Authored by: Nisar Ahmed
Edited by: S. Sadia Kazmi
STRATEGIC VISION INSTITUTE (SVI), ISLAMABAD
Upholding the tradition of conducting intellectually stimulating discussions on regional and global strategic issues, the SVI held an In-house seminar on a an important yet largely ignored issue as titled “India’s Shifting Nuclear Doctrine and India-Pakistan “No Attack On Each Other’s Nuclear Facilities” on 23rd January, 2018. Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema, President/ Executive Director SVI, inaugurated the session with a warm welcome to the accomplished speakers and members of strategic fraternity and expressed gratitude for their kind participation. Dr. Cheema explained the rationale of the topic chosen for discussion by giving an overview of a recurrent debate stirred by statements and writings originating from India. In this regard, assertions or assessments of renowned Indian academic professionals like Vipin Narang, and former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon on India’s possible shift from its No-First Use (NFU) policy as declared in Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND) of 1999 to First Use, counter-force strike as envisioned in a doctrine called “Operationalization of Nuclear Doctrine” in 2003 were identified as important beginning points. Given the potentially devastating implications of these strategic developments for Pakistan, Dr. Cheema expressed bewilderment as to why the issue has failed to catch the attention and imagination of Pakistanis despite the fact that a significant number of highly placed Indian officials like Ajit Doval have expressed similar sentiments time and again. He said the purpose of the seminar was to critically dissect and analyze India’s dangerous war rhetoric and to deliberate on various policy options for Pakistan.
After this brief overview Ms. Asma Khalid, Research Associate SVI presented a primer on the topic detailing some factual information regarding the doctrines and documents, providing basis for the discussion. Major Components of Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND) were identified as:
Adherence to No First Use
Punitive Retaliation if Deterrence Fails
And Credible Minimum Deterrence
As for Operationalization of Nuclear Doctrine some variance with DND was observed as under:
India might use nuclear weapons to retaliate against attacks using chemical and biological weapons (CBW), and that Indian retaliation to any nuclear attack would be massive.
Moreover, India reserves the right to use nuclear weapon if it perceives an attack on its forces is imminent.
With this Dr. Cheema requested Ambassador (R) Tariq Osman Hyder to enlighten the participants with his invaluable thoughts on the subject.
Talking on the topic “Does India’s shifting nuclear doctrine affect the agreement between Pakistan and India on Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities (India-Pakistan Non-Attack Agreement), Amb. Hyder expressed doubt that changing Indian military doctrine will have any serious affect on the agreement on non-attack on nuclear facilities and urged caution against giving rise to unnecessary speculations and discussions which might give any advantage to the other side. He noted that this pattern of change fits within the continuum of India’s overall military doctrine and practice, marked by opportunism at one end of the spectrum and diplomatic positioning for tactical advantage through trying to seize, consolidate and extend the moral high ground. The opportunistic characteristic he said was and is best demonstrated in India’s actions along the LOC which has always been a live border. Siachin and two smaller areas that it seized along the LOC are past evidences of this as well as it’s almost daily violations of the LOC for the past few years. He opined that India’s “No First Use” proclamation after going nuclear was aimed at seizing the moral high ground and to cloak its conventional superiority under an unverifiable no first use policy to seek cover for a first use conventional attack option. Referring to the recent Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat’s statement that the Indian Army if so tasked has the capability to ‘call off Pakistan’s bluff”, he said it represents a polemical reassertion that India can take military action under the nuclear overhang.
He expressed regret over the consistent rejection by India of a comprehensive proposal presented by Pakistan namely Strategic Restraint Regime with three-interlocking elements of (a) conflict resolution,(b) nuclear and missile restraint including no ABMs ; and (c) conventional balance. He opined that the evolution of India’s nuclear doctrine goes hand in hand with its overall military doctrine, policy and practice, marked by opportunism and seeking its version of the moral high ground to cover its ambitious strategic and conventional build up and constant quest for regional dominance.
Expressing his thoughts on whether or not India’s evolving nuclear doctrine within its overall military and policy posture and objectives affects or would affect the Non-Attack Agreement, he maintained that though the nuclear delivery assets such as missiles, planes, submarines, and vehicles etc are not covered by the Agreement on non-attack and are subject to counter force threat by either side, yet the threat of mutual assured destruction would act as a an effective deterrent. Given, overarching and continuing
stakes of both countries in not targeting nuclear installations or facilities and the international opprobrium that would result in any such action also discourages such a course of action which is harmful for humanity as a whole. Thus, he expressed hope that India’s evolving nuclear doctrine would not affect the India-Pakistan non attack agreement and neither would Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent policy. He emphasized the need for confidence building measures (CBMs) to ensure compliance with important bilateral agreements by both sides.
Dr. Rizwana Abbasi, Assistant Professor of IR at NDU, Islamabad, commenced her speech on “India’s Shifting Nuclear Doctrine and Implications for Pakistan” by questioning India’s capability to completely disarm Pakistan and viewed Indian statements and pronouncements as aiming to trigger uncertainty in Pakistan’s ‘threat perception’. She maintained that in the presence of crippling challenges and limitations in terms of time, resources, organization and speed, India would find it discouragingly hard to follow such a course of action against Pakistan. She elucidated that India lacks capabilities such as the relevant platforms, the real-time information, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to completely disarm Pakistan with counter-force strike. She further highlighted institutional hurdles in the way of operationalizing such targeting plans as it involved delegating more power to field commanders. ‘Preemption’ strategy would create a lot of hurdles in the effectiveness of command and control system for transmission of real time information in the backdrop of inadequate warning system. And it would be difficult for India to revert the message due to geographical proximity and short missile flight times. Also, decapitating Pakistan would not be less costly for India considering former’s capability and preparation.She noted that since the early 1960s, no credible analysis has suggested that a nuclear first strike could destroy the entire US or Soviet nuclear arsenals in first blow. Thus, in South Asia, counter-force would have unbearable losses.
She gave five reasons for India’s shifting strategic posture: to create uncertainty in Pakistan’s threat perception, destabilize Pakistan’s deterrence posture, mobilize Indian Military Industrial Complex to achieve such war fighting effectiveness in its capabilities and accuracy in network-centric systems, Indian technological capabilities possibly determine shift in Indian posture, India’s such strategic shift has triggered arms race by legitimizing modernization of Pakistan’s weapons system driving the former to an unending arms race.
Nevertheless, she urged Pakistan should adhere to restraint policy of non-deployment, keeping the arsenals off high-alert She said the agreements like No Attack created condition for cooperation and lamented that Indian such irrational and war fighting political rhetoric endangers existence of any such agreements that were introduced to generate confidence and reduce tension. Concluding her remarks she urged India to declare transparency in its official policy whether FU or NFU and cautioned India against harming its normative and rational policy choice by embracing war-fighting and destabilizing posture.
Before opening the session to questions-answers, Dr. Cheema drawing on his personal experience of studying Indian statements in the nuclear and foreign policy realm cautioned against being misled by what is called as ‘Indian nuances’, that how differently India interprets certain terminologies and concepts as compared to international community. Highlighting this he referred to an article written by Ashok Kapoor in 1974 in the wake of India’s so called Peaceful Nuclear Explosion. Kapoor interprets that peaceful and military are not per se antonymous concepts, that peaceful does not exclude defence purposes. Thus, Dr. Cheema argued that it’s not the question of transient intensions rather of capabilities which need to be taken into account.
Considering Narang’s statement and the ambiguous position regarding Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) that India maintained for a long time before confessing its official status, Ambassador (R) Ali Sarwar Naqvi, Executive Director, CISS said Indians are masters of ambiguity. He suggested that the current Indian attitude and stance about the changing nuclear postures or doctrines may eventually result in being accepted as official Indian policies. With regards to no attack agreement, he commended both the sides for maintaining their pledges so far and expressed hope that some of the ideas presented in Nuclear Restraint Regime proposed by Pakistan would also be picked up by India. He described Indian Army Chief’s recent statement ‘we will call off Pakistan’s nuclear bluff’ as irresponsible and a potential road to disaster. Giving an input in this regard, Ambassador Tariq Osman Hyder opined that the statement reflects the validity of India’s proactive CSD and India’s irresponsible behavior as it would be suicidal for India to undertake such an action given Pakistan’s Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD).
Taking the discussion further, Air Marshal (R) Muhammad Yousaf highlighted Indian dilemma, stemming from Pakistan’s nuclear capability where it seeks to harm Pakistan while staying well below the nuclear threshold, a herculean feat indeed. Moreover, he attributed India’s
unverifiable NFU policy to its growing aspirations to get membership of certain international forums by projecting a positive self-image. On Bipin Rawat’s statement, he rightly opined that carrying out counter force strike would be tantamount to committing suicide, the difficulty and danger attached with such actions can be gauged from the fact that despite having the necessary wherewithal, the US, headed by an impulsive man like Trump dreads such an action against North Korea.
Mr. Abdullah Khan, Managing Director Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) asked Dr. Rizwana about the possibility of US abetting India in materializing its anti-Pakistan strategies and doctrines given Indo-US nexus; Dr. Rizwana responded that given its own firsthand experience and awareness of the gravity and danger involved in such course of action, the US is very unlikely to even tacitly approve Indian aggression against Pakistan in this respect. Yet she urged Pakistan to diversify alliances with states like China and Russia and hoped that rationality will come into play thereby diminishing chances of a potential nuclear conflict.
Sharing her insightful thoughts on quintessential Indian duplicity, Ms. Tanzeela, IRA, ACDA said India has a pattern of testing waters before announcing any official policy. This saves India from international castigation for espousing war-mongering strategies. Yet she aptly highlighted that disregard of statements, developments on Indian side reflect that India is already moving towards flexible response option, including both counter-value and counter-force targeting options.
Considering the US’ declining credibility as an impartial actor owing to its strategic partnership and defence and military agreements with India like LEMAO, Ms. Saima Aman, Senior Research Fellow at Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) said the potential US support of Indian designs against Pakistan cannot be ruled out and thus questioned what should be Pakistan’s response to shift in India’s policy.
Elaborating on the issue of India’s shifting nuclear posture and the possible implications of Indo-US nexus for Pakistan, Air Cdre (R) Ghulam Mujaddid, Acting Dean Faculty of Aerospace Sciences and Strategic Studies, Air University, said that doctrines do not necessarily remain static and may change with time as indicated by doctrinal changes during Cold War era, thus changes in Indian doctrines, of necessity, stem from very real capabilities of their own and that of their allies. He called attention to India’s Joint Armed Forces
Doctrine (JAFD) and India-US deliberation on appointing military liaison officers at each other’s combatant commands. Dr. Cheema evaluated the relevance of Arab-Israeli war of 1973 in which the US gave into Israel’s threat of use of nuclear weapons against Egypt if it was not provided with the complete military operations details of Egypt. He wondered whether India would repeat such a thing with the US. Nevertheless, he noted that unlike Egypt, Pakistan is a nuclear armed state. Responding to the questions and statements, Dr. Rizwana said Pakistan should further improve accuracy of the platforms, hold regular briefings, keep all the communication channels clear and invest more to improve early warning systems. In this regard, Mr. Mujaddid argued that since it’s about deterrence equation, our response should be in line with the Indian moves. If India seeks disarming strikes, Pakistan should move and mobilize its forces to a ready mode and demonstrate deterrence. At the end Dr. Cheema once again thanked all the participants and said that such intellectual debates are not necessarily definitive and their primary purpose is to generate ideas and knowledge.