In a report, “Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age,” published in November 2014, nuclear developments in Pakistan, especially the development of tactical nuclear weapons, have been identified as one of the factors that make South Asia the most volatile region in the world. The report, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the build-up of nuclear stockpiles along with unresolved territorial disputes and cross-border terrorism create an explosive mixture that threatens not only the region but the entire world.
In this mixture, Pakistan and its fastest growing nuclear arsenal appears quite prominently. Already known to possess fissile materials that are sufficient to produce between 110 and 120 nuclear warheads, the report estimates the numbers to reach 200 by 2020, based on the rates with which Pakistan is producing nuclear fissile material.
The report links Pakistan’s growing nuclear build-up with India’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) or the proactive strategy of “rapid, limited conventional military operations designed to remain below Pakistan’s presumed traditional nuclear redlines.” This linkup, however, is not unique to the report. Strategists, policy makers, and military leaders from within Pakistan have used this link to justify the rapid increase in the production of nuclear fissile material, along with the development of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs). For instance, Lt. Gen. (retd) Khalid Kidwai has been quoted as saying that the purpose of TNWs is “to pour cold water on Cold Start.” Academicians, strategic thinkers and practitioners too view the development of TNWs as a way of denying India the space to fight limited conventional war under the CSD within Pakistan’s traditional nuclear redlines.
While Pakistan defends the development of TNWs and the requisite rapid increase in production of fissile materials under the strategy of assured deterrence, other international experts and government officials identify the developments to be highly dangerous, owing to the complexities involved in the development and deployment of TNWs. All of it, however, leads to the conclusion that nuclear weapons development in Pakistan is directly related to the CSD of India.
The critical nuclear implications of the CSD therefore call for an examination of the ground realities insofar as the Doctrine and its implementation are concerned. CSD essentially is an operational plan which was devised by the Indian Army in 2004, designed to make a rapid and limited penetration into Pakistani territory with the sole purpose of punishing Pakistan for terror attacks that stem out of Pakistan’s territory. CSD was not proposed to be of a scale which would either threaten Pakistan’s survival or be seen as crossing the traditional nuclear threshold of Pakistan. The aim of the CSD is to reorganise the three large strike corps of India into eight smaller battle groups. But since 2004 to date, apart from a series of army exercises, including Divya Astra (Divine Weapon) 2004, Vijra Shakti (Thunder Power) 2005, Sang-i-Shakti (Joint Power) 2006, and Ashwamedh (Valor and Intellectual Illumination) 2007, there have been no developments that suggest the CSD to have actually been implemented on ground. The same has been noted in a leaked US embassy cable of 2010. Two broad factors have been identified for the lack of implementation of the CSD.
The first factor is the lack of resources and capabilities. This factor can be understood at two stages. At the first stage, the armoured battle groups are required to be kept ready at all times so that they can strike within a window of 72 hours after receiving the political clearance, before any international pressure is subjected onto the government to reconsider the clearance. This clearly would require a heavy investment to amass and maintain such large firepower and additional armour. In the long-run, implementing CSD would be highly unsustainable and the Indian economy, despite its growth, will not be in a position to sustain such a massive liability. At the second stage, whether or not India has significant advantage over Pakistan with regard to the conventional capability has to be scrutinised. CSD is only designed for limited territorial penetration, however, in a situation when CSD gets implemented, India will have longer lines of communication and military supply chains to manage, and consequently its comparative military advantage over Pakistan would lower down.
The second factor has been the lack of political will. CSD was proposed by the Indian Army in 2004 at a time when the BJP-led government was in power. However, soon after the General Assembly election in the same year, Congress-led UPA won and formed the government. Senior officials from the UPA government expressed reservations against CSD. Though resource constraint was noted to one of the reasons for their reservation, it was clearly not the only one. Considering the potential nuclear consequences, any political clearance to CSD, as noted in a leaked US memo, required a broad political consensus and a strong mandate, which the UPA did not enjoy.
The fact that India has not employed the CSD was exemplified by the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. By allowing the act to be planned within its territory and by not cooperating with India in the investigations and in handing over the culprits, Pakistani Army as well as the civilian government demonstrated how sincerely they bought the CSD. The hypocrisy of Pakistani military leaders then must be underlined considering that they time and again express fear over CSD to government officials of the US and go on defending the development of TNWs.
With the BJP government back in the centre and that too with a strong mandate, they now have the requisite political clout for clearing the CSD should India have the capability to sustain the Doctrine. But the new government has so far not shown any inclination of implementing the CSD at present or in the near future. As far as build up of conventional capability is concerned, India is definitely planning to modernise its military and is also aiming to indigenise production to reduce import costs. But even the growing conventional military might of India cannot be sufficient to sustain such an expensive military doctrine.
With no clear evidence of India implementing the CSD or preparing for it, the logic or justification for rapid increase in production of nuclear materials and development of TNWs by Pakistan must therefore be questioned. While the assessment made in the CFR report that nuclear developments in Pakistan is dangerous for the region and the world remains valid, the explanation or the justification that it is India’s CSD that has led to the dangerous nuclear developments in Pakistan does not hold ground.