Pakistan’s Pursuit Of Maintaining Strategic Balance In South Asia – OpEd
By Sher Bano
The nuclear tests conducted on May 28, 1998, were a pivotal moment in Pakistan’s history. This day serves as a reminder of Pakistan’s resolve to ensure its national security, uphold deterrence, and foster regional stability. In the face of external security challenges, Pakistan demonstrated its determination to safeguard its sovereignty and maintain a balance of power in South Asia. These tests were not meant to instigate an arms race but were a necessary response to regional dynamics and the imperative of self-defense. From that day forward, Pakistan has remained committed to responsible nuclear practices and promoting peace.
Pakistan has long recognized the significance of maintaining a strategic balance in the region. With a history of conflicts and simmering tensions with its neighbor, India, Pakistan’s pursuit of strategic equilibrium is rooted in the need to ensure its national security and safeguard regional stability. By carefully managing its military capabilities and diplomatic engagements, Pakistan endeavors to maintain a delicate balance that serves as a deterrent against aggression while fostering opportunities for peace and cooperation. Pakistan’s pursuit of strategic balance rests on the principle of credible minimum deterrence. Recognizing the imbalance in conventional military capabilities vis-à-vis its larger neighbor, Pakistan sought to develop a robust nuclear deterrent to dissuade potential aggression. The possession of nuclear weapons acts as a shield against external threats, reinforcing stability and preventing large-scale conflicts in the region. Pakistan’s commitment to deterrence is not a belligerent stance but a pragmatic approach to maintaining peace and security.
The primary reason for Pakistan’s cautious approach towards non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control agreements stems from the hostility exhibited by India. Indian hostility has had a significant impact on Pakistan’s willingness to engage in these agreements. Pakistan has consistently expressed its readiness to sign international non-proliferation agreements, provided that India reciprocates this commitment. For instance, Pakistan on three separate occasions between 1984 and 1987, offered to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) with joint or bilateral agreements that encompassed full-scope inspections and safeguards. Unfortunately, India rejected this proposal. Furthermore, Pakistan has been historically supportive of the objectives of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, due to India’s growing capabilities, such as Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), Cruise Missiles (CMs), and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Pakistan was unable to sign the treaty. India’s reasoning for not signing the CTBT was that it restricts any kind of explosive tests and limits the development of nuclear weapons. Similarly, Pakistan faced challenges in signing the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) due to the relative nuclear stockpile disparity with India, which would have put Pakistan at a disadvantageous position. Pakistan has proposed that the FMCT should also include the existing stockpile of fissile material, a position supported by various countries in the past.
Pakistan recognizes that sustainable peace can only be achieved through dialogue and confidence-building measures (CBMs). It has consistently advocated for meaningful negotiations with India to address outstanding disputes, particularly the Kashmir issue. The initiation of Track II diplomacy, exchange programs, and the establishment of nuclear risk reduction centers highlight Pakistan’s commitment to resolving conflicts through peaceful means. The pursuit of CBMs fosters trust, reduces the chances of misunderstandings, and lays the foundation for a durable peace in the region. Pakistan had also proposed various Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)at the regional level. For instance, in 1974 Pakistan had proposed to make South Asia a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ), in1978 proposal for the joint Indo-Pak declaration renouncing the manufacture and acquisition of nuclear weapons was presented. Similarly, in 1979 Pakistan had proposed the mutual inspection of each other’s nuclear facilities to build confidence and promote transparency. In 1988 Pakistan had proposed a bilateral treaty to ban the nuclear tests to elude overt nuclearization and reduce the nuclear risk. With the high risk attached to the emerging technologies and delivery systems, in 1994 Pakistan had proposed the South Asia zero-missile zone. Hence over the period, Pakistan has continued its efforts towards nuclear CBMs by proposing various regional and bilateral non-proliferation initiatives. These were aimed at strengthening strategic stability and to reduce the risk of any nuclear conflict in the region. Unfortunately, India has always shown a negative attitude to all such proposals and disrupted various technical, political, and strategic level talks on nuclear CBMs.
Pakistan has consistently demonstrated responsible nuclear stewardship, recognizing its role as a custodian of nuclear weapons. The nation upholds strict safety and security protocols, ensuring that its nuclear arsenal remains out of the reach of unauthorized actors. Pakistan’s commitment to non-proliferation is reflected in its comprehensive export control regime and cooperation with international organizations. The country’s responsible behavior in managing its nuclear program underscores its dedication to global peace and stability.
Pakistan’s pursuit of strategic balance in the region reflects its commitment to national security and regional stability. By maintaining credible minimum deterrence, upholding responsible nuclear stewardship, engaging in dialogue, and seeking international cooperation, Pakistan aims to reinstate a stable regional nuclear order. This would likely serve the key to enduring peace and stability. Despite India’s perilous and pessimist role in the non-proliferation realm, Pakistan should continue to act responsibly and maintain a constructive and responsible nuclear diplomacy.
The writer is working as a Research Officer at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.