By Sajid Farid Shapoo
Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing nuclear stockpile.[i] Given the rate of plutonium and highly enriched uranium production, it may be able to produce another 200 nuclear warheads in the next 5 to 10 years, taking its arsenal close to 350. The production of such a staggering stockpile has been associated with an extremely worrisome trend; the majority of nuclear warheads produced by Pakistan in last decade are low yield tactical weapons. The rapid tacticalization of a strategic asset in the region considered to be a nuclear flashpoint, has raised a plethora of security and strategy related issues.
Pakistan is the epicenter of global jihadi terrorism. The country has faced some of the most devastating attacks on its defense establishments by the jihadist in the past decade or so. There have been repeated instances where some of these attacks were mounted with the help of insiders within the Pak military establishment. The unabated internal chaos coupled with a perpetual tension with its eastern neighbor, makes Pakistan a bit of a nuclear nightmare. Its willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons even against a limited conventional incursion by India further complicates the situation. Pakistan, however, has repeatedly stated that its weapons are safe and it has a robust and stable security framework to safeguard its nuclear weapons.
This essay is an attempt to assess threats to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) and its nuclear security vulnerability.
Pakistan’s Nuclear Journey: From Strategic to Tactical
After the nuclear tests of May 1998 by both India and Pakistan, nuclear ambiguity became a thing of past. Pakistan was forced to take a fresh look at its doctrine and nuclear posturing, which could provide a dependable and more credible deterrence against its eastern neighbor. Pakistan faced a complex security situation; India with its conventional superiority continued to pose a perceived existential threat, but now with an overt nuclear capability, the threat perception increased several times over. To compound the situation, with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan the U.S. geopolitical rationale to support Pakistan was removed. Pakistan realized that it had little choice but to adopt an aggressive nuclear escalation posture. This aggressive posture entailed integration of its nuclear weapons into its military structure to credibly and directly deter Indian conventional attacks.
The unambiguous expression of overt nuclear threat after India’s nuclear test led Pakistan to adopt a doctrine where Pakistan could quickly respond to even non-existential threats, thus lowering the nuclear threshold. India’s vastly superior conventional capability coupled with the perceived Cold Start doctrine triggered Pakistan to adopt an aggressive nuclear posturing policy. Brig. Feroz Hassan Khan (retd.) writes:
With its relatively smaller conventional force, and lacking adequate technical means, especially in early warning and surveillance, Pakistan relies on a more proactive nuclear defensive policy[ii].
With limited battlefield early warning and surveillance capabilities, the Pakistan Army viewed the threshold for nuclear first use as relatively low in a conventional conflict with India— perhaps even preemptive first use.