Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Programme: India’s Anxieties

Nuclear weapons programmes remain a crucial strategic element when looking at India-Pakistan relations and its idiosyncrasies. Given this background, India tends to possess some fears regarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. It is natural to assume that Pakistan may have certain fears regarding India’s programme. The following section presents an Indian viewpoint and points out some of the major anxieties India has about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.


Insecurity regarding Pakistan’s Nuclear Security

Like any other country, Pakistan’s continual quest for expanding its nuclear arsenal calls for a greater focus on its nuclear security. With growing domestic instability in Pakistan coupled with the rising tide of terrorism, New Delhi has a high degree of concern regarding the security of Pakistan’s nuclear materials and weapons.

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal possesses an approximate range of 90-110 nuclear weapons. It has been increasing its fissile material production, adding nuclear warheads to its stockpiles and seeking to expand ways to deliver them. These developments indicate the expanding role of nuclear weapons for war fighting. With an overall larger nuclear cycle and expanded fissile material and nuclear stockpile, the dangers related to security also rise. While the possibility of a terrorist group taking over a strategic nuclear weapon and launching it seems a bit far-fetched, there are other potential dangers which seem more probable than not.

To illustrate, the risk of radioactive material being stolen is a genuine possibility. While periodic theft of small amounts of nuclear material does not imply that one can use it to make a strategic nuclear weapon, it could be enough to make a dirty bomb. The presence of a large number of terrorist groups in Pakistan (some aimed at countries such as India and Afghanistan, and others targeting the Pakistani state) gives credibility to such concerns. Also, insider help may aggravate the potential nuclear related security risks.

Another security vulnerability that raises hackles in New Delhi is loss of possession of Nasr during a crisis/conflict. It is most practical (given the nature of the weapon system) that Nasr will be placed near the border whenever deployed during a crisis. Given the context, the fear of Nasr falling into the hands of a terrorist group, especially with some insider help, becomes a scenario of anxiety. Nasr requires additional layers of security in order to make sure that no terrorist group or disgruntled personnel are able to exploit the vulnerabilities especially during transportation. Should it fall into the wrong hands, Nasr could act as the perfect instrument of blackmail against any country or institution (Pakistan Army itself).


Unauthorised Escalation

With the introduction of Nasr—Pakistan’s battlefield nuclear weapon— in the India-Pakistan nuclear landscape, there are some fears related to potential problems in case of its deployment. Unlike a strategic nuclear weapon, Nasr will requires greater pre-delegation of authority to battlefield commander(s) or the relevant officer(s) in the hierarchy. In the absence of tight central control and with predictable confusion during a conflict, New Delhi fears that there may be a possibility that the weapon could be used without authorisation. Given that communication breakdown is not an uncommon feature on the battlefield, new problems may crop up. A commander(s) with no connectivity with the higher command is bound to become a victim to the ‘use or lose’ dilemma thereby resulting in the decision to strike without authorisation. Unfortunately, a decision taken by commander(s) on the battlefield can change the course and nature of war.


Nuclear Command and Control during Army rule

One of the more pronounced concerns that is also reiterated by Air Commodore Tariq Ashraf in his book, Evolving Dynamics of Nuclear South Asia, is the state of nuclear command and control under Army rule. Even during peacetime, there is an absence of meaningful civilian bureaucratic involvement in the Pakistan NCA. The situation is likely to worsen in case of an Army coup and continued Army rule in Pakistan.

It is usually believed that countries with a history of military rule or authoritarian governments (and in a perceivably hostile neighbourhood) are more likely to implement “tight central control of nuclear weapon programmes as a requisite for regime survival and regional stability.” This trend seems valid in the case of Pakistan and adds to the potential fears India has about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.

As deftly hypothesised by Air Commodore Ashraf, “Under circumstances when the Army is ruling Pakistan and the Army Chief is also the President/Chief Executive of the country, he could direct the SPD which is also headed by an Army three-star General and through him, or directly order the Commander of the Army Strategic Forces Command to launch nuclear weapons.” Looking at the uncertain state of democracy and the dominance of one institution over the NCA, similar fears in India are only gaining more prominence.


Extending the Debate

Having provided an Indian perspective on the fears about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, it is desired that a blogger from across the border presents a Pakistani viewpoint on the issue. Although most points in this post have been widely discussed and debated on various other portals, it is worth the effort for South Asian Voices bloggers to reflect on the commonalities between India and Pakistan’s view on nuclear anxieties and eventually look for ways to alleviate them.


Image: Jewel Samad-AFP, Getty

Posted in , India, India-Pakistan Relations, Nuclear, Nuclear Safety, Nuclear Security, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan

Aditi Malhotra

Aditi Malhotra

Aditi Malhotra is a PhD Candidate at the Graduate School of Politics (GraSP), University of Münster, Germany. Previously, she was a Senior Research Fellow in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP) at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS). Prior to joining NIAS, Aditi was an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi. She was also the Editor of Scholar Warrior, a bi-annual Journal published by CLAWS. Aditi holds a Master’s degree in International Studies from the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom with a dissertation concentrating on ‘Nuclear Security: The Case of Pakistan.’ Her areas of interest include security Issues related to South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, Nuclear Proliferation and Security, and Changing Trends in Conflict. Aditi was a South Asian Voices Visiting Fellow in Winter 2016.

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5 thoughts on “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Programme: India’s Anxieties

  1. The international propaganda campaign against the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has gained an ever recorded velocity. The above article also projects the same intentions. A heightened and a negative publicity have somehow seem to be encircling Pakistan’s nuclear program in the last decade. Pakistan has established a robust command and control structure comprised of several security divisions. It has also taken several non proliferation initiatives. Nuclear weapons of Pakistan and also the tactical nuclear weapons are all under the control of devoted and seasoned professions who are shrewd enough to decide when to launch a nuclear device. In short Pakistan has unearthed all the stones to make its nuclear safety and security apparatus stringent. Therefore, it must be understand that Pakistan nuclear weapons are in safe hands. Its security mechanism is so much extensive and deliberates that it can preempt as well as prevent any terrorist attack in future.

  2. The recent deviations in India’s strategic attitude and deployment patterns, whether politically sanctioned or not, will surely force China and Pakistan to retort in ways that will likely prove unfavorable to Indian and global security. India has been modernising and expanding its forces both vertically and horizontally. Despite the world attention focused on Pakistan, developments regarding India’s nuclear doctrine may convert the country into a potential source of nuclear terrorism. The mad pursuit of research and development in Ballistic Missile Defence is totally inconsistent with a no-first-use posture and rather adds to unpredictability and uncertainty.

  3. @TM: Appreciate the time you took to read and respond to the post. The intention of this article is not to assert any anti-Pakistani propaganda but to explain some Indian fears (some genuine some perhaps perceived). Beyond this, I hope to receive a response on Pakistan’s fears about India’s nuclear weapons, which will help both sides understand each other better. Additionally, although it may be claimed (like all most nuclear countries including India) that their weapons are safe, one cannot deny that 100% safety and security is a sheer myth and there is always scope for improvement. In this view, it is better to work on gaps than disregard them.

  4. Perceptions are stronger than reality. Pakistani perception of India as a revisionist state with 3000+ tanks are only aimed at Pakistan as they cannot cross Himalayas towards China. Pakistan will try its best to counter Indian capabilities and not intentions as later can change overnight. The chances of pak nukes falling in the hands of terrorist is not even considered disscuss-able here. US is likely to put Pak-India-China in a round robin viscious security trillema from which will emerge Cold War version 2.0

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