In the Himalayan region, 2023 marked a year of significant shifts in power dynamics, driven by India’s substantial advancements in missile technology and defence systems. These moves have dramatically reshaped the security landscape of South Asia. From Pakistan’s strategic perspective, it’s crucial to thoroughly analyze and comprehend the ramifications of India’s military enhancements and Pakistan’s subsequent strategic countermeasures.
The year began with India’s third successful test of its Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle (HSTDV), a clear indication of its commitment to developing cutting-edge military technologies. The subsequent tests of ‘Agni Prime’ missile and extended-range BrahMos missiles from various platforms underscored India’s intent to bolster its offensive capabilities. Most concerning, however, is the deployment of the Russian S-400 systems along the Pakistan border, a move that signals a likely shift in India’s strategic posture. Such events suggest that India is leaning toward a counterforce policy targeted at disarming Pakistan in a possible first strike. This perception is based on mix of enhanced missile tests, enhancements to Ballistic Missile Defensive Systems (BMDs), and strategic positioning of foreign-purchased defensive systems. The deployment of Agni-P missiles, with their high launch speed and precision, exacerbates these worries.
Pakistan’s Strategic Calculus
According to Pakistan’s strategic elite, India’s recent military developments pose a substantial threat to the region’s stability. As a strategic countermeasure, Pakistan tested the Ghauri and Ababeel missiles in October 2023. The test of the Ababeel missile, which is notable for its Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) technology, demonstrates Pakistan’s commitment to maintaining a strong and credible deterrent. These missile tests, carried out after a period of relative calm, are not intended to exacerbate tensions, but rather to alter Pakistan’s strategic deterrence capabilities in reaction to India’s military advances.
The use of MIRV technology in the Ababeel missile represents a key strategic decision for Pakistan. MIRV technology permits a missile to carry several nuclear warheads, each of which can be directed at a separate target. This capacity is critical for defeating modern missile defence systems, such as those being built by India. The adoption of MIRVs is more than just a reaction to India’s expanding military capabilities; it is a deliberate step towards preserving Pakistan’s credible minimum deterrent strategy. This policy is the foundation of Pakistan’s defence strategy, with the goal of preventing conflict by ensuring a reliable and effective deterrence. The incorporation of MIRVs into Pakistan’s arsenal represents a calculated effort to preserve the credibility and effectiveness of its deterrent in the face of evolving regional security challenges.
Understanding India’s BMD Systems
India’s construction of a two-tiered Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system, aided by the acquisition of Russian S-400 systems, considered by Islamabad as protective layers against potential preemptive strikes, are forcing Pakistan to reconsider its strategic security posture. The deployment of these devices, particularly near the Pakistani border, dramatically increases the perceived threat level. Its fast deployment capability, along with excellent precision, makes it a valuable asset in India’s strategic arsenal. This development serves as a signal for Pakistan to reconsider its own defense strategy in order to maintain a balanced strategic equation in the area.
Also, the extended range BrahMos Cruise missile, with its enhanced capability and higher precision along with capacity to launch from different platforms heightens its threat perception, adding another dimension to India’s offensive capabilities. In a display of precision and strategic prowess, General Syed Asim Munir, the Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), observed the firing of various Air Defence weapon systems during Exercise Al-Bayza-III, 2024, in Sonmiani, Balochistan. The exercise showcased the integrated fire and battle maneuvers of Army Air Defence systems, marking a landmark achievement in bolstering the Air Defence capabilities of Pakistan’s aerial frontiers. This growth involves Pakistan upgrading and adapting its air defense systems to properly combat these emerging threats.
The No-First-Use Policy Debate
Pakistan’s policy of “first use in last resort” stands in contrast, emphasizing the defensive nature of its nuclear strategy. The evolving discourse in India regarding first use adds a layer of unpredictability in the region’s strategic dynamics. Pakistan’s strategic reaction to the changing security dynamics in South Asia is calculated and intentional. Its efforts are geared towards preserving a credible deterrent capability, while avoiding an expensive and destabilizing arms race. The missile tests conducted in 2023, which included the deployment of upgraded MIRV-equipped missiles, are consistent with Pakistan’s long-standing strategy of Credible Minimum Deterrence. This policy focuses on retaining a sufficient defence capability to deter aggression, while avoiding excessive military growth.
The current trend of India’s missile development and strategic posturing, requires a cautious and deliberate response. Pakistan’s strategic community pushes for a strong deterrent capability, while avoiding escalatory actions. These moves are about more than just responding to a changing strategic environment; they are also about charting a course that will ensure peace and security in a traditionally turbulent region. As the arms dynamics evolve, Pakistan’s strategic community remains vigilant, advocating for a defence posture, that is both credible and responsible.