Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Conflict Redux

Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Conflict Redux


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ISBN-13: 9789381904763
Publisher: K W Publishers Pvt Ltd
Publication date: 10/15/2013
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.69(d)

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Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Conflict Redux

By Gurmeet Kanwal, Monika Chansoria

KW Publishers Pvt Ltd

Copyright © 2014 Centre for Land Warfare Studies
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-93-81904-76-3


Scaring-up Scenarios: An Introduction

Bharat Karnad

* * *

The Indian culture of war where Pakistan is concerned is central to any assessment of the possible use of nuclear weapons in South Asia. It has always been a brake on total war between these two countries, but the consideration of this factor is entirely missing from most deliberations on the subject by almost all South Asian and international analysts. The reasons for this state of affairs will be adduced later. So even serious writings on the subject are entirely abstracted from reality, whereupon anything and everything is possible and, depending on how familiar the analyst is with deterrence literature originating in the Cold War period, the same old tired concepts and scenarios are rediscovered to serve the viewpoint the writer is predisposed towards. The subcontinental socio-political and military reality, therefore, needs to be explicated once again. This may be part of my futile effort over the last nearly three decades to contest the laid-down Western line that wilfully propagates alarmist theses of the India-Pakistan "nuclear flashpoint" variety, the more convincingly to push the non-proliferation agenda on the poorly nuclear-armed countries such as India. It has, in fact, morphed into an apparently lucrative academic industry sustaining many international think-tanks and many more researchers populating them.

To state the conclusion at the outset: the likelihood of a nuclear exchange of any kind as a result of India-Pakistan conventional military hostilities is not zero, but the chances are infinitesimal and too remote to merit serious consideration. In the event, contemplating scenarios of tactical nuclear weapons use – as different from studying threats of use, the patterns of bluff and bluster in military crises – precursor events to the issuing of such threats, etc., which fall in the domain of nuclear signalling – is a paper exercise, and speculating for the sake of theorising.

In the literature, the unique nature of the armed conflicts between India and Pakistan has not been plumbed other than by this analyst. The case I have been making for nearly two decades will again briefly be reiterated here. Fuller, more detailed deconstruction of the so-called "wars" these two states have fought is available in my other writings. As part of this exercise, the fact that decisive wars or a war of annihilation are politically infeasible for the Indian government to prosecute and that such conflicts, therefore, end up as limited wars of manoeuvre, will be underlined. It will be followed by consideration of a few tactical nuclear weapons use scenarios to show that no matter how the accruing situation is sliced and diced, the outcome for Pakistan, should it cross the nuclear Rubicon and use any kind of nuclear weapon, is the same – a catastrophic defeat and, depending on the kind of exchange it is prepared to get into and how much it chooses to escalate, possibly even extinction.

The Nature of India-Pakistan Conflicts

In the immediate wake of Partition, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was confronted by the 1947-48 military operations in Jammu and Kashmir. His political fear of the war ending Pakistan's separate existence – resulting in the forced reabsorption of hundreds of millions of Muslims and a return of the tense communally-tinged domestic politics of the period from the 1920s to Independence – led Nehru to impose limits on the conduct of war, even as the bloody Partition process was underway in Punjab and Bengal. That political factors have always come into play in these affrays is evidenced, for example, in the local political motivation for curtailing the Indian advance to retake Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah warned Nehru that doing so would result in the pro-Pakistan Muslim Conference Party, which had a larger popular following, based on its support in the western parts of Kashmir of the erstwhile "princely state" dominated by the Mirpuri Muslims, overshadowing his National Conference, and that this would bode ill for India in any process of "self-determination". It led, for instance, to the curious orders to 161 Brigade commanded by Brig LP Sen, which was poised to cross the Neelam river and capture Muzaffarabad, to wheel ninety degrees north and occupy Leh and Kargil instead.

Similar fears of Pakistan falling apart may have influenced Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had ordered an unprepared Indian Army in 1965 to open a front on the international border in Punjab in response to the Pakistan Army's unexpected twin-Operations 'Gibraltar' and 'Grand Slam' in Kashmir, but then stymied the Indian advance with the lead element (3 Jat under Lt Col Desmond Hayde) pushing up to Batapore, on the outskirts of Lahore, by denying Indian infantry and armour at the forward edge of the battlefield air cover. The Indian government apparently woke up a little late to the political dangers of Lahore falling and the possible collapse of Pakistan, even as the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C), Western Command, Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh repeatedly, and with growing exasperation, asked for the Indian Air Force (IAF) to go into action.

Or, take the original instruction to the Army by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1971: it involved occupying only a thin sliver of territory in East Pakistan, installing a "Government of Free Bangladesh" formed by exiled East Bengal political leaders in Kolkata, and having it negotiate a political agreement with the Martial Law regime of Gen Yahya Khan in Islamabad. This directive came to nought because the previous military oppression of the Bengali people had rendered the atrocious military strategy adopted by the Pakistani Theatre Commander, Lt Gen AAK Niazi, of stretching his forces thin around the border mixed with making strongholds of certain towns, vulnerable to rear-area operations by the Mukti Bahini guerrilla forces and, hence, unsustainable. It allowed breakthroughs on multiple axes and breakouts by Indian Army units to turn into a fast-paced and furious race, bypassing Pakistan Army garrisons, converging on Dhaka.

In the event, India and Pakistan have engaged in conflicts that dispassionate observers would hesitate to call "wars"; these being more akin to, and fittings the parameters of, "riots" – localised, counter-force bash-ups, constrained by space – with military engagement restricted to the small corridor on either side of the border and marked by both countries eschewing counter-city or counter-value bombardment by air or long-range artillery; restricted in time – with none of the conflicts to-date lasting more than 12 days; and limited in intensity; and with neither side building up its war reserve and war stock, to fight long duration decisive wars with the available ammunition and stores, ensuring their careful expenditure. What have eventuated as a result are extremely truncated and quality-wise curtailed military hostilities that the late Maj Gen DK Palit famously described as "communal riots with tanks" and I have elsewhere described as "intramural blood sport", serious enough tussles for those actually doing the fighting but, in the larger scheme of things, relatively harmless tests of strength.

This phenomenon of deliberately low-level punch-ups where the punches are routinely pulled cannot be satisfactorily explained except with reference to the shared religion, ethnicity and other socio-cultural attributes and common historical background constituting organic ties that cannot easily be sundered and, in crises, act as constraints. I mean how serious is the prospect of total war, implicit in the use of nuclear weapons, when one party can get a rise out of the other by demanding better security for a Bollywood star (Shahrukh Khan)? Strategic communities on either side of the Radcliffe Line as well as the Indian government and military need to get real! This advice is, of course, wasted on American and European analysts who have no inkling of this cultural aspect and have their own vested interests to serve.

The starting point, therefore, is the social and cultural reality of the two countries originally constituting a whole. Continuing kith and kinship relations, shared language, religion, and culture generally, and more localised natural affinities, such as common ethnic identity symbolised, for instance, by the concept of "Punjabiyat" connecting the Hindu and Sikh Punjabis in India and the Punjabi Mussalman, the dominant group in Pakistan, have resulted in an at once warm but suffocating embrace and sometimes disagreeable relations. It is a case of familiarity breeding contempt. Hence, the statement by the Indian Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Gen Bikram Singh who, notwithstanding his successful command of a Pakistan Army brigade – the only Indian General-rank officer with such experience – in the Congo under the UN peace-keeping aegis complemented the experience of an Indian Army brigade commanded by a Pakistani General in Somalia, wondered "how Pakistan can be trusted"!

The reality in the subcontinent is that the politics of bilateral relations owing, in the words of Jaswant Singh, the Minister for External Affairs in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, to the two countries "joined in the womb", does not permit all-out war, the organic links with Pakistan politically disabling India, the far stronger side, to wage it. The vast Indian Muslim population – as large if not larger than the population of Pakistan, bonded by family ties and residual sympathy to a state carved out of the Indian whole as "homeland for Muslims of the subcontinent" – tolerates the occasional bloodying of Pakistan but may not, as readily, countenance New Delhi's ordering military measures to destroy it. The growing self-confidence and the widespread electoral clout of the Indian Muslim community ensures this. Fully third of the Lok Sabha constituencies have large enough Muslim concentrations to constitute the swing vote that can decide general and state elections. It has compelled all political parties, including the BJP to, in various ways, cater to Muslim sentiments, make big promises, initiate programmes for Muslim education and social uplift in the country.

Conventional military superiority, moreover, means India will never need to escalate to the nuclear level if Pakistan doesn't, and the weight of the history of contained conflicts will militate against Pakistan initiating nuclear weapon use for fear of dire consequences. Then there's the nuclear taboo. Every passing year adds to the moral weight of nearly seventy years and counting behind non-use of the atomic bomb after the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It restricts the possibility of use of nuclear weapons other than in genuinely last resort terms, which situation of survival, for all the reasons adduced above, will simply not obtain. There's no defence against Islamabad's deliberate policy of national suicide. But use of tactical nukes in anger, in militarily difficult situations resulting from Pakistan's offering grave provocation, as a preemptive measure to staunch an Indian advance into Pakistan, or prevent further defeats on the battlefield during the course of conventional hostilities, will fetch just such a result. Indian plans, including "Cold Start", do not aim to threaten survival and cannot, therefore, be an excuse for a "weak and crazy" Pakistan to introduce nuclear weapons into the proceedings. Should that happen, however, then all bets are off, all constraints, inhibitions, and domestic political considerations go out the window. But if the past is the prologue, the Pakistan Army can be expected to behave professionally – fight hard but, when the game is up, to accept peace. This happened in 1947, 1965, 1971, and in Kargil. To believe that such a professional force will act differently – go bonkers – and that too in a nuclearised setting is to give into one's fears or prejudices, or fears laced with prejudice, which does not make for good analytics.

In the context of the sheer disparity, the most that Islamabad can do is repeat what it has done since 1987 and the Indian 'Brasstacks' military exercise – use braggadocio and big talk about situational first use of nuclear weapons ostensibly to fend off the Indian threat, but in reality, to consolidate its status as a nuclear weapon power and to justify its nuclear arsenal as (1) a deterrent against a much larger, better endowed, adversary; (2) an "equaliser" blunting India's conventional military superiority; and (3) providing parity with India in the politico-strategic realm. The equaliser and parity notions are delusional, but the psychological comfort Pakistan draws from its nuclear weapons is, however, real. And, why is that bad? After all, anything that makes the Pakistan Army less jumpy and more risk-averse, would stabilise the security milieu, and should be welcomed.

Nevertheless, Pakistan's frequent aggressive posturing and the infrequent heated Indian retort has spawned the aforementioned academic industry that has lots of traction in the US and the West, and is fuelled by the outré rationales and pronouncements of Pakistani officials and analysts, laced with apprehensions about fissile material leaking to, or the possibility of whole nuclear weapons being captured by, any of a host of Islamic terrorist outfits, including Al Qaeda, active in Pakistan. Instances of clandestine commerce facilitated by the Pakistan government's programme – "nuclear Walmart" – originally headed by AQ Khan, peddling Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) materials and technologies to whomsoever is willing to pay, only stoke such concerns. This messy pottage has led to the propagation of the "flashpoint" thesis, mostly by American analysts. Their assessments involve hyper-ventilations, not empirical evidence, and rarely refer to the history and the actual conduct of India-Pakistan conflicts.

Vested Interests

Upping the alert levels of nuclear forces from zero stage by both sides during hostilities – that elsewhere would be considered as normal military precautionary measures – are interpreted as calamitous nuclear trigger itchiness. Studies that focus on these events also invariably overstate America's role in crises in order to stress Washington's supposed indispensability to keeping nuclear peace in South Asia. This academic industry is, of course, sustained because of the rich funding available for research into crisis and conflict resolution issues, and especially the possibility of nuclear exchange which, reflexively, gets everybody's gander up. The literature, thus, produced is ceaseless in its predictions of imminent or immanent nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

Western researchers fall into two categories – former and serving US government and intelligence officials in the Pentagon (such as Peter Lavoy, Michael Krepon) and in think-tanks (such as the Stimson Centre) whose alarmist take on South Asian crises invariably leads to advocacy for a more active diplomatic role for the US to supposedly prevent the nuclear conflict they so fervently anticipate. Then there's the growing tribe of Indian-origin academics, mostly in these same think-tanks and American universities, who, for reasons of seeking tenure, research monies, and acceptance in the US policy fold, toe much the same line – their Indian origin/connection presumably endowing their insights with greater credibility. The ultimate proof that most of this brouhaha about imminent nuclear war is manufactured in the West may be gleaned from the fact that during these so-called nuclear crises on the subcontinent, there is little manifestation of this fear among the people. A similar phenomenon was observed during the North Korean nuclear missile crisis of March-April 2013 when Western media and commentary was full of Kim Jong un's antics leading to nuclear weapon use, but there was no sign of this hysteria on the streets of Seoul. This sort of hype is created essentially with a non-proliferation motive to underline the strategic role of the United States as mediator in the case of India and Pakistan and to still any doubts in New Delhi about the quality of the Indian arsenal that would require resumption of nuclear testing, and as protector of South Korea and Japan to damp down any sentiment in the Far East for nuclear weapons of their own for security.

The second source of such research and writings propping up this academic and policy analysis industry comprises the Pakistan government and a host of Pakistan Army officers – many of them retired from the Strategic Plans Division (the Pakistan Army's nuclear secretariat) now ensconced in US think-tanks, who have every reason to give credence to the alarmist brand of US and Western writings on the subject in order to elevate their own standing and value to the American policy and other Western audiences, and to justify and lend credibility to Pakistan's nuclear stance. These worthies embroider themes of perennial concern to the West, such as the supposedly hair-trigger situation prevailing in the subcontinent, deficient command and control mechanisms, and faulty nuclear decision-making structures in the two countries, and weaknesses in the strategic force disposition and deployment patterns.


Excerpted from Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Weapons by Gurmeet Kanwal, Monika Chansoria. Copyright © 2014 Centre for Land Warfare Studies. Excerpted by permission of KW Publishers Pvt Ltd.
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Table of Contents


Foreword Dhruv C Katoch,
Preface Gurmeet Kanwal and Monika Chansoria,
1. Scaring-up Scenarios: An Introduction Bharat Karnad,
2. Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A Step Closer to the 'Abyss' Vijay Shankar,
3. China's Nuclear and Missile Transfers to Pakistan: Trends and Analysis Monika Chansoria,
4. Rationale and Implications Kapil Kak,
5. Logic and Options for Use Arun Sahgal,
6. Command and Control in the Context of Tactical Nuclear Weapons Gurmeet Kanwal,
7. Nuclear Command and Control Organisation: Political Problems Sasikumar Shanmugasundaram,
8. Technical Aspects of Hatf-9/Nasr Missile Rajaram Nagappa,
9. Safety and Security Shalini Chawla,
10. India's Doctrinal Options Rajesh Rajagopalan,
11. India's Response Options Manpreet Sethi,

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