Now where that threshold lies is ambiguous to say the least. They also indicate through well considered leaks that this may be resorted to even if a limited war is started by India in response to whatever provocation that occurs. This has been written about by some noted military writers of Pakistan. There is also a double whammy that was first articulated by their Chief of Army Staff General Mirza Aslam Beg when he wrote in his book that there is also a degree of irrationality that creeps in Pakistan military mind when a threat emanates from India! All this is designed to deter India from undertaking even a limited war option.
Even though Pakistan lacks a sea launched nuclear strike capability, they have enough land based missiles to carry out such a first strike by launching tactical nuclear weapons, either as a demonstrative one or on a tactical target to inflict sufficient damage to own troops and concentrations which are purely military in nature and thus be termed as Counter Troop. In all likelihood such a strike would be on Indian soil but be termed as defensive.
To cater to the possibility of a massive counter strike by India which could, in the present context be ‘counter value’, either to inflict unacceptable losses or destruction of Pak nuclear capabilities, Pakistan must possess a credible second strike capacity. Hence the ever growing nuclear arsenal of Pakistan.
Pakistan thinking on the subject which has been articulated in writing by them defines the nuclear threshold as under:
- Pre-emptive response on major troop concentration to deter India to start its offensive.
- Early response against Indian Forces when they cross into Pakistan.
- A delayed response when Indian Forces have made major gains and threaten its hinterland.
- Last is the situation where Pak war waging potential is about to be seriously degraded and their National Security is at stake.
India had the ability to respond to the launch of tactical nuclear weapons with a similar kind and show its resolve to go through, with the further option of larger yield nuclear weapons, Pakistan may have to pause and think about taking the next step. This may also enable India to continue with its conventional operation concurrently
These when aired openly are meant to emphasise that starting from India’s forward move and concentration to actually launching an attack and thereafter to further expand and consolidate, Pakistan may resort to a nuclear strike across the whole spectrum of eventualities. Logically the first two or even three threshold responses are likely to be launched on Indian troops and armaments and may be confined to Tactical Nuclear Weapons delivered with precision to avoid any major collateral damage to civilian targets; this they argue would give them a morally defensible position.
Given our present doctrine our response if executed will be a major counter value strike which limited wars tactical nukes may or may not be able to destroy Pakistan’s second strike capability. With our present arsenal such a strike, even if aimed at being confined to counterforce targets, will invariably have collateral damage to civilian population which would invite an attempted second strike by Pakistan. Can India be sure that her first strike would definitely destroy or deter Pakistan from launching their second strike? Perhaps not.
While the possibility of an armed conflict with China is not ruled out in a limited context, it is unlikely to spin off into a nuclear exchange. On the contrary, a limited war with Pakistan continues to be a distinct possibility. The professed nuclear doctrine of Pakistan indicates a strong likelihood of their resorting to tactical nuclear weapons in an early stage of the conflict. India needs to rethink its own nuclear doctrine and consider what steps need to be initiated to counter them
It also must clearly be understood that to respond to Pakistan’s first strike, when confined to military targets by tactical nuclear weapons of comparatively low yield with precision, by a major counter value strike of high yield weapon(s), will of necessity demand a very resolute political leadership who will not be deterred by the thought of massive losses (in the event of a second strike by Pakistan) to Indian civilian population and value targets of strategic import. Nor will the leadership allow itself to be persuaded and coerced by International pressures to withhold such a strike. Not carrying out a retaliatory nuclear strike(s) will not only be a political suicide by the ruling government, it will also be extremely demoralising to the nation and its armed forces.
As opposed to the above scenario if India had the ability to respond to the launch of tactical nuclear weapons with a similar kind and show its resolve to go through, with the further option of larger yield nuclear weapons, Pakistan may have to pause and think about taking the next step. This may also enable India to continue with its conventional operation concurrently. The counter argument to this would be that there is no certainty that this will stop the escalation by both sides graduating to counter value strikes in an increasingly escalatory response. While there is no cut and dry or hard and fast answer to any of these questions one needs to ponder and discuss it threadbare and not rubbish the option out of hand.
The debate on the viability of retaining tactical nuclear weapons has been going on in USA, NATO and Russia for a long time. A sizeable school of thought has emphasised that tactical nuclear weapons cannot be an option in the post-cold war in the West. The probability of an all-out war in Europe has receded and there is a clamour by NATO members to dismantle all tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. Russia has not subscribed to this thought. The geopolitical situation has altered drastically is West but that is not the case in the Indian subcontinent where India faces two adversaries who are nuclear powers. While the possibility of an armed conflict with China is not ruled out in a limited context, it is unlikely to spin off into a nuclear exchange. On the contrary, a limited war with Pakistan continues to be a distinct possibility. The professed nuclear doctrine of Pakistan indicates a strong likelihood of their resorting to tactical nuclear weapons in an early stage of the conflict. India needs to rethink its own nuclear doctrine and consider what steps need to be initiated to counter them.
By some guesstimate Pakistan has approximately 90 to 120 warheads with adequate number of delivery systems in the shape of aircraft and different varieties of nuclear capable missiles including the latest Shaheen I and Shaheen II. Besides they have developed / been gifted cruise missiles Babur and Raad which are nuclear capable. With enhanced capacity of production of weapon grade plutonium they are in a position to add four to six warheads every year to their stockpile. To these the latest vector which has been added is a Tactical Missile System Nasr which Pakistan claims is nuclear capable. This missile has been tested during a recent exercise by Pak forces. Obviously this also implies that they have in all likelihood, carried out miniaturisation of the nuclear systems to be fitted into The Nasr Missile which are claimed to be highly mobile and vehicle mounted
About the Author
Lt Gen Shantonu Choudhry (retd)
The writer retired as Vice Chief of Army Staff in January 2005. He has served in Military Operations and Military Intelligence Directorates and has been an instructor in Defence Services Staff College. He is a widely read officer who writes regularly on national security.
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