South Asian Nuclear Saga: Making Common People Hostage of Destruction

The South Asian political saga starts with the endless malicious blame-game between India and Pakistan at all levels – exchanging hate words, war mongering, making each other responsible for most of ills in the insolvent region, and above all continuous use of distorted historical narrative to prove enmity against each other are in practice without taking devastated ultimate consequences into consideration. The addition of the nuclear weapons in the already hostile and volatile regional template has further aggravated this nasty phenomenon.

Though, India and Pakistan have been adhering to credible minimum deterrence – the latter has jumped to full spectrum deterrence recently; however, it is very unclear how much number of nuclear devices would be enough for their respective ambiguous nuclear policies. Both the countries have already amassed enough nuclear weapons that would be sufficient to wipe out each other from the surface of the earth in any kind of eventuality. In the backdrop of overt nuclearization in South Asia, many believe that the possibility of war has gone to back-burner and new weapons have stabilized the strategic environment in the region.  Nevertheless, nuclear pessimists argue that nuclear weapons are very dangerous for the region given the unique internal and external security dynamics in India and Pakistan. Yet, there is another category of strategic analysts who believe in the total abolition of these weapons.

The view presented here is bit different from above-mentioned categories. Nuclear weapons are reality in South Asia, no one knows till what time they are to stay here — perhaps for the long times. Why not to accept this reality collectively and try to manage the dangers associated with these weapons and related policies together. Why I raised this point? Let me explain in detail. To employ these weapons, both are involved in unchecked competition to introduce nuclear delivery vehicles, new nuclear policies, strategies, and tactics. The nuclear trajectory is going upward unabatedly.

The South Asian nuclear discourse amply proves that during augmenting their respective nuclear arsenals, one hears government officials from both the sides announcing hypothetical policies, strategies and tactics that if contemplated could destroy both the countries physically. If one manufactures Agni series of ballistic missiles, the other introduces Hatf series as a counterweight. Similarly, if one claims that our ballistic missiles can reach such and such counter-force and counter value targets and inflict such and such damage, the other responds on the same footing and announces that enemy’s such and such cities and military installations are under the range of their missiles. If one arrives with the ‘Cold Start’ Strategy to wage limited conventional war under the perceived nuclear thresholds and justifies this strategy on the pretext to tackle the threat of militant outfits reportedly having basis in the neighboring country. The other, counters the new proactive nuclear strategy with war-fighting tactical nuclear weapons with the aim to achieve strategic equilibrium. Yet the other openly outlines that if even small yield nukes are used, these would unleash massive nuclear retaliation.

Ever since the inception of nuclear weapons in South Asia, we find voluminous literature discussing the prospects of pre-emptive or surprise nuclear first strike between the two. Different hypothetical scenarios are portrayed very stylistically, for instance, if India dares to go for nuclear pre-emptive or surprise attack, Pakistan would still survive with some residual capability and launch retaliatory punitive nuclear strikes on Mumbai and New Delhi — making these cities horrible examples.

Undoubtedly, all this narrative erects deterrence stability/instability between the two strategic competitors; however, what is the surety that deterrence is always “fail-safe” phenomenon especially keeping in view the ever deteriorating security situation in the troubled region. Is it like making Indian and Pakistani common people hostage of doomsday by their strategic decision makers? hostage of complete annihilation? Why not to learn lessons from Cold War nuclear model.  Why not to start arms control initiatives. Once the two countries achieve rapprochement, subsequently converting animosity into amity, they could convince China collectively to support South Asian peace and stability. Ultimately, it might be possible they could find ways to resolve all disputes including decades-long Kashmir problem.

This will not be like that both the countries need to become pacifists or idealists; peace and stability could be achieved by following the realist paradigm of international politics. Without surrendering nuclear weapons both India and Pakistan can work together to make life better for the hundreds and thousands of South Asian poor people. In my next post, I will explain how political realism provides a convincing theoretical framework to analyze rapprochement, détente and down the road practical measures to achieve peace and stability.


Posted in , Deterrence, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Policy

Muhammad Sadiq

Muhammad Sadiq is a lecturer at the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS), Quiad-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, Pakistan since 2007 and a former visiting fellow (fall 2012) at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, MIIS California. He also served at Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as an “International Relations Analyst” for a short period of time in 2007. He has M.Sc and M.Phil degrees from DSS, QAU. Besides teaching, he is pursuing his PhD from the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU. His area of research and teaching include Nuclear Nonproliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament, and Nuclear Strategy.

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10 thoughts on “South Asian Nuclear Saga: Making Common People Hostage of Destruction

  1. Mr. Sadiq you have aptly highlighted various aspects of nuclear policies of India and Pakistan. But I believe there are many things which cannot be ignored. Pakistan does not have ambitions to become major power then super power unlike India. India would not negotiate arms control initiative with Pakistan because of its extra regional designs. In the context of threat perception and nuclear deterrence India perceives that China is also threat for it. So India has more than one justification to build its military muscle unlike Pakistan which only faces conventional threat from India.

  2. It is truly thought provoking and stimulating piece of work. It is horribly surprising that both the nuclear neighbors have come to the point of discussing and debating war fighting role of nuclear weapons; and that is flight from the role of nuclear weapons as deterrent. So, now the scholars, researchers and intellectuals like you should step in to discuss these dangerous developments in a region, already infested with mutual suspicions and mistrusts. Thus, in such an environment, raising the bar for nuclear weapons should not go un-addressed, at least by those, who have thinking minds. I will be looking forward for your next article.

  3. Excellent piece of thought indeed. Following comments are furnished:

    1. The underlying message remains to be reconciliation and co-existence despite differences and disputes. We may be reminded of the hawks on Indian side that sabotaged agra summit and draft agreement was very much towards solving Kashmir issue yet all went down the drain.
    2. Lying between nuclear optimism and pessimism a possibility of limited war under nuclear overhang that [again India] seems to be manifesting into overall operationalizing their strategic doctrine. [so abandon the historical baggage and move forward].
    3. “Cold start” these days is being termed “cold stop” in the strategic circles; a farfetched idea to be operationalized in the manner as specified.
    4. Deterrence – taking a clue from Bernard Brodie – remains much on the psychological domain. whether it works or not is a million dollar question in Pakistan-India context. Kargil crisis may be two exception as both Indian and Pakistani Nuclear Doctrines were at infancy at that time.
    5. Ambiguous Nuclear doctrine favours one side due to obvious reasons.
    6. Last but not the least, the realization has to be a shared responsibility between the two………………….

  4. Really a well-written and balanced approach this time. All this require “irreversible bilaterally honest efforts on equal-footings”. Appreciable Idea.

  5. Dear Mr. Sadiq,

    Really a well written piece which is much appreciated. I am seriously looking forward to your next post which will surely help understand your point of view clearly. However, I would like to raise one point here, agreed with the fact that somehow the BOP does exist between India and Pakistan which results in at least strategic equilibrium between the two, BUT, there are a lot of inequalities or imbalances between the two which need to be looked at. For example, maturity in Political System and Institutionalization. India for that matter is far ahead than Pakistan in terms of former’s stability in political system and institutionalization at the state level. Now, what makes me highlight this point here is the fact that stability of any country’s systems and institutions definitely leaves trickle-down effect on all the strategies it formulates and executes. Let me be very candid here and express what I feel. There is a clear difference in two countries approaches in behaving like nuclear states. How? we have to look at this right from the inception of these countries becoming nuclear. The difference you will find out is that Pakistan’s approach has always been reactive rather than proactive. The best example of that is nuclear test itself which was a reaction to India’s nuclear tests. In my humble opinion, we the strategy formulators and executors in Pakistan now need to come out of this reactive mind-set and learn from out past and have some proactive approaches in order to stabilize regional peace, security and of course the prosperity. Thank you once again for your time.

  6. A balanced approach by the author. i must appreciate author’s endeavor to cover strategic stability of South Asia (which itself is a vast subject) in not more than 800 words, that shows in depth knowledge and wisdom of the author. Peace is the ultimate goal between India and Pakistan, so i agree with author’s approach. I hope author would address role of major powers in this region, specially Indo-US Nuc deal, NSG Waiver to India, Indo-Israel strategic partnership and flow of latest weapon and equipment to create strategic imbalance in the region and Russian help in the Nuc Subs, Aircraft carrier, joint projects SU-30 MKI, Bramos etc, would also play an imp role in the future of South Asia. If such discriminatory approach is continued then, i fear peace will be difficult to achieve….But anyways I support cause and concern of the author for the peace and stability of this region, because THERE IS NO WAY TO PEACE, BUT PEACE IS THE ONLY WAY….wish u good luck for next blog my dear…well-done. Appreciated.

  7. Well formulated article. Nasir naveed raised some excellent points but I am facinated by the continuity of thought through out this article.
    Well done Sadiq!
    Keep your spirit up :)

  8. A well-argumentative piece of writing. No denial, everyone wants arms control measures in South Asian region becuase they contribute in security architecture. However, it is evident that mutual antogonistic and debilitating statements by the two nuclear arch-rivals against each other make arms control a distant reality and cause arms race. This unstopable arms race further create security-insecuirty paradox.
    For Pakistan’s part, it proposed a Strategic Restraint Regime for conventional and nuclear CBMs. It is to be seen how much progress take place on it that could contribute in peace-building in the region. Moreover, statesmen of both sides have to shatter their yoke of old rivalry and think for commonality of interests.

  9. agreed with your peace and stability measures, but sir in my opinion sir in order to maintain stability in the region, they should carry on with their credible minimum deterrence policy as there is trust deficit between the two…
    but over all it is worth appreciating

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