Monday, January 3, 2011

Pakistan's Nuclear threshold

Does WikiLeaks give any indication of the location of Pakistan’s nuclear threshold? Its cables have only confirmed our fears and have nothing new to offer to the Indian Government. The Pakistani establishment continues to double-cross the Americans who, knowing that the dollar cannot buy everything as aptly expressed in The Beatles’ timeless hit Can’t buy me love, cannot help dropping greenbacks as its only purported solution to the debt-ridden economy.

Has WikiLeaks brought to our thinking any new aspects? Some facets of Pakistan’s nuclear thinking do emerge but Pakistan’s nuclear threshold remains distant, yet debatable. India remains Enemy No. 1 which is not very flattering and Pakistan going ahead and making tactical nuclear warheads at a greater pace than its requirement is an interesting development which has always been factored in any Indian plan. Tactical weapons require a delivery system and an overarching concept of employment.

One of the strategies being discussed is that of a cold start by Indians who have denied the existence of this doctrine. This however, brings to fore the fact that, as per the disclosures, Pakistan is more trigger-happy regarding the use of nuclear weapons. Tactical strikes have to be backed by integrated tactical plans. Thus what is clearly emerging is a counter force strategy against an Indian force, at a time and place of Pakistan’s choosing. The use of the bomb in one’s own territory with the heavy cost of collateral damage and civilian casualties involved will not be very prudent.

It also clearly reinforces the international opinion that South Asia is the world’s most dangerous place. While India has a mature democracy, civilian supremacy and a stated no first use policy, things are entirely different for Pakistan. The difference is on account of two reasons: Its control of the bomb, which was initially built as an Islamist bomb, being in the hands of the Army and, as being increasingly indicated, even by WikiLeaks, that this bomb can fall into jihadi hands. There is this aspect of a large number of personnel working their security and easy access to technology to make the threat of a dirty bomb even greater.

Pakistan is the only country in the world where the army and not a civilian democracy controls the nuclear trigger. The National Nuclear Command Authority works through the army’s Joint Operation Centre. A perusal of all available interview records of all Prime Ministers and Presidents of the country who have occupied the top post clearly indicates that they never possessed full knowledge of all the nuclear weapons in the land which, ipso facto, implies that these were not under their control. This fact is known to the international community.

While Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was built with India as their specific target, its leadership has also never clearly stated a no-first-use policy. Its nuclear policy is, at best, ambiguous in nature. In such a situation, our apparent lack of concern is most disconcerting.

The question that arises is - what is Pakistan’s nuclear threshold? Is the nuclear threshold territory a given line crossing which will cause the Pakistani Army to use the bomb? Or is the bomb a political weapon? It is not always risk-free to interpret correctly a single action but going by its record of repeated betrayal at the bilateral level as well as by the WikiLeaks’ disclosures, there is enough evidence available of a trigger-happy nature as well as behaviour on its part.

The Pakistan psyche is that the bomb brings equality with a greater power and is thus a combination of a political weapon at the international level to be used for the purpose of arm-twisting as well as an instrument of achieving parity with India in the eyes of the world.

The bomb is, therefore, likely to be used in pursuance of military objectives. The nuclear threshold is going to be lower than that of any mature democracy as the military objectives are fast changing and strategic goals remain distant.

The Indian state judges Pakistan’s nuclear threshold based on Indian conditions but the circumstances are entirely different. As a democracy, India’s belief in the nuclear threshold is far different from other nations.

As long as the Army controls the bomb directly or indirectly, its centre of gravity will remain high. India has to find answers through excellent surveillance and international deterrence. India will also have to ensure that the costs of using these by a trigger-happy general are prohibitive. An all-out conventional war will not be allowed or will be very short-lived.

The forces must, therefore, train, arm and be ready to fight in a nuclear environment while taking special care not to present itself as a lucrative target for a counter force strategy.

This is the road to take if one chooses to take seriously - as one must - the revelations by WikiLeaks.
Courtesy: The Pioneer, 20 December 2010
What is Pakistan's Nuclear threshold? by CS Thapa
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