Nuclear weapons mark a hallmark of military power and a manifestation of strength of a state in the international political system. Simultaneous and successful testing of five nuclear weapons rendered Pakistan the seventh nuclear power at the international level. Pakistan first tested its nuclear weapons on May 28, 1998, a scientific and strategic achievement, which was a direct response to India’s overt nuclear test. The aspiration to stockpile nuclear weapons renders Pakistan as one of the significant countries among Asian powers. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are merely Indian-centric and aimed at seeking regional deterrence capability. The nuclearization and making of nuclear weapons was Pakistan’s rational choice to uphold strategic stability in the South Asian region.
The legitimacy of nuclear weapons lies in the logic of “nuclear deterrence” and the strategic stability that is inextricably linked with it. The aspiration to develop nuclear weapons was toseek deterrence capability against India. Pakistan’s only choice was to hinge on the path of nuclearization in such a destabilizing scenario. As a result of Pakistan’s nuclear tests nuclear deterrence was established in South Asia. In order to achieve a stable deterrence, both India and Pakistan have to act as a responsible nuclear power and avoid taking steps that would adversely affect strategic stability in the region.
Pakistan has attained a credible capability, and nuclear weapons delivery systems to deter threat to its security. The long, medium and short-range missiles (ballistic, cruise missiles), and nuclear infrastructure provide a credible deterrence against its adversary and maintaining strategic stability in the South Asia. Delivery system such as Nasar, Hatf and Shaheen-3 mark the addition of advanced missile technologies. In 2017, Pakistan launched Ababeel, a middle-sized ballistic missile, which according to the government has the tendency to carrying many warheads, simultaneously, by making use of multiple independent reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology.
The Pakistani government tested the Ra’ad-II in February 2020 and reported that the missile can reach targets at a distance of 600 km. Ra’ad system have been conducted from Mirage III aircraft which has a feature of an aerial refueling, a capability that is expected to enhance the nuclear strike mission. Similarly, the range of the Shaheen-III is enabled to launch in a way that it can target all of mainland India if deployed in southern Islamabad. Gen. Kidwai is of the view that the range of 2,750 km was fixed keeping in view the need to be able to target “India might think of putting its weapons”. However, in order to operate Shaheen-III to target the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, it would have to be deployed from Eastern direction near the Indian border.
According to Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), having a stealth Ballistic Missile, the Babur-3 will equip Pakistan with a striking platform to launch nuclear weapons from three levels- ground, air and sea. It is said by the government that Babur tends to provide credible second-strike capability, ballistic missile shield and a way to reinforce the posture of credible minimum deterrence. The strategic community in Pakistan are of the view that aim of introducing Babur-3 was centered on achieving parity with India’s “nuclear triad” and maintaining strategic balance with respect to India.
However, challenges to the deterrence stability arise in the South Asian region in the wake of India’s anti-satellite weapon and its acquisition of a shield against Ballistic Missile Defense. The shield has capacity to intercept missiles- both cruise and ballistic- at the lower orbit. India’s militarization of space and defense against ballistic missiles would likely enhance its capability of a first strike. In this case, Pakistan would be compelled to strengthen its second strike capability in order to maintain “nuclear deterrence stability.”
The region is prone to instability marred with a history of conflict. India acquisition of latest technology with an element of superiority would exacerbate insecurity of the South Asian region, that has the potential to undermine a deterrence stability. Nevertheless, acquiring the latest nuclear capability by India would trigger a vicious cycle of the security dilemma, and the arms race between the two adversaries.
As William Kaufman puts it, ‘the growth process in the warfare is synonymously explained as escalation. To achieve a stable deterrence, both India and Pakistan need to sustain strategic balance rationally. In this case, the balance would be considered stable only when mutual confrontation or a tension between India and Pakistan diminishes and, all disputes are resolved through peaceful and diplomatic means by agreeing to a negotiated solution.
Saliha Mehboob is a Research Officer, CISS Islamabad