Strategy for Total Defence:
A Conceptual Nuclear Doctrine

From the BOARD of EDITORIAL ADVISORS, Brig (Retd) SAEED ISMAT, SJ gives out his concept for a nuclear doctrine

Pakistan since its unique creation has been enveloped in a state of siege, psychologically and physically. Our geopolitical location and history of wars, upheavals, and turmoil have placed a heavy premium on the national security. From the beginning of human history application of force or threat of force has always been persistently used to the resolution of social and political problems. This phenomenon to date seems to remain valid - more so in the context of our strategic environment. Since our birth, as an independent and sovereign nation, our energies were absorbed in coping with a cycle of recurrent crises, whose fundamental origin lay in the aggressive attitudes and actions of our dominant neighbour-India. Pakistan with all its internal and external problems desperately needs durable peace at all cost to save the loss of its sovereignty, dignity and honour.

India is secure in its own strength and Indian leadership is fully conscious of it. They know that Pakistan is too weak to undertake any meaningful military offensive against her. India is in a formidably strong position materially, economically and diplomatically. This is a reality, which must not be lost sight of. Therefore, if we lower our defences below a certain threshold we could be facing the spectre of extinction.

There can be no peace without strength. As long as there are those who threaten our vital interests we need to remain strong. Our weakness shall tempt our would-be aggressors to threaten, coerce and aggress. We must continue to place high priority on enhancing our security in relation to the strength of the potential and actual adversaries. We should neither be intimidated by the overwhelming power of the adversary nor over estimate his strength. We must develop a strategy to deal with our security concerns to counter the threat at an acceptable risk and minimal cost.

National strategy has both positive and negative aspects. The positive strategy uses all the elements of national power (economic, political, psychosocial, technological, and military) to achieve the national objective. The policy of deterrence is a negative use of power that employs the threat of force to gain time and freedom of action to employ the positive element of power. Modern strategy requires an intuitive synthesis of policy, political purpose, values, military power, military readiness, economics and the process of negotiation.

Pakistan has been following a defence policy of deterrence by denial and reconciliation with India. This was backed up by a policy of 'nuclear ambiguity'. Within this framework, Pakistan's military strategy was based on a series of conventional non-nuclear scenarios. Strategically our forces were forced to adopt a 'defensive posture', in the face of an overwhelming numerical and material superiority of Indian war machine. Pakistan does not have the capability to launch 'offensive' at strategic level, however, once subjected to aggression, Pakistan army and air force, through a well planned land-air battle, shall aim at causing heavy losses and attrition on the attacking forces. Having successfully checked the Indian offensive at certain point in our territory, operational strategy would rely on launching an offensive to either force the enemy out of Pakistan or as an equalizer capture sensitive Indian territory to create a military stalemate and improve upon the bargaining position. This strategy was based on some optimistic assumptions that war would be limited in nature, short in duration and Pakistan would have the ability to create as a minimum, a situation of military stalemate.

The changes since May 1998 have, however, altered the context and the requirement of our military strategy. A number of strategists in Pakistan believed that our policy of deterrence had been reinforced. Deterrence was now enhanced to be viewed as more effective since both the protagonists had displayed the ability of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. There was an air of expectancy that perhaps we shall see a shift in our force configuration. The notion of meaningful reduction in the conventional forces and substantial cuts in our defense budget was beginning to take shape. The euphoria was destined to fade away, as the Kargil affair brought to focus the reality, that mere possession of a strategic nuclear capability is not enough to prevent the humiliation or regression of a nation; through the threat of a general war using conventional means combined with superior exterior manoeuvre (a well-orchestrated Indian political and diplomatic activity).

The success in Kargil substantially contributed to the emergence of an extremist Hindu nationalist party (BJP) as a much stronger political force, much to the detriment of prospects of peace in the region. Emboldened by the Kargil episode, India became increasingly aggressive. Indian posture of deliberate provocation was demonstrated by shooting down of an unarmed Pakistani naval surveillance aircraft 'Atlantic' within the confines of Pakistan airspace on August 10, 1999. Following this event India violated Pakistan airspace at least four times. The military take-over of Pakistan on 12 October 1999 was to provide the world's largest democracy a new element to launch a full-scale diplomatic offensive world-wide. As we were about to enter the new millennium, India exploited the Indian airline-hijacking affair with remarkable frenzy. Malicious propaganda forces were unleashed to obtain declaration of Pakistan as a terrorist state. Atal Behari Vajpayee publicly declared Pakistan as an enemy state on 23 January 2000, in Assam and added that Delhi was ready for war. These are very serious matters and should not be brushed aside lightly. The combined effect of all this has downgraded our credibility and the threat to our national security has increased to ominous proportions. Management of security environment in year 2000 and beyond will pose greater difficulty for a country at the verge of economic collapse. The ever increasing Indian threat (both military and diplomatic) at the external front and fragile economy and political uncertainty at the domestic level are daunting tasks. These are the realities that our strategist must recognise and prepare to deal with. They must formulate options in this ever changing and volatile landscape.

The fundamental characteristic of nuclear deterrent is that its use should pose an unacceptable risk to the opponent. Its success lies in achieving the objective without resort to its use. Once put into use, it is no more a deterrent. At this point it is quite proper to ask: what happens if the unthinkable happens and deterrent fails? Will the aggressor with his overwhelming superiority in conventional forces not do what they have declared to do? In the prevalent situation the threat assessment is based not only on India's military capability but also publicly declared commitments/intentions of its rulers. Is the strategy of deterrence at the brink of failure? Yes - and we may not be able to sustain it for long.

The strategy of deterrence should not be adopted in isolation. We must be ready to put into affect some other strategy to preserve our national objective during this period when the deterrent is being sustained as well as to cater for the contingency when it may actually fail. We, therefore, need to plan a workable 'strategy of defence' for the ultimate failure of deterrent.

In the context of Pakistan deterrent would have failed when our adversary launches the unthinkable nuclear first strike and or invades our country by conventional forces. Pakistan's relative conventional military weakness could encourage the would be aggressor to make dangerous miscalculations. He could launch space oriented military offensives directed at our 'critical areas' and important communication centres. Many analysts believe that our decision-makers are not psychologically ready to use the strategic nuclear weapon on the onset of a conventional invasion. Such an action, of course, should be out of question. This will be most irresponsible, emotive, and irrational response fraught with unthinkable consequences as it tantamounts to MAD (mutually assured destruction). Why should we sentence ourselves to death when the enemy comes knocking at our door? Enemy knows we are responsible and mature people and would not commit suicide by the First Use of nuclear weapons. To the extent feasible, basic military strategy initially responds as it would in a normal conventional scenario i.e. by adopting a favourable defensive posture, deny, delay and inflict heavy attrition on the attacking enemy forces. Basically Pakistan has a very serious geographical weakness i.e. we lack strategic depth and the main lines of communication at places run perilously close to the border with India. Some of our major cities like Lahore and Sialkot are within the long-range artillery. Despite the best efforts by the defender, a determined attacker, in the modern military context, shall eventually succeed in getting a breakthrough through the defences. It shall only be a question of time that India is successful in capturing our critical areas after accepting high rate of casualties in men and material.

There could be many scenarios but just to illustrate this point let us visualize if an Indian military invasion came through the Rajistan desert directed towards the GT road near Rahimyarkhan. In matter of days, India could cut off our north-south communication, divide and dislocate our military forces and divide the country in two. The capture of this critical space could act as a springboard to launch further manoeuvres of exploitation towards areas in depth. If they choose to limit their objectives, they could consolidate and retain these spaces. This action by itself can cause strategic division and isolation of our forces leading to ultimate defeat and break up of a nation. In conjunction with offensive in other areas as well, they could prolong the war and go for our areas in depth. Pakistan options would have foreclosed - except one!

We should have well defined and declared strategy of using our ultimate choice of nuclear weapons aimed at the destruction of those military forces, which have intruded in our territory. Our aim should be the destruction of the invading military forces only and not his civilian population. We should aim to strike with tactical nuclear weapons at the base of enemy offensive in the proximity of the international border. Tactical nuclear weapons are very low yield weapons, which have a very limited radius of damage. Some standard artillery guns, rockets, and missiles can deliver these, so can helicopters and aircraft. Such low yield, high radiation nuclear weapons can quickly and decisively alter the entire course of battle. Though tactical in characteristics these can produce strategic effect.

Pakistan lacks the geographical depth and military resource to counter the threat from India more so in the future as the Indian military capability further increases. We can not match them weapon to weapon, aircraft to aircraft; our economy can hardly bear the burden of maintaining the existing forces. We can perhaps now retain the balance through the deployment of very low yield tactical nuclear weapons during any future war. This should become the cornerstone of our defence strategy. This planned employment of tactical nuclear weapons has an exclusively defensive dimension. Pakistan does not have the desire or for that matter the capability to initiate any form of war, be it conventional or nuclear. All we are saying is that should strategic nuclear deterrent fail and India launches a major conventional offensive towards our critical and sensitive areas, we shall firstly do our utmost by conventional means but if our defences are ruptured, we shall be free to exercise our right to use tactical nuclear weapons to check the enemy intrusion into our territory.

The salient features of the evolved strategy are:-

a. Pakistan shall not resort to first use of any strategic nuclear weapons.

b. If nuclear deterrent fails and the aggressor seizes the initiative to launch the First Strike, we shall hit back with our Second Strike ability.

c. In case the deterrent fails by the enemy launching a meaningful conventional offensive, our forces shall resiliently defend their homeland.

d. Any time in our perception when the defences are seriously endangered and a collapse is imminent, we shall be obliged to raise the scope and nature of our response. We shall now employ tactical nuclear weapons against the invading military forces.

e. This is essentially a defensive strategy backed up by a series of controlled escalations.

f. Our response shall be directly proportionate to the actions of enemy provocation and threat posed to our security.

It has a manifest ability to react to any threat at the appropriate level. It initially relies on the assumption (emanating by our abiding desire for peace) that the strategy of nuclear deterrent shall work. It is based on full recognition of the prevailing environment that we shall never have the resources to indefinitely increase and update our conventional forces to create a reasonable balance with the ever-increasing Indian capabilities.

This conceptual doctrine reinforces our objective not only to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by an aggressor but shall certainly impose a certain measure of caution on him. This shall also demonstrate our national will to preserve the peace and our desire to settle all issues through negotiations with more confidence. The doctrine aims to present the enemy with an unacceptable degree of risk and injury in proportion to his potential gains. For such a policy to succeed it is important that potential aggressor is made aware that such a policy exits. Finally, he must know that the doctrine is matched by the political will and available means to execute it.

Any discernible reader shall be quick to appreciate that this doctrine places the onus of first use of the nuclear weapons on the aggressor, at the same time we shall be ready to use nuclear weapons only if attacked. We shall only retaliate with the use of tactical nuclear weapons on military targets (proportional to our needs only) under extreme provocation when our conventional defences are perceived to be at the verge of collapse. In other words we are giving an opponent the strongest possible incentive to refrain from nuclear strike or a conventional military offensive against us.

It will certainly be in their interest as well as ours to limit the terrible consequences of any form of military aggression. This doctrine does not envisage holding any civilian population as hostage as is the case with threat to use or actual use of nuclear weapons. In fact there is a sense of morality about it as it has no aggressive dimension and poses no threat to anyone. One may like to call it 'Pakistan's Military Doctrine of Necessity'.

About the Author

A student of Cadet College Hasan Abdal and F.C. College, Lahore. Brig Saeed Ismat, SJ joined Pakistan Military Academy in 1962. Selected as the best cadet, he was sent to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (U.K) He is an honour graduate from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, USA and Command and Staff College, Quetta. Holds a Masters degree from Islamabad University, and has been on the Faculty of National Defence College.

Born on 23rd December 1944 he has served in the USA, UK, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan on important military as well as diplomatic assignments. Served as a Defence Attache at Pakistan High Commission, London, for over three years and in the Senior Pakistan Armed Force Office in Riyadh to provide link and liaison with the Saudi Government for over two years. In view of his meritorious service, diplomatic experience, and intellectual abilities he was appointed as Pakistan's First Ambassador to Baku, Azerbaijan in 1993.

Honoured with one of the highest gallantry award of Sitara-e-Jurat. Brig Saeed Ismat, SJ has had a brilliant record of service with the potential of rising to the highest but, unfortunately, he was placed in a lower medical status and decided to seek retirement.