By Dr.Shireen M Mazari
Every time there is an impending US visit by a Pakistani leader, or a visit by any US politician, bureaucrat or analyst – regardless of his standing in the corridors of US decision-making or in Congress – there is a veritable Tower of Babel on nuclear issues relating to Pakistan. It has been no different this time when it was learnt that PM Nawaz Sharif was to go on an official visit to the US.
Wild assumptions began floating around, centring on two issues: one, that the US would actually agree to a civil nuclear deal with Pakistan on the patterns of the 123 Agreement with India; and two, for the pessimists, that the US would demand all manner of nuclear concessions from Pakistan.
The former expectation was always a non-starter and, frankly, would not have been in Pakistan’s long-term interests, given how the US has an insatiable appetite to demand ‘do more’ from Pakistan on any front that it is offering cooperation in. The second fear was strong enough for the foreign secretary to come out into the open about Pakistan’s tactical nuke!
But, as usual, by keeping things vague all that happened was more confusion, although there is nothing secretive or confusing about Nasr and some of us have been discussing this for over three years now – including in a briefing I had given to the Senate Defence Committee before the 2013 elections. A little more public interaction and information sharing would certainly allow us to build a stronger national narrative on nuclear-related issues – from missiles to the FMCT to the supplier cartels that the US is so eager to admit India into.
As India develops its second strike capability and a vast array of delivery systems including Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles along with doctrines like ‘Cold Start’ (now being rephrased with other nomenclatures), and the building up of Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD), Pakistan has justifiably moved to keep its deterrence credible in the face of all these developments.
For a long time Pakistan premised its deterrence on medium range strategic missiles, which effectively implied a one-rung escalation ladder, which many of us felt was the correct way to go: keep it to a credible minimum level. However three critical shifts occurred which put the whole one-rung escalation ladder deterrence into doubt.
One: The dynamics of maintaining a credible minimum nuclear deterrence altered with the Indo-US nuclear deal and its fallout, especially India’s enhanced weapons grade fissile stockpiles.
Two: India’s development of missile defence capability also directly impacted Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence in terms of what would be a ‘credible minimum’.
Three: India’s ‘Cold Start Doctrine’, now rejected in name but sustained conceptually and simply reformulated as various war-fighting formulations demonstrated in military exercises which envisage the use of rapid deployment of armed brigades and divisions in surprise and rapid attacks. This directly questioned the credibility of a one-rung escalation ladder. After all, a short but limited conventional military attack on Pakistan in 72 hours could hardly rationalise a strategic nuclear attack in response by Pakistan. Hence the rationale for developing the solid fuelled 60 km Nasr missile.
In April 2011 the surface-to-surface (SSBM) Nasr was first tested and there have been subsequent tests also – all successful. The Nasr is Pakistan’s counter to India’s Limited War doctrine. That the Nasr has not yet been inducted allows both countries to bring the issue of doctrines to the table of a strategic dialogue, along with other issues.
In other words, the Hatf IX Nasr remains a technology-demonstrative missile – that is, we are signalling our acquisition of tactical missile capability and miniaturisation technology. We have already developed cruise missiles – the Hatf VIII (Ra’ad) which is air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) and the Hatf VII (Babur), which is a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). Now we can move to developing sea-launched submarine capability to move on to second-strike capability. This would help stabilise the nuclear deterrence and its credibility over the long term.
This is why the US was seeking to pressurise us into giving up the Nasr. Earlier hysterical US analysts had decried Nasr as a battlefield weapon which was totally incorrect. Nasr can be deployed along the eastern border against forward moving counter-force targets on Indian not Pakistani soil. So Nasr does not signal a shift to war fighting from deterrence. On the contrary, Nasr’s deterrence value lies precisely in deterring ‘rapid deployment’ conventional attacks.
As long as nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of some states, there will always be the likelihood of their being used but the only time they were used was by the US against a country which did not have them and which was already effectively defeated. Even today the US has the most questionable command and control stability given how just a few years ago six of its live nukes went missing on a bomber for hours on with no one knowing how this incident happened.
If there is to be nuclear disarmament, then all nuclear weapon states must move equitably and together on that front. Then there is the issue of supplier cartels like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that the US is eager for India to join. India has already been given the NSG waiver allowing it to import all manner of nuclear-related technologies and sign civil nuclear deals with other states; but if the US succeeds in getting India NSG membership, it means Pakistan will face permanent discrimination because the NSG works on the unanimity principle.
What Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts on this front are remains another unnecessary ‘state secret’, preventing effective lobbying by Pakistan at multiple levels.
As for the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), people in Pakistan – because little engagement takes place between the state and society on these issues – have been led to believe by external commentators that Pakistan has been solely responsible for preventing movement on the FMCT. The fact is that the US and some of its allies stalled the negotiations in the CD on a fissile material treaty for almost fifteen years because the US refused to accept the notion of effective international verification procedures.
The US has also refused to move on three FMCT-related issues that are in the CD in Geneva: nuclear disarmament, negative security guarantees and prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). As for the FMCT, Pakistan has and should sustain its position that there must be reduction in existing fissile stockpiles before a cut-off date is accepted.
These are all issues that need to be brought within the public domain of information in Pakistan so that facts replace conjectures and we can make a strong case for Pakistan – which does have a strong case for its nuclear development on all counts – and expose the duality of approach adopted by the US vis-a-vis Pakistan and India.
Did you know India’s proliferation record is highly contentious and in the public domain but swept aside when the US, UK, France, Japan and Australia want to sign nuclear deals with India. You didn’t know? Now whose fault is that?