Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Weapons and Indian Cold Start Doctrine
Prior to this, both India and Pakistan had developed a panoply of 'strategic' nuclear weapons designed to strike terror among civilian populations in metros, or to knock out major military targets some distance away from the border. India's Agni V, for instance, can strike targets over 5,000 km away and can be launched from as far south as Chennai to strike Islamabad or Beijing. Pakistan, too, has developed the Ghauri and Shaheen to strike anywhere in India, and has lately extended their range to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, where India has an important tri-service base. But never before were nuclear weapons meant to be used as a tactical manoeuvre on the battlefield to thwart an advancing army corps.
The Nasr, as the midget red-and white nuclear-tipped missile has been christened, is a slim pencil-shaped rocket with fins, which can traverse a distance of 60 km, or little more than the range of an artillery gun. In its current configuration, shown during Pakistan's Military Day parade last year, the Nasr was housed in a multibarrel launch vehicle that could fire four of them simultaneously. Unlike conventional munitions, whose lethality comes from their explosive force and shrapnel, a nuclear-tipped missile doesn't only kill or immobilise enemy troops with the force of the blast. The extreme heat it produces, followed by the radiation it emits, can lead to debilitating sickness or kill a large number of troops within minutes of a strike.
Though they had been in the works for the past five years, the first official confirmation that Pakistan had deployed tactical nuclear weapons to thwart an Indian aggression was made by the country's foreign secretary, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, at a press briefing before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's bilateral meeting with Obama last October. The timing of Chaudhry's announcement was significant and clearly meant to warn both the US and India. For months, there was speculation that Pakistan had requested the US to give it a civil nuclear deal similar to the one India signed in 2005. In return, the US was forcing Pakistan to roll back its nuclear weapons programme, including stopping the development of tactical nuclear weapons and agreeing to sign the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that would further limit its nuclear capability.
There was growing suspicion in Pakistan that Modi's 'blow hot, blow cold' policy was a cover for the new 'offensive defence' doctrine advocated by Ajit Doval, his hawkish NSA. Doval had always maintained that the only answer to Pakistan's repeated terror strikes was for India to develop the capability to strike at Pakistan's vital interests without escalating it to an all-out war. By flaunting Nasr, as an expert put it, Pakistan was "showing India its nuclear middle finger and telling Doval to dare".The Pakistan army belief that India will now think thrice before contemplating an 'offensive defence' attack.
Pakistan justifies the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons as a response to India's Cold Start doctrine. Though India officially denies the existence of such a doctrine, it was first enunciated by the Indian army after the Kargil War in 1999 and the terror attack on Parliament in 2001. Policy experts had complained that it took months for the Indian army to ready its strike corps for a counter-attack on Pakistan. Since then, India is supposed to have developed a proactive strategy to mobilise major formations at short notice to launch a surprise strike.
To counter such a strike, Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, advisor to Pakistan's National Command Authority (NCA), which controls its nuclear weapons, asserted that Pakistan had to develop tactical nuclear weapons that could thwart a surprise thrust by Indian troops on its border. In March this year, Kidwai told a gathering at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad: "We are not apologetic about the development of tactical weapons. They are here to stay. Pakistan will not cap or curb its nuclear weapons programme or accept any restrictions."
The article initially appeared in India Today