply relax its interpretation to deem pre-emptive strikes as defensive.

Nuclear Capabilities

As the nuclear programmes of the countries is usually shrouded with utmost secrecy, it is difficult to make exact count or forecast of the nuclear arsenal, and to that extent India and Pakistan too are no exception. As per the recent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) revealed annual nuclear forces data, Pakistan allegedly has 110-130 nuclear warheads, whereas India possesses 100-120 nuclear warheads. They maintain that both Pakistan and India are in the process of expanding their nuclear weapon arsenals including ballistic missile delivery capabilities.

Thus Pakistan seems to have a slight edge over India in terms of the number of nuclear warheads. According to another report in 2015 from the think tanks based in the United States, Pakistan is on a course accumulating third-largest nuclear weapons stockpile in the world. The same report suggests that Pakistan operates four plutonium production reactors while India operates one. Thus Pakistan has the capability to produce approximately 20 nuclear warheads annually compared to India’s about five warheads. The number strength might give a psychological boost to a country; as a matter of fact no country can use even 100 nuclear weapons without destroying perhaps the entire globe. Hence numerical superiority in terms of number of nuclear weapons does not have much relevance.

In the context of nuclear delivery capabilities, India is believed to have developed a complete nuclear triad, meaning thereby they have put in place effective delivery systems through land, air and sea. India has already deployed/tested effective and reliable low range Prithvi missiles to high range Agni variants up to the range of about 5,000 Km, while eyeing for the development of ICBMs capable of targeting more than 10,000 Km in future. India also has multiple nuclear capable aircrafts, including the Sukhoi SU-30MKI, the Mikoyan MiG-29, and the Dassault Mirage 2000 capable of airborne nuclear strikes. India also operates Russian leased nuclear submarines and has recently produced the indigenous INS Arihant.

India is indeed ahead of Pakistan in terms of the effectiveness of its weapons and reliability of its delivery systems, but it is programmed in global perspective, particularly to counter the nuclear threat of China rather than Pakistan. As for Pakistan, as their programme is only India centric, it does not matter whether they lack long range missiles or ICBMs or even the fastest weapon systems like BrahMos, Aircraft carrier, Nuclear Submarine or Apache helicopters. In a nuclear war, all one needs is a reliable delivery system, which Pakistan possesses. They need missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons say up to the range of about 1000 to 1500 Km to inflict damage on India and they are believed to have perfected it.

In fact, reportedly Pakistan has even gone to tailor-made its nuclear program to suit the geographical and logistical characteristics of South Asian warfare by focusing on battlefield nukes, something India is yet to respond. The most likely reason for India not resorting to battlefield nukes could be its nuclear doctrine of no-first user. If a battlefield nukes are used by the enemy on India, India would be free to retaliate with regular nukes.

In the given scenario, the only option left for India remains to rely more on creating anti-missile umbrella to ward off incoming nuclear missiles and India’s Advanced Air Defence (AAD) is precisely aimed at it. Besides, India is also investing heavily in AWACS and radar systems to detect missiles/aircrafts launched from the enemy lines. Once these systems are acquired and put in place, the threat of a nuclear attack could be considerably minimized. Ultimately, in an all-out war, it won’t really matter which country has how many nuclear warheads, instead edge would lie with the country which has a better anti-missile system, and technology to detect and destroy nuclear weapons even before they are launched, followed by a punitive retaliation.

Despite constant provocation and violations on LOC by Pakistan, due to its traditional edge in a conventional war, India is less reliant on nuclear weapons for its security and is more focused on improving its military capabilities elsewhere, especially naval and Himalayan-based land capabilities to safeguard its long and disputed border with China, its economic interests and maritime boundaries.


Missile Development and Delivery Systems

Apart from sizeable number of nuclear warheads, Pakistan has a whole range of missiles capable of carrying these weapons of mass destruction but its missile development programme has always been under the wraps of secrecy and suspicion as to whether it’s indigenous or borrowed or smuggled for the following reasons.

Unlike India which has its known history of successes and failures in the process of development of missiles of various types and ranges, international fraternity is not aware of any sustained development plan of Pakistan, which rather suddenly emerged with test firings and deployment in a short period of various ranges of missiles. On many occasions, Pakistan has test fired an equally powerful missile after India test fires its own. It is widely suspected that Pakistan has out rightly borrowed missile technology from China and/or North Korea; with the latter in a quid pro quo of the exchange of nuclear technology and equipment.

In a way, Pakistan’s missile programme is quite mysterious and dramatic because in a short span of about two decades it has allegedly developed several short range to medium range strategic missiles with nuclear warhead capabilities. In the backdrop of Pakistan’s rather poor industrial and technological infrastructure and expertise so also research and development capabilities, it is unlikely that Pakistan’s missile arsenal would have much indigenous capability and credence to offset India’s credible indigenous missile programme. It can be safely surmised that Pakistan’s strategic nexus with China has enabled them an easy and assured missile arsenal acquisition and production to match any India specific development.

In fact, India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) for the research and development of the comprehensive range of missiles started way back in 1982–83 with popular political support and a sound scientific and technological base. This took almost three decades and had its own taste of periodical successes and failures before the DRDO formally declared its successful completion in January 2008. The last major missile system developed under the programme was the intermediate range ballistic missile Agni 3 capable of carrying nuclear weapons with a range of 5,000 Km.

Notwithstanding above, in terms of use of missiles in actual warfare, it hardly matters whether acquisitions are based on indigenous technology or borrowed or smuggled. The fact is Pakistan’s perpetual jealousy and sense of rivalry with India has provided them enough motivation to amass nuclear weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems including short range (Hatf series, Shaheen 1 and M-11), medium range (Ghauri series), intermediate range (Shaheen II) and battlefield range (Nasr, Hatf-I) ballistic missiles with their variants suitable for ground, air and sea attacks, virtually capable of hitting any part of India.

Rocket and missile technology is one area which India can boast to have mastered fully to a level of self-reliance. India is gradually emerging on the world map as an economic giant and regional superpower, and accordingly its defence preparation too should be seen in global perspective, rather than simply keeping it Pakistan or China centric. Accordingly, after achieving success in developing ballistic missiles of short, medium and intermediate range in the Prithvi and Agni series, India is also working on ICBMs of 8000 to 12000 Km range. The country is also working on supersonic cruise missile systems in BrahMos series in joint collaboration with Russia that is currently considered as world’s fastest cruise missile. Besides, they are also developing/deploying several battlefield range conventional missiles with their variants of land, air and sea defence.

But the biggest challenge today is how to shield against the incoming enemy ballistic missiles carrying conventional or nuclear warheads. This becomes more so imperative because of the Indian policy of no first-use on nuclear weapons. Accordingly, the country is also developing a multi-layered ballistic missile defence system under the Indian Ballistic Missile Defence Programme (IBMDP). Currently, a 2-tier system, namely, the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) for the high altitude interception and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) for low altitude interception and destroy of the in-coming enemy missiles is under progress.

Proliferation of Nuclear Technology

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani nuclear physicist and a metallurgical engineer, is often credited to be father of atomic bomb in Pakistan but he has simultaneously also gained notoriety as world’s leading proliferator of nuclear technology, equipment and know-how. He had studied and serving in Holland when the then Prime Minister Bhutto engaged him in 1974 with the secret task of developing nuclear weapons. It is widely believed that Dr Khan stole the centrifuge blueprints from Holland and smuggled them to Pakistan to carry out the nuclear programme.

After the US provided evidence and pressed for action, the Pakistani government formally detained and interrogated him, He allegedly admitted his role in proliferation of nuclear weapons technology but also held that the activities had sanction of the authorities, an allegation vehemently dismissed by Pakistan. The smuggling network working on his behest is believed to have earned millions of dollars in lieu of the equipment and technology provided to Iran and Libya, and possibly to North Korea too.

When Dr Khan’s misdeamenour and smuggling network were exposed, he was put under house arrest in early 2004 by President General Pervez Musharraf under the pressure from the US government. After almost five years of house arrest, the Islamabad High Court in February 2009 ordered Dr Khan to be a free citizen of Pakistan, allowing free movement inside the country, while the US administration still consider him a ‘serious proliferation risk’. Such mockery of the judicial system in Pakistan is not unusual, after all several much sought after terrorists and notorious offenders too find it a safe haven. Where it suits Pakistan’s national interests, either they do not take cognizance of their wrong doings or, if at all any action is taken, sufficient loopholes are left in the case to escape any judicial action. When notorious terrorists like Osama Bin Laden, Dawood Abrahim, Hafez Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar etc. can live freely in Pakistan under the state patronage, it is not surprising if Dr Khan escapes unscathed for the alleged smuggling network and nuclear proliferation activities.

International Opinion

Though India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), but it is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and some of its nuclear reactors are subject to IAEA safeguards. India did not sign these treaties in the past because it felt that certain provisions are discriminatory and do not provide a roadmap for the universal nuclear disarmament within a time-bound framework. Notwithstanding above, India has an unblemished record of non-proliferation and an image of a responsible and reliable nuclear country internationally. Perhaps this is the reason that following US-India Nuclear Treaty in 2005, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) granted India a waiver allowing it to access civilian nuclear technology and fuel from other countries, a unique distinction as no other country which is not a signatory of NPT has been allowed to do nuclear commerce with other countries in the world.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s entire nuclear programme has been viewed with suspicion and unsafe by the United States and other western world from the beginning. Initially, it was much publicised as Islamic bomb, and US on more than one occasions raised the issues of theft, proliferation and apprehensions of nuclear arsenal falling in the hands of Islamic Militant groups. Allegations have also been made on Pakistan from time to time for smuggling and illegal proliferation of nuclear technology to the countries like Libya, Iran and North Korea in the past. Pakistan, under active patronage of China, has been demanding equal treatment with India in international forums including its entry in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) but clearly it has been unable to prove its credibility before the international fraternity due to its terror linkages and past record of proliferation.

Historically, China appears to be the mainstay in supporting and transferring nuclear and missile technology and material to Pakistan. The United States citing enough reasons holds that China has played a major role in the establishment of Pakistan’s atomic bomb development and delivery infrastructure, though an allegation that China vehemently denies. In the past, there have been reports in the Western media too that China has secretly transferred to Pakistan the nuclear weapon technology and the weapon-grade enriched uranium. With its weak economy, scientific and technological infrastructure, there has to be someone (some country) behind the rather strong and advanced nuclear programme of Pakistan (ranked 7th in the world after US, Russia, France, UK, China and India), and China emerges as the obvious choice due to their common cause of the historical rivalry and enmity with India.

Nuclear Weapons - A Deterrence or Blackmail

During 1990s, the United States had chosen Pakistan as an ally in the war against Taliban in Afghanistan mainly because of their dependence on logistics supply through Pakistan. Whether it was a right decision and sound strategy remains debatable because it severely restricted US options to pressurise Pakistan to support various terror groups and shadowy nuclear development programme. Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons became another reason for the US to keep them in good humour.

Pakistan clearly derives several advantages through nuclear blackmail. The first and foremost being its protection from any Indian military aggression as a retaliatory measure consequent to any terror attack(s). While India sticks to its professed doctrine of ‘No First Use’, Pakistan has made it clear umpteen times that in the event of its existential threat by the territorial or other loss, it will have no hesitation in using nuclear weapons against India. Then due to nuclear weapons in their possession, the US and other NATO allies never try to belittle their importance in international polity. Another advantage of Pakistan holding nuclear weapons is that in the event of any crisis involving India, the international community will immediately intervene to put pressure on India to avoid escalation of hostilities.

Sanity of Nuclear Rivalry

One wonders where does the nuclear rivalry of two south asian neighbours lead to, for that matter among other nuclear states too, because the use of nuclear weapons would assure heavy mutual destruction and loss of life, property and environment rather than a victory that a nation could be proud of. Even if theoretically a state physically wins a war, the fall out and implication of nuclear radiation would cause numerous and forgettable misceries to humanity without making distinction of a loser or victor state. We have already seen the one-sided use and implications of rather low intensity weapons on Japan in the second world war. Future nuclear wars are not going to be simple and one-sided so one can easily assume possible implications.

Another fact to remember is that even the anti-ballistic missile defence umbrella being created by some countries (Currently US, Russia, France, India and Israel are known to have this) would not assure complete defence of any country when the multiple modes of delivery of nuclear weapons are engaged and unleashed simultaneously by the enemy nuclear power. So having nuclear weapons deterrence is one thing but practically engaging in a nuclear war is altogether a different game of mutually assured destruction. In such a scenario, more advisable and  practical is that two neighbours rather than resorting to nuclear rivalry, choose to compete in the fields of economics, trade, culture and sports, that would be healthy and productive in improving mutual happiness, health and prosperity.

Continued to “Barriers of Economy and Trade”

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