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NUCLEAR AND MISSILE THREATS TO INDIA: China-Pakistan nexus in South Asia

Paper 296                                       17.08.2001


by Dr. Rajesh Kumar Mishra

Despite the international condemnation China has relentlessly supported and assisted the Pakistani nuclear and missile programmes. On August 6,2001, The Washington Times reported that “a US spy satellite detected the latest shipment as it arrived by truck at the mountainous China-Pakistani border on May1”. Quoting the US intelligence agencies the report stated that the China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corp. (CMEC) supplied the missile components for Pakistan’s Shaheen-1 and Shaheen-2 missile programmes. And, it was one of 12 missile component transfers sent by ships and trucks detected by US intelligence agencies since the beginning of the year.

 It is known by now that Pakistan’s nuclear test in 1998 was not ‘reactive’ but ‘self-perceived’ in true sense. The chronology of events that led to Pakistani missile and nuclear tests suggest that Islamabad’s efforts and stockpile of non-conventional weapons are the result of a sustained war strategy against India. 

It is ineluctable that though the idea of having bomb was indigenous, evidence negates the originality of in-house technological capability to what Pakistan claims for. The key acquisitions and development of non-conventional weaponry have been imported from outside. And, against all international norms China still remains the leading exporter to Pakistan to provide with a whole range of related technologies right from development to deployment of nuclear weapons. 

The Chinese destructive engagement with Pakistan has been the main stumbling block toward confidence building in South Asia in general and it directly threatens the Indian peace and security in particular. 

In reality, China’s continued technology and weapon transfers to Pakistan are intended to provoke conflict between India and Pakistan. Beijing seeks to increase the capabilities of Pakistan in the hope that Pakistan might deliver a disturbing threat to India. 

Since long, India has been facing a threatening nexus between China and Pakistan. These regional adversaries jointly act against India. Pakistan also has been acting and responding to China’s meticulous designs quite swiftly. In fact, Pakistan’s acquisition is far in excess of its strategic defence needs and requirements. 

Through this anti-India collaboration, China’s actions have been an irritant to Indian initiatives and it undermines the Indian concept of defence deterrence. By diverting New Delhi’s concern towards checking Islamabad’s undue aspirations against India, Beijing tries to wear down India’s time and resource that could otherwise be utilised by New Delhi to build a minimum credible deterrence. This minimum credible deterrence as the Indian nuclear doctrine has often come in the way between India-US relations and impacts on the American policy towards the issues of non-proliferation.  

However, American ‘non-determination’ against the failed pledges of China has also contributed to continued Chinese supply of missile and nuclear technologies to Pakistan. Beijing, being articulative, thinks it otherwise. 

It has been reported that during negotiations with the United States, China has described Pakistan as its Israel. And, China links the M-11 transfers to Pakistan with the US sale of F-16s to Taiwan. Intentionally, to oppose the US policies Beijing draws a reciprocal route to proliferate regionally and internationally. In any case, it is not clear why the Indian sub continent should face the impact of differences between China and US.  , Indian peace and security is thus threatened indirectly also by contending postures of China and US. This dimension of Indian insecurity is in addition to Chinese belligerent attitude toward India in tri-lateral (China, India, Pakistan) and bilateral (Sino-Indian) regional relations. 

These configurations relating to US-China and China-Pakistan relations do pose serious security challenges to India especially, pertaining to Indian missile and nuclear programmes. And New Delhi must take note of the Chinese reaction to Bush administration’s determination to go ahead with the missile defence programmes-TMD and NMD. Expressing its vehement opposition to American perceptions on missile defence and ABM Treaty, the Chinese white Paper on National Defence 2000 has threatened “a new round of arms race”. Sharing similar views, while reacting over the US moves, Parvez Musharraff has been quoted saying “it will lead to a resumption of the nuclear and missile race”. 

The situation may turn dangerous to Indian security if one reads through the minds of Pakistani President Parvez Musharraf. On February 7, 2000 the BBC News agency had reported “Musharraff’s nuclear warning to India”. Further, Islamabad’s non-commitment to “no-first-use” of nuclear weapons and its abetment to subversive activities in India in the name of jehad, together makes the Indian security more vulnerable. 

Speaking at the Pakistan Air Force’s Somniani firing range, Musharraff desired to build on the “ability to threaten enemy’s such vulnerable targets which go beyond their tolerance threshold”. And, during his visit to the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), Nilore, Musharraff stressed the need for carrying forward the work done by predecessors and that the nuclear programme of the country would be consolidated with renewed vigour. 

The Pakistani nuclear development programme that had started since the establishment of PAEC in 1955 has undergone considerable notional surgical changes. The process of changing the course towards non conventional weaponry was kicked off from the secret meeting in Multan called by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972, attended by scientists and nuclear experts. Bhutto had, also, exhorted-“we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own”. In 1986, Pakistan signed a nuclear agreement with China and the same year Zia-ul-Haq had said-“it is our right to obtain technology. And when we acquire this technology the Islamic world will posses it with us”. And, the journey thus started, China still recklessly assists Pakistan with nuclear and missile technologies. 

The imperatives of Islamisation of bomb may adversely affect the security concerns of India. In the recent past, the chief architect of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, Abdul Qadeer Khan at one Shahbuddin Ghauri (after whom the Pakistani missile has been named) conference eulogised that Ghauri had laid the foundation for the Pakistani movement by launching a jehad against Hindus in India. 

The blending of Pakistani aspirations, to catch up with India’s non-conventional forces and to carry on support to so called jehad in India, causes serious military and security threats to New Delhi.  

The Director of the Asian Studies Centre of Heritage Foundation, Larry M. Wortzel has remarked that “India’s concern about China’s potential threat cannot be simply dismissed. China is Pakistan’s principal source of nuclear weapons and missiles. China believes Pakistan has the needed influence to defuse Islamic separatist movements inside China’s borders, while it views India as a strategic rival.” 

With regard to nuclear relations in South Asia, the observation of Neil Jock, an analyst at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is worth looking into. He mentioned that “India’s concerns with China tend to receive less international attention internationally, and indeed within India as well. But, it can not be forgotten that a war was fought in 1962 over border disputes that remain unresolved.” 

Further, taking into account the Pakistan’s first-strike option, Stephen P. Cohen of Brookings Institution has opined that Pakistan would use an “option-enhancing policy” for a possible use of nuclear weapons. 


A strategic rethinking is necessary while China maintains close nuclear and military ties with Pakistan. Beijing’s clandestine illegal supply of nuclear and missile technologies still continues even despite China’s persistent denial of such activities before the US. Though having adequate information through intelligence agencies, intelligentsia reports and satellite imageries, the American government fails to assure itself of convincing or concrete evidence to act against China. There may not an incentive to look for such ‘evidence’ that may be positively related to US’ national interest but could not necessarily be complemented with  Indian security concerns 

As far as Indian response to hostile China-Pakistan nexus is concerned, New Delhi has not yet been able to put forth any effective opposition to Chinese support to Pakistan’s anti-India centric nuclear and missile programmes. Neither New Delhi has so far mobilised the international community to ask China to stop its proliferation activities. Curiously the Washington Time’s report on latest Chinese supply to Pakistan has drawn very little attention or condemnation from Indian media, institutions and analysts. Till date, the voices raised by and in India have fallen on Chinese deaf ears.  If New Delhi charts out a counteractive route to persuade China to take into account India’s concerns, the future of security of Asia would become more complex and uncertain.

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