NEW Delhi denies the reality of Cold Start as a concept, attributing the terminology to off-the-cuff remarks by Indian officers. Nonetheless, India has been implementing a strategy that has deeply startled Pakistan, driving Islamabad to invest in tactical nukes and change its own nuclear posture, leading credible minimum deterrence to full spectrum deterrence. At the same time, Islamabad is alert of the gap in conventional military capabilities between itself and India.
Pakistan has taken an asymmetric approach to the new threat, building up and relying on an arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, lower yield nuclear weapons designed for direct use on the battlefield against enemy forces. Pakistan is calculating that tactical nuclear weapons would essentially counter India’s conventional military superiority. Although it is a nuclear power, India does not operate or plan to develop tactical nuclear weapons. Obviously, Pakistan will have an advance in this situation. India has adopted a fast-launch stance which will be hardly de-escalated by international diplomacy’s measures. In turn, the Pakistani defence and deterrence capabilities are grounded on a usage of the tactical nuclear weapons. This is raising the possibility of a full-scale nuclear war on the South Asia in case of a potential conflict between Pakistan and India.
In fact Pakistan is more than capable enough of thwarting an Indian offensive. Pakistan arm forces are concentrated on the Western border and all of our military resources and focus is being pulled into the new military operations so this makes us susceptible from an attack of any size on our Eastern border; tactical nukes were developed to counter India’s massive numerical conventional weapons superiority.
Indian army forces are much larger than Pakistan’s own conventional defence Pakistan would be justified in using tactical nuclear weapons against, like Indian tanks if they traverse over. The position is that this would be a defensive rather than offensive. It would not target Indian cities but be used for protecting Pakistan territory. Cold Start was the trigger that got Pakistan to think along these lines as it seriously alarmed the Pakistan High Command. Earlier on, nuclear development in Pakistan was along the same lines as in India, except that India went in for the hydrogen bomb and Pakistan is still working with fissile material.
Nonetheless, as Lt Gen Kidwai revealed in 2015 that while Pakistan had already moved from minimum deterrence to full spectrum deterrence, the current arsenal size would be sufficient for the next 10 to 15 years. As per the estimates of the arms Control Association, Pakistan currently has between100 to 120 nuclear warheads as compared to India’s 90 to 110 warheads. However, Pakistan believes that the rising conventional difference with India fetched its inherited security dilemma from the eastern borders, lowering its nuclear thresholds and forcing it to boost efforts to play the much anticipated numbers game. The full spectrum deterrence, as being implemented by Pakistan, is a little different than that perceived by others, specifically the west. It needs logical literature and clarification on the subject. It would be helpful to neutralize the international community’s concerns regarding the concept that Pakistan aims for nuclear parity with India.
Factually, Pakistan does not seek equality; it only aims for balance. The opposite could be true for India because its program is neither for balance nor parity but rather for its so called prestige and supremacy. Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA) is clear on this, which full spectrum deterrence, in its qualitative term, is to plug the gaps in deterrence and address any forms of aggressions.
—The writer works for Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.