“We will eat grass and leaves or even go hungry if required, but we will get the bomb” so said the Pak Foreign Minister Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1965. He later went on to become the Prime Minister and the President of Pakistan. He ensured Pakistan established Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) to fulfill its missile programme. Immediately after their defeat in Indo-Pak war of 1971, Pakistan established Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) and Kahuta Research Lab (KRL). The efforts to gain nuclear technology by hook or crook increased after India’s Pokharan blast in 1974. Pakistan started making strong efforts to acquire an indigenous capability in missile production technology through China and North Korea, who became major suppliers to Pakistan's ballistic missile programme, providing technological and other assistance. In December 1996, Hong Kong custom officers raided a Chinese vessel to find 10 tons of ammonium perchlorate believed to have been shipped by the North Korean company Lyongaksan and bound for SUPARCO. Ammonium perchlorate is a common oxidiser used in the production of solid missile propellant. In March 1996, Taiwan confiscated 15 tons of ammonium perchlorate, from a North Korean freighter bound for SUPARCO. Pakistan began pursuing a ballistic missile programme as part of an effort to develop a deliverable nuclear strike capability against India. However unlike Pakistan, India’s development of missile-based capabilities reflects both regional and extra-regional security concerns, Pakistan's ballistic missile effort is solely Indo-centric.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who became a self-styled “Qaid-e-Awam”1 with his fiery speeches criticizing Pakistan Army generals and India,2 was later hung by his successor Gen Zia ul Haq.
Next to be overthrown was Nawaz Sharif by Gen Musharraf. He was forced into exile to Saudi Arabia. Had India’s ex-PM I K Gujral not intervened, he would also have been dead hanging on the gallows.
Then came attempts on the life of and finally the assassination of Ms Benazir Bhutto, allegedly by Gen Musharraf in 2007.3
With such great personalities, at the helm of affairs, literally at each other’s throats; can Pakistan be trusted?
Pakistan trying to equalize asymmetry in conventional forces with India by amassing scores of nuclear weapons is not a new revelation. What is concerning and worrying is that Pakistani proliferation appears prompted by religious zeal alone. Nuclear abstinence cannot be found in Pakistani dictionaries. Pakistan will never choose totally forsaking nuclear weapons, accepting a “No First Use” policy, stopping nuclear weapon production or pronouncing a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear tests. Pakistan’s India-centric policies and religious zealot polity will not permit it to choose any of these options. Pakistan would go to any extent to fulfill its ambitions of achieving nuclear parity with or more preferably nuclear superiority over India. Pakistan does not have a publicized nuclear doctrine, but its policy of “minimum credible deterrent” is widely regarded as “maximum nuclear deterrence” designed to dissuade India from taking military action against it.
General David H. Petraeus, the former Commander of U.S. Central Command, also the future CIA Chief, testified to the US senate on March 31, 2009, that “Pakistani state failure would provide transnational terrorist groups and other extremist organizations an opportunity to acquire nuclear weapons and a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks.”4
President Obama addressed this issue in an April 29, 2009, press conference, stating, “I’m confident that we can make sure that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure, primarily, initially, because the Pakistani army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands. We've got strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation.” He also recognized the sensitivity of the issue for Pakistan, saying, “[w]e want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don't end up having a nuclear-armed militant state.”5 After Osama Bin Laden (OBL) was killed in Abbottabad, this distrust has increased gigantically.
The Open Source
The increased number of reactors and processing facilities at Chasma, Khushab Karachi and PINSTECH along with the increased production at Baghalchur and Mianwali (Isa Khel) provide Pakistan an expanded capability to produce weapon grade nuclear material in quantities at least double its known capability of 100kgs per annum. This equates to approximately 10-15 weapons per year. This would allow Pakistan to have 110-165 warheads over a period of eleven years from 2000-2010. The ISIS assesses, as of the end of 1999, that Pakistan possessed 585 - 800 kilograms of weapon-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) and 1.7 - 13 kilograms of separated plutonium; these quantities are sufficient for 30-50 nuclear bombs or warheads.6 At a conservative estimate, Pakistan should be logically holding 140-215 warheads as of 2011. By 2020, Pakistan could have accumulated approximately 450 kg of plutonium and ~6000 kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU). Pakistan may be able to produce more weapons if it either increases its rate of uranium mining or has more advanced weapon designs requiring less fissile material in each weapon.7 These stocks would be sufficient for perhaps 300-450 simple fission weapons based on HEU and 90 plutonium-based weapons. If the consideration is low yield weapons requiring less fissile material then Pakistan may currently possess ~600 warheads.
The evolving nuclear infrastructure of Pakistan has been detailed at FAS blog.8 The comments give further details of command and control infrastructures.9 Although safety of infrastructure is good, there remain many a challenges to the security.
“The present day security threats to Pakistan's nuclear weapons arsenal include the following:-
Outsider Threat -- The possibility that armed individuals or groups from outside a facility gain access and steal weapons, weapons components or fissile material is low. The outsiders' objective would be to gain control of these items for their own use or to transfer them to another state or to other non-state actors.
Insider Threat -- The possibility exists that individuals who work at a facility will remove weapons or weapons components without proper authorization. The insiders' objectives may be to control these items for their own use, transfer control of the items to a previously identified outsider, or to sell these items to a previously unidentified outsider. In the case of transfer, the insider may be motivated either by profit or ideological affinity with an outside group.
Insider/Outsider Threat -- The possibility that insiders and outsiders would conspire together to obtain weapons or weapon components is high. Again, the motivation for the theft may be either profit or ideology.
Leakage of Sensitive Information -- Insiders provide key information about Pakistan's nuclear weapons to outsiders. The information could include classified nuclear weapons data, exact storage locations, security and access control arrangements, or operational details about the weapons.
Loss of Central Control of Storage Facilities -- In the event of a civil war in Pakistan, clear lines of communication and control over weapons, weapons components, and information may be broken or lost entirely.”10
The Pakistan government is well aware of the dangers existing to its nuclear weapons from internal (insider and outsider) threats discussed above but is reluctant to accept any assistance from a foreign country, especially the USA. There are no external threats envisaged at this date by any writer. Pakistan has been working assiduously to safeguard its nuclear capability from first strike and to acquire survivability, even at the cost of collaborating with the USA.11 The Pakistani government is always expecting an external threat from her ally the USA in the wake of LWOT. The distrust of the USA became more evident within two days of 9/11, as the Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf ordered an emergency redeployment of the country's nuclear arsenal to at least six secret new locations and reorganized military oversight of the nuclear forces.12 The Pakistan armed forces may be keeping the nukes safe and secure13 which is doubtful and certainly that is not enough. Who shall stand guard to the guards themselves? Who will provide surety of their arsenal?
All Pakistani politicians and nuclear experts insist that their nuclear arsenal is safe and secure. But nobody ever talks of its surety. It is not known if Pakistan has any Nuclear Surety Program existing or planned. No emergency drills have been verified with the public at large. The authority and accountability of the nuclear arsenal remains vague at its best. The personal management and reliability is questionable considering the present internal security situation and past track record. The Pakistani government’s reliance on hardening and physically securing its nuclear sites will not necessarily ensure the safety and security of its nuclear arsenal. There is much credence to the theory of proliferation to non-state actors or terrorists. A failed or rouge state may resort to coercive or blackmailing tactics. Pakistani universities teach subjects like nuclear electronics and metallurgy with great emphasis on practical learning. It is surprising to note that even small universities like Allama Iqbal Open University of Aza Khel has a department of Nuclear Sciences along with Department of Hadith and Seerah and Department of Islamic Thought, Islamic Law and Jurisprudence. The students in such universities are generally from the lower middle class who are imbibed with religious-based animosity towards India, Israel and the USA in that order of precedence. A Q Khan, BashirudDin Mahmood and the likes will not hesitate to proliferate at the slightest theological stimulus. The complete issue is topped by the corrupt political leadership under the strict rule of the Pakistani Armed Forces. Almost all Pakistani PMs and Presidents have beaten the drum of the Indian threat whenever there was slightest of danger to their governments. General (Retired) Musharraf has disarmed India a number of times by threatening the first use of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
More recently, on December 23, 2016, the Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja M Asif reacted to fake news and issued a statement, "Israeli defence minister threatens nuclear retaliation presuming Pakistan's role in Syria against Daesh. Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too." 14
Many matured politicians and Chief Martial Law Administrators like Gen Parvez Musharraf have so vociferously threatened India and now Israel many a times. Imagine the plight of the young Corps or Divisional Commanders of Pakistan Army with the tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) at their disposal, especially when:-
(a) Fog of war is over bearing.
(b) Years of ingrained religious animosity albeit hatred propels him in a single direction.
(c) A chance to avenge the dismemberment of Erstwhile East Pakistan does not let him think sanely.
(d) Political sabre rattling is at its loudest.
Logical question comes to mind, what will happen to the “Strategic Restraint Regime”(SRR)?
SRR and Pakistan’s Aggressive Posture
Pakistan has been proposing the “Strategic Restraint Regime” in South Asia time and again claiming development of conventional and nuclear weapons by India had “adverse ramifications for peace and security” in the region.15 On the contrary to its own proposal, Pakistan itself has clandestinely prepared and deployed full spectrum deterrence (FSD). The announcement was made by none other than the Advisor to the Pakistan NCA Lt Gen (Retd) Khalid Kidwai himself.16 He explains the Pakistani FSD as a tool for conflict management leading to conflict resolution. Pakistan feels that there is no place for limited conventional war especially the so called “Cold Start Doctrine”. The Pakistan FSD is an aggressive nuclear posture basically operational deployment of its nuclear weapons in three categories:-
(a) Strategic, meaning long range.
(b) Operational, equivalent of medium range.
(c) Tactical, this is short range.
This deployment should not be confused with the nuclear triad which is platform based i.e. surface, air and under water. Recently Pakistan self-proclaimed successful test of the third leg of its triad Babur-III which was submarine launched cruise missile carried out on January 10, 2017.17 The claimed test was obviously fake which was vividly proved within hours of its pompous announcement by Pakistan’s DG ISPR.18 The claims apart, Pakistan has deployed its TNWs at minimum two locations - Gujranwala and Pano Aqil, identified on satellite imagery.19
Pakistan has been flaunting miniaturised nuclear devices since a very long time.20 Pakistan’s deployment of TNW, which was no surprise to anyone, supposedly completes its FSD. Pakistan believes the deployment of TNW has foreclosed every avenue of any localised or limited war options for India through the so called “Cold Start Doctrine”. Pakistan also believes since the option of war is closed, it opens a window of opportunity for India to “come down from the high horse” accept talks and reach an agreement which is win-win situation for both countries. India’s reaction to use of TNW by a massive retaliation is brushed aside as just a bluster. This really is not a correct perception of the current situation.
Western powers and analysts world over alike are worried about this conflict escalation with a clear threat to the strategic stability in the region. Toby Dalton and George Perkovich of Carnegie Endowment have realized that Pakistan’s TNW lowers the threshold of nuclear use.21 They again argue that India’s current nuclear doctrine has a credibility problem and that India too should have TNW.22 Both articles have been well written and achieve their aims of making Indian intelligentsia think about TNW. The askewed perceptions were clearly pointed out via twitter.23
Thus the TNWs, in any Indo-Pak nuclear conflict, supposedly ensure that the escalation is calibrated and progressive going through various rungs and not a sudden one from TNW to massive retaliation. Firstly, India will need to research and develop TNW giving that much of lead time to Pakistan to produce more fissile material, warheads and delivery systems. Secondly, supposing India already has the capability and quickly produces TNW, the escalation dominance will always be in Pakistan’s favour. Thirdly, Indian strategic planners are well aware of own capabilities and shortcomings especially in target monitoring and fiscal constraints. Fourthly, the Western world seems to be okay with Pakistan using state sponsored terrorism and first use of TNW but wants India to show restraint. Thus, this perception also fails to achieve any positive response as India stands very steady on No First Use (NFU) grounds.
India’s NFU is a self-declared promise. Just like India’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing, the NFU is extremely strong and ever abiding. India has always displayed strategic resolve despite repeated pinpricks by Pakistan and its leaders.
Recently, on March 13, 2017, Vipin Narang tweeted about a small paragraph from Shivshankar Menon’s book just before his speech at Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference was scheduled for on March 21, 2017.24 A study of the paragraph and tweets provide deeper understanding of the crude ways of the world.
(a) The book ‘Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy’, by Shivshankar Menon was launched in the first week of October 2016 in US.25
(b) Vipin Narang while re-reading the book chanced upon this paragraph with four sentences quoted in the tweet.
(c) First sentence is “If Pakistan were to use tactical nuclear weapons against India, even against Indian forces in Pakistan, it would effectively be opening the door to a massive Indian first strike, having crossed India’s declared red lines.” It is a perfect sentence. Please note it is ‘a massive Indian first strike’. Not first use.
(d) Second sentence is “There would be little incentive, for India to limit its response, since that would only invite further escalation by Pakistan.” Very clearly India will not limit its response and allow Pakistan to escalate further.
(e) Third sentence is “India would hardly risk giving Pakistan the chance to carry out a massive nuclear strike after the Indian response to Pakistan using tactical nuclear weapons.” Of course all Pakistan options end once Pakistan uses its TNW on India or Indian forces in Pakistan.
(f) Fourth sentence is “In other words, Pakistani tactical nuclear weapon use would effectively free India to undertake a comprehensive first strike against Pakistan.” Mr Menon has very well-articulated this sentence. This sentence qualifies the first three sentences by stating what a massive Indian first strike would be. The comprehensive first strike should not be perceived as counterforce strike alone. Because, when it comes to strategic stability, perceptions do matter.
It is also perceived that India’s NFU is not absolute. In order to make India’s NFU as strong and effective as it is, the geographical proximity of India and Pakistan should be understood clearly. The flight time and earth rotation need to be taken into consideration while planning on targets. The ISR capabilities also have to match the ground requirements.
India’s Targets and ISR Capabilities
Indian planners are very well aware of India’s targets. The mobile TELs, static silos, hardened bunkers, underground caves all would have been mapped out accurately. Every contingency would be made fool proof. Various alert statuses would be promulgated and implemented as and when required.
The flight time between India and Pakistan is very short as compared to between USA and Russia. India really does not have any incentive to live in denial mode to believe that the pathological liar - Pakistan will stick to escalation rungs. The IAF would be fully geared up along with the BM defences for each and every contingency.
The ISR capabilities do not have to be in terms of satellites and UAVs only. Although, even those are being augmented keeping in mind the futuristic requirements of our forces. India has amply proved its capabilities during Op Vijay when the entire conversation of Gen Parvez Musharraf was played out.
The people in the know would remember how effective our SIGINT was on the day Gen Zia-ul-Haq met with the fatal accident. No, India had no hand in it.
India does not need to possess or use TNW option for calibrated escalation. The capabilities achieved by India complement its nuclear posture of a strong NFU. The NFU also suits India’s moral, ethical and social mindset. But in no way should it be perceived as fealty.
Indian NFU very clearly means an assured second use translated simply as massive retaliation unacceptable to an obdurate aggressor – Pakistan.
In Pakistan however, it can be safely said, deterrence pessimism reigns supreme. Pakistan must assure the international community the safety, security, and surety of its nuclear arsenal instead of unleashing threat after threat. The least Pakistan can do is to promulgate “No First Use” policy as law. But then, who has ever been able to influence the Pakistanis more than the Tablighi Jamaat and neo-Islamic thoughts? The good friends of Pakistan may someday prevail to nudge the Pakistan military in a cooperative mode.
4.CRS document RL-34248, Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues.
5.President Obama’s 100th-Day Press Briefing transcript, April 29, 2009, accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/us/politics/29text-obama.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print.
6.David Albright, "India's and Pakistan's Fissile Material and Nuclear Weapons Inventories, End of 1999," October 11, 2000.
7.Exploring Uranium Resource Constraints on Fissile Material Production in Pakistan by Zia Mian, A. H. Nayyar and R. Rajaraman. Science and Global Security, 17:77–108, 2009.
10.Securing Pakistan's Nuclear Arsenal: Principles for Assistance By David Albright, Kevin O'Neill and Corey Hinderstein, October 4, 2001.
11.U.S. Secretly Aids Pakistan In Guarding Nuclear Arms, NYT, November 18, 2007.
12.Molly Moore and Kamran Khan, “Pakistan Moves Nuclear Weapons - Musharraf Says Arsenal Is Now Secure,” Washington Post, November 11, 2001.
Parts of this article were published as comments at https://www.armscontrolwonk.com and also on twitter earlier.