On March 26, 2021, Pakistan has successfully conducted flight test of Shaheen-1A nuclear-capable surface-to-surface ballistic missile. The missile was first tested in 2012, and has a reported range of 900 km, with 10,000 kg weight, is a road-mobile launched and solid-fueled ballistic missile. It is an enhanced version of Shaheen-1 and has the capability of hitting the target with high precision, because of its sophisticated and highly developed guidance system, which inculcates it amongst the most accurate missile systems. The test, according to ISPR, was conducted to revalidate the design and technical parameters of the ballistic missile, along with the advanced navigation system. The missile tests are being conducted to validate the operational readiness of the missiles and to enhance Pakistan’s posture of credible minimum deterrence. In South Asia, such missile tests are routinely being conducted by both states, of which they notify each other well in advance as per the 2005 bilateral missile test pact.
Several factors account for the strategic policy making of Pakistan with regards to India. These factors include geographical proximity, relations with other states, economic and military aspects. The foreign policy of Pakistan is based on all these factors, and given the confrontational and antagonistic relations with India; Pakistan essentially has to reform its military capabilities, to come at par with the years-long rival. This animosity and historical rivalry between India and Pakistan has created such a strategic culture that compels the latter to embark upon the policy of minimum credible nuclear deterrence as a defensive strategy.
The paramount purpose of nuclear deterrence is essential to deter wars. Pakistan deems nuclear weapons as ‘weapons of mass destruction’, however, ostensibly reserves the option of First Use against the nuclear-weapon state. As, India’s military posture is aggressive, which aggravates a dire need to re-check the operational preparedness of Pakistan’s military forces. Pakistan is bolstering its capabilities in view of India’s military and technological advancements. These advancements create strategic pressure on Pakistan, for the reason Pakistan attempts to comply by taking essential strategic measures, within the stated framework of minimum credible deterrence.
Pakistan maintains the policy of minimum credible deterrence and emphasizes the sole purpose of nuclear weapons be based on security vis-à-vis India. Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is of minimum credible deterrence. As many believe, the ambiguity surrounding the nuclear force posture of Pakistan makes it challenging to unravel the ‘minimum’ and ‘credible’ in its force posture, which is dynamic, subject to the advancements made at the adversary’s end; therefore the particular number of weapons can’t be quantified. The minimum credible deterrence aims to serve as the stabilizing factor in the strategic environment of South Asia. Pakistan has developed this posture as a counter to India’s conventional superiority, hence created a playing field at par with the adversary. This believes to have coped up with the conventional superiority of Indian military forces, and has emasculated India of its military superiority in conventional vein, and has thus wiped the chances of all-out war in south Asia.
The nuclear posture is contingent on capability, credibility, and communication. Hence, the credibility of the capability of the nuclear arsenals needs to be ascertained and should be well communicated to the adversary for maintaining the deterrence. The demonstration of the capability is essential for signaling the capabilities of a state. The missile tests are believed to be a way of communicating the capability, as a signal to the adversary of its effective capability. The test fires are conducted to communicate the capability, which should be credible enough to deliver unacceptable damage to the adversary. This is the essence of nuclear deterrence and has become vital in the view of emerging technological developments in South Asia.
The unstable peace between the two South Asian nuclear rivals remains vulnerable to competition and animosity. Since overt nuclearization, the chance of an all-out war between the two nuclear states has considerably been reduced. Peace and security in South Asia depend on strategic stability and nuclear deterrence robustness. The nonpareil conventional military superiority of India vis-à-vis Pakistan compelled India to go for aggressive military doctrines and force postures. The acquisition of such weapons helps Pakistan in achieving its desired deterrence stability in the region, and it offsets any kind of enemy’s aggression against the sovereignty of Pakistan.
*Amber Afreen Abid, Research Associate, Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad.