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Prospects Of (LIC) Low Intensity Conflict In South Asia – OpEd


The induction of the Nuclear weapons has brought the relative peace in the world. Nuclear weapons have not only changed the structure of the global politics, but they have also threatened the world with their devastating nature. The nuclear age has influenced the international relations as well as the states to modify their Foreign policy vis-à-vis their adversaries. The evolution of nuclear age in South Asia goes back to 1970s. India exploded its first nuclear device in 1974, and Pakistan followed the same path as a reaction and started its nuclear program in 1974. Both states remained in sort of ambiguity for a particular span of time but in 1998 they tested nuclear devices to show their credibility and capabilities regarding nuclear technology. Devin Hagerty’s detailed study conclusion is that “Nuclear states do not fight wars with each other.”

The best tool in the nuclear age is considered as the ‘Nuclear Deterrence’ among the states. The concept of Nuclear Deterrence evolved in the 1945, and cold war has witnessed the severe rivalry between two traditional nuclear competitors of the world. The evolution of the Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia was observed in the 1986. The Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia has been observed during the crisis of 1986-87 Brass Tack, 1990 Kashmir Issue, 1999 Kargil crisis, 2001-02 Military Stand Off and 2008 Mumbai Controversy between India and Pakistan. Nuclear age has not only influence number of elements regarding international politics; it has also changed the dynamics of war and conflicts as well. Same sort of change has been observed in the Low Intensity Conflict which is defined as ‘the use of military forces applied selectively and with restraint to enforce compliance with the policies or objectives of the political body controlling the military force.’ Along with that ‘a political-military confrontation between contending states or groups below conventional war and above the routine, peaceful competition among states.’

We can analyze the fact that how states use the Nuclear Deterrence as a tool to instigate the conflicts at a limited scale. The Cold War era depicts that despite all the rivalries United States and Soviet Union had never fired a single short on each other, because they new that there is no one winner in a Nuclear War. The level of destruction which Nuclear weapon can cause prevented the world from the World War III. Same Path has been followed by the South Asian Rivals Pakistan and India as they came on the thresholds of the severe crisis time and again, where a minute triggering occurrence may led them to all out war but they didn’t go toward this.

Low Intensity Conflict during Nuclear age in the South Asia remains revolving around India and Pakistan as both militarily strong, having nuclear capabilities and most importantly two hostile neighboring states vis-à-vis each other that have fought wars, several times military stand off and still have the core issues like Kashmir and Siachen to be solved. In such a situation the chances of a full scale war are very much low as well as high-priced at the same time. The best supporting example of the given situation is the 1999 Kargil issue initiated by the Pakistan.

The Kargil war took place in 1999, hardly two and a half months after the signing of the Lahore Declaration. Mujahideen along with the Pakistan’s regular forces trespassed the Line of Control (LOC) and occupied the Indian Army’s defensive positions in the mountainous Kargil-Drass sector. By looking into it we can analyze the fact that how deterrence can support as well as stop the Low Intensity Conflict from escalation in Nuclear Age.

The chances of a full scale war are very much low as well as high-priced at the same time, in this Nuclear Age. So, in the prevailing deterrent environment it’s always in the best options for the states to initiate a LIC to fulfill its desired objectives under the umbrella of Nuclear Deterrence. The states may initiate LIC to check or to further strengthen its Deterrence. Moreover the states may use the various means other than nuclear war to drive its rival towards instability.

Patrick M. Morgan (2003) in his book Deterrence now demonstrates the same notion that there is absence of wars between the nuclear rivals. He argues that nuclear powers behaviour has been shifted in the nuclear age. He presents a table which depicts the ratio of war, interventions and threats between nuclear and non-nuclear states.

Types of Conflict Wars Interventions Threats

N. Power vs N. Power 0 2 4

N. Power vs N. Power ally 0 6 7

N. Power vs Non-Nuclear Power 2 13 8

Non-Nuclear Power vs Non-Nuclear Power 17 31 10

Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz in The Spread of Nuclear Weapons state that Deterrent Strategies promise less damage than war fighting strategies. They are of the view that deterrent strategies induce caution all around and thus reduce the incidence of war as well as wars fought in the face of strategic nuclear weapons must be carefully limited because a country having them may retaliate if its vital interests are threatened. Similarly, V.R. Raghavan (2001), states that Pakistan used deterrence to support aggression. Kargil indicated that armed with nuclear weapons Pakistan has increased confidence that it could raise the conflict thresholds with India. He further states that this is the demonstration that it’s willing to take greater risks in conflict escalation. He thinks that it’s the Indian conclusion that Pakistan is deliberately raising the level of conflict in Jammu & Kashmir, assuming that Nuclear Weapons effectively deny India the option of military response. So it’s vivid that Nuclear States and Rivals at the same time may use their effective deterrence to engage in a self interested conflict.

Kamal Matinnuddin (2002) in The Nuclearization of South Asia describes the Kargil Episode a brilliant tactical move by Pakistan army and this time it didn’t allowed India to bulldoze its way to Kashmir as they did in 1947-48, nor India could repeat its self-styled lightening campaign of 1965 and unlike 1971, it could not think of cutting Pakistan down to size because of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s arsenals. He further says that unlike what happened in 1965; India would not go to war this time as it was heavily committed in Kashmir and in other areas, where a large number of troops were engaged in putting down secessionist movements. So all in all it seems a fact that nuclear rivals will not go for an all out war in nuclear age but they might slot in in Low Intensity Conflicts to accomplish their objective. P. R. Chari (2003) in his article Nuclear Crisis, Escalation Control, and Deterrence in South Asia states that the availability of nuclear weapons facilitated the initiation of both sub-conventional and conventional conflict under the rubric of nuclear deterrence. He further says that nuclear tests have made subterranean and non-conventional conflict a preferred form of engagement. So the Low Intensity Conflict can be assumed as a preferred form of engagement in the nuclear age. Craig A. Snyder and J. Mohan Malik (1999) in Contemporary Security and Strategy state that the common perception is that LIC is the tool of the weak against the strong. But history shows that LIC has been used by both weak and strong to achieve their strategic objectives. Moreover, he claims that in the future too, both great and regional powers can be expected to promote insurgencies/LIC in order to destabilize potentially hostile regimes and/or weaken perceived rivals and competitors that may emerge in the future.

Hayat Khan Khatttak is a Senior Research Fellow and Director Collaboration and Publications, ISSRA, NDU Islamabad. In his article Nuclear Weapons, Technology and Strategy: The Cold War and Unresolved Contradictions (2008) reveals that Both India and Pakistan’s nuclear postures indicate that nuclear weapons are “weapons of deterrence” rather than “weapons of combat”. It would not be out of place to argue that the South Asian Nuclearization has deterred both India and Pakistan from military adventurism. Ultimately the 1999 Kargil episode and the build up of 2001-02 were events marking that nuclear weapons were here to deter war and it has altered the strategic behaviour of both in the Nuclear Age.

Stephen Philip Cohen (2002) in his article Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War in South Asia: An Unknown Future predicts the future trends in South Asia. He claims that the future will see frequent crises, but deterrence based on nuclear weapons will inhibit escalation to nuclear war. A conference on Asymmetric Conflict in South Asia: The Cause and Consequences of the 1999 Limited War in Kargil was held in California in 2002. The report shows the Peter Lavoy’s arguments that it was the boldness of the Pakistan to indulge in Kargil conflict perceiving that nuclear weapons will stop the escalation of this Low Intensity Conflict. Kargil issue manifested deeper crisis and unless the main issue (Kashmir) was resolved, the crisis will continue to persist. There would be many more kargils in the future. To conclude it can be forecasted that the Subcontinent may be moving toward a low-level arm race and low-level conflicts.


Asymmetric Conflict in South Asia: The Cause and Consequences of the 1999 Limited War in Kargil, Conference report, Monterey, CA, 2002, Available at

Cohen, Stephen Philip (2003), Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War in South Asia: An Unknown Future, Tokyo, UN University Press

Chari, P. R. (2003), Nuclear Crisis, Escalation Control, and Deterrence in South Asia, Stimson Centre

Hagerty, Devin T. (1995), Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia: the 1990 Indo-Pakistani Crisis, International Security, (v20 n3)

Khatttak, Hayat Khan (2008) Nuclear Weapons, Technology and Strategy: The Cold War and Unresolved Contradictions, IPRI Journal, Volume VIII, No.01

Matinnuddin, Kamal (2002), The Nuclearization of South Asia, Oxford University Press,

Morgan, Patrick M. (2003), Deterrence now, Cambridge, University press

Raghavan, V. R. (2001), Limited war and Nuclear Escalation in South Asia, The Non-proliferation Review

Sagan, Scott D. and Kenneth N. Waltz, (2003), The Spread of Nuclear Weapons state, W.W.Norton & Company, Inc

Snyder, Craig A. and J. Mohan Malik, (1999), Contemporary Security and Strategy, Macmillan Press Ltd

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Muhammad Jawad Hashmi

Mr. MJ Hashmi is M.Phil in Defence and Strategic Studies. He is an Author of a book entitled as “Nuclear Terrorism in Pakistan: Myth of Reality?” His Area of interest is Nuclear Terrorism, Nuclear Safety and Security issues in Pakistan, Arms Control and Disarmament, Nuclear Non-Proliferation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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