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THE NUCLEAR DIMENSION: Its Context in Confrontational politics of Pakistan

Paper No. 413           12.13.2002

by A. K.Verma

A cold blooded approach is necessary to evaluate the risks that can flow out of the current levels of confrontation of Pakistan with India.  This evaluation should be based on actual history of Pakistan's behaviour towards India in the past 55 years and the motivations and intents as can be reasonably gleaned there from and not on a theoretical understanding of what might have happened elsewhere in the world.  The variables as applicable in the Pakistani case are qualitatively different from those which operated in the cold war between the US and USSR.

Experts of the nuclear theology of cold war concluded that nuclear weapons had only a deterrent value and were useless as weapons of war since nuclear war would have led to a mutually assured destruction of both parties.  The intent on each side was to bring about the demolition of the other side but this intent operated within the parameters of rationality.  Rational evaluation informed that, given the numbers, ensuring one sided nuclear devastation was an impossibility.  Rationality compelled the evolution of doctrine of deterrence in the West.

In our Western neighbourhood rationality is at a discount. Western models therefore cannot serve as a basis for reconstructing scenarios of Pakistani options and likely actions. Western models generate a climate of wishful thinking.  One has to avoid carefully this element while cognising what Pakistan might or might not do.

What Pakistani intentions are can be said to be fairly visible during all the years of its existence.  It started on a note of animosity towards India from day one.  This animosity became more and more deeply entrenched as Islam converted into the ideology of the new nation.  Ambition to possess Kashmir became symbolic of the desire to reduce India.  Acquisition of Kashmir would not have made any difference to the nature of the primal animosity.  Perhaps, there is only one way to satisfy it, to bring total destruction of India.  That seems to have become an objective of Pakistan.

Post Sept.11 and Dec.13 developments do not disclose any change of heart or strategy.  Shaking hands with Prime Minister Bajpai at the recent Saarc meeting at Kathmandu was described by General Parvez Musharaf as one of the three most difficult decisions taken by him.  Closely analysed, what he seems to be conveying is that peace with India will be a very difficult decision. When he declares that Pakistan will continue to provide moral, diplomatic and political support to the Kashmir "liberation movement" no change from pre Sept. 11 policy is being indicated.  Prior to that date a proxy war was being waged. Musharraf’’s statement serves a notice that it would continue to be the state policy..

The Pakistani nuclear development programme is entirely India centric as admitted by many Pakistani functionaries.  Apart from giving an illusionary parity in terms of military strength vis-à-vis India, the programme was intended to provide Pakistan with an ultimate instrument to deal with India.  Two statements of key officials display an eagerness on the part of Pakistan to put this capability to use.  In an article ‘‘Pakistan's Nuclear Future’’, published in ‘‘Pakistan And The Bomb’’ [ed. Samina Ahmed and David Cartright, Oxford University Press, 1998, P. 71] the well respected Pakistani scientist and academic Parvez Hoodbhoy quotes the former ISI director and subsequently Pakistani Ambassador to Germany, Lt. Gen.Assad Durrani (Retd.) :- "If" argues General Durrani……. "We were to make it clear that whatever nuclear deterrence we might have is primarily meant to deter the use of nuclear weapons from the other side, then by saying so we will fail to deter a conventional attack. ……." Therefore he reasons the other side must be led to believe that "We are primed, almost desperate to use our nuclear capabilities when our national objectives are threatened, (as) for example, a major crackdown on (the) freedom movement in Kashmir."  Equally revealing is what the former Pakistan Army Chief General Jehangir Karamat told the Pakistan Professional Forum at Dubai on Oct. 26, 2000 "no real peace process has been ever started between India and Pakistan which could decide against a military option and in favour of peace." [Dawn, Oct. 8 2000, as reported by Pot, Nov. 13, 2000, p. 4675] The two statements together signify that the military establishment believes that a military option is the more credible one and a nuclear strike can be triggered off even without an attack by India on Pakistan.  This approach inverts the well understood Clausewitzian dictum that war is a continuation of politics in another form and creates the irrational postulate that war takes a precedence over politics for seeking solutions to problems between states.  In the Indo Pakistani context this irrationality has been repeatedly at work from the Pakistani side.  All the four wars imposed by Pakistan on India in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999 were a product of insane calculations, mad projections and inbred decisions.

There were three other wars which Pakistan considered but did not wage.  The noteworthy character of each was that it had a nuclear component at a level reached by then by the Pakistani nuclear development programme.  In the first case, in mid 1980s, Pakistan explored the use of nuclear weapons when it was wrongly led to believe in the possibility of an Indian air strike on the uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta. The second scenario was occasioned by the massive Indian military exercises, codenamed Brasstacks, in 1987.  The third exercise was planned for April-May 1990 as a deterring action against India to prevent it from taking appropriate action to control the insurgency set into motion in J&K in 1989.

The Indian authorities did not have a complete comprehension of the progress in the Pakistani nuclear development programme. By early 1980s some Pakistani nuclear devices had been cold tested and obviously could have been put to some use.  By 1990, Pakistan had developed small bombs which could be delivered from an F-16.  It did not take long to progress further delivery techniques through combat aircrafts.  The techniques involved conventional freefall, loft bombing, toss bombing and low level lay down attack.  Qualified Pakistanis have claimed that its combat aircrafts F-16, Mirage V and A-5 are all now capable of using any one of these techniques for delivery.  Had the Pakistani establishment carried out its designs in any one of the three scenarios mentioned above, probably it would have come as a total surprise to India.

The Pakistani intention behind the April May 1990 episode came very close to execution.  In Pakistan subsequently this crisis situation was described as the ‘‘Cuban Missile Crisis’’ of the subcontinent.  The Americans were able to decipher Pakistani plans from the diverse clues they picked up and felt so alarmed that the US President sent his Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates to Islamabad in May 1990 to stop Pakistan in its tracks.  His mission was successful.  After Islamabad Gates visited Delhi also but he apparently did not disclose anything to Indian authorities about the close call or Pakistani nuclear planning.  In India there was not the foggiest inkling about the Pakistani plans for a nuclear adventure.  Western nuclear experts in various think tanks do not believe that there is more than 1% chance of a nuclear weapon power embarking on a nuclear strike.  They and their followers in India tend to give the same margin of probability to a nuclear confrontation in the subcontinent.  However, the ground realities in the case of Pakistan are so different from what prevailed in the US-USSR relationship.  The wishful thinking factor did not exist there as it exists here in Pakistan, nor the irrationality, the obsessive hatred, the closed mind.  The presence of Americans in Pakistan today seems to have had little effect on basic Pakistani policies towards Kashmir and India. While no doubt the American presence can have some restraining influence, any hope for a fundamental change in attitudes towards India of the military elite is likely to remain dim.  On the Indian side prudence will lie in expecting the unexpected and remaining ready for the worst scenario.

(A. K. Verma is a former Secretary of Govt. of India & can be reached at