Should you buy what Pakistan is selling?
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations organization has been trying to sell its citizens, and more importantly, India, on the implications of the country’s successful testing of Hatf-IX/NASR, a nuclear-capable battlefield range ballistic missile. Dr. Shireen Mazari, formerly Director-General, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, proclaimed that the reality of a tactical weapons capability in Pakistan has effectively check-mated India’s so-called “Cold Start” doctrine.
The argument is that the threat of employing low-yield nuclear weapons against the army will be sufficient to deter India from a conventional military attack. The Pakistanis are apparently betting that their use of tactical nuclear weapons against advancing Indian forces — possibly, even on Pakistani soil — will not lead to a rapid escalation nor result in massive nuclear retaliation by India because of the relative magnitude and damage caused by the attack. These are both absurd assumptions.
Under such a scenario, the very fact that the Indian army chose to attack Pakistan, despite its large nuclear arsenal, means that India was calling Pakistan’s bluff and that deterrence had failed. What is the point of threatening the Indian army with tactical nuclear weapons at such a juncture? Further, India’s Nuclear Doctrine specifically calls for a “punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor” in the event of “any nuclear attack against India and its forces” (emphasis added). The Pakistanis, of course, are welcome to interpret the phrase “punitive retaliation” any way they see fit, but I doubt that their curiosity for greater clarity on the term would lead them to provoke India into giving a practical demonstration.
On Hatf-IX/NASR, a brilliant op-ed by Ejaz Haider in today’s The Express Tribune (LT @d_jaishankar):
In our case, will we be using this weapon system for war fighting against an attacking Indian force on our soil? There can be no other use for such a weapon. If it does come to that, our deterrence would already have failed and I cannot see how use of TNWs will constitute a climb on the escalatory ladder to resurrect it. We are, of course, not even considering how our own troops and population would be exposed to the fallout from a TNW. Neither am I even touching upon the hair-raising issue of command and control of this system dispersed right down to the units and sub-units by the very logic of its deployment and employment.
Meanwhile, why would an adversary not raise the bar after its force is struck with a TNW? This was precisely the folly of strategies that led to the development of sophisticated and more accurate missiles. It was thought that striking and degrading only the enemy’s hard targets would prevent him from an all-out nuclear strike. Someone realised that it was stupid to determine the enemy’s response for him!
Moreover, our deterrence is pegged on NOT fighting a war, i.e., ensuring prevention of war by denying India its conventional advantage. This weapon system is about fighting a war, or supposed employment in case hostilities break out. That makes a mockery of our basic strategic requirement. Are we now going to frame and put the old deterrence on a wall in a drawing room? At the minimum, going for this kind of system reflects a mindset, one of paranoia, which ends up signalling to the adversary the exact opposite of what needs to be signalled — ie we are confident of our deterrent. Instead, we are happily embarked on diluting our deterrent and consider it an outstanding achievement.
But this is not all. There are other troubling questions related to the civil-military imbalance and flawed decision-making to which I shall return in the follow-up. [The Express Tribune]