Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrine


Patron Lt Gen (Retd) Sardar FS Lodi

analysis Pakistan’s doctrine vis-a-vis its nuclear capability

A doctrine could be defined as a set of principles formulated and applied for a specific purpose, working towards a desired goal or aim. These principles could of course be advocated and taught as the right belief or dogma acceptable to a majority of the people concerned. A nuclear doctrine would consequently consist of a set of principles, rules and instructions for the employment or non-employment of nuclear weapons and other systems associated with those weapons.

Before we discuss the nuclear doctrine of Pakistan it would be appropriate to dilate somewhat on the factors that have conceived the concept which has formulated the nuclear doctrine. Pakistan’s main concern has been with her security and territorial integrity which has been threatened and violated by India many times since 1947 when both countries became independent. Pakistan has fought three wars and two border conflicts short of war with India. In 1971 Pakistan was dismembered by Indian military intervention. Today troops of both countries are in an eyeball-to-eyeball deployment on either side of the Line of Control in Kashmir and along the Siachin Glacier in the northern areas. These facts have a great bearing on Pakistan's concern for a viable security parameter.

It is now a matter of recorded history that in August 1947 while Pakistan was trying to cope with the onerous administrative and logistics problems facing the new state, independent India sent her Army and Air Force into the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir in October 1947 to settle a dispute by resort to arms. Having used force against a neighbour barely two months after gaining independence, India continued to use force as an instrument of her foreign policy in pursuit of her national goals and objectives in the region. After Kashmir Indian troops entered Junagadh and Manawadar, the following year it was Hyderabad, in Deccan. In 1961 the Portuguese territories of Diu, Daman and Goa were attacked and captured. In 1962 a border conflict was initiated against China and for the first time India was defeated by a neighbour of comparative size. The reverberations from this defeat still rankle the command structure of the large and well-equipped Indian Army. India has also used force to absorb tiny Sikkim. Sent troops into Sri Lanka on the pretext of peace keeping, blockaded Nepal to change her government and flown troops into Maldives islands as a show of force. These actions by India over the years certainly do not inspire confidence in her small neighbours.

Unfortunately in South Asia a balance of power cannot be maintained by conventional means alone. Owing primarily to India's sheet size and ample resources. India is larger than all her neighbours combined, in South Asia by a wide margin. Add to this India's ambitions across her frontiers in the region and beyond and you have a situation fraught with long-term defence and security implications for Pakistan. India's recent large scale military manoeuvres on land at Sea and in the air often close to the Indo-Pak border and her acquisition of 1.6 Billion dollars worth of modern arms from Russia is certainly a cause of some concern in Pakistan.

Surprisingly India's defence experts and thinkers have also been advocating the use of military force as an instrument of state policy. Mr T.T. Paulose wrote in the 'Hindustan Times', New Delhi on March 12, 1998. 'The humiliating defeat at the hands of China (in 1962) awakened India to the new realities of military power as a major factor in international politics and inter-state relations'. Similarly Mr Sidharth Mishra writing in 'The Pioneer', New Delhi on March 10, 1998 said. 'If we want to be respected and accepted by the international community as a force to reckon with, a greater attention to the Armed Forces becomes an essential pre-requisite'.

There was no military justification whatsoever for India to have detonated a series of nuclear devices in May 1998. There was no threat to India's security from her small neighbours. In any case nothing had changed on her borders to cause any alarm. As far as China was concerned, her Army Chief had visited India and there was an agreement for mutual reduction of troops along their common border. By her nuclear tests India disturbed the defence parity maintained in the region. This had been achieved by an undeclared mutual nuclear capability and without the visible deployment of ballistic missiles on both sides. This state of ambiguity had helped to preserve military equilibrium in the region resulting in 27 years of continues peace in South Asia. In comparison there were three Indo-Pak wars in the first 24 years of their independence.

The International Herald Tribune had this to say in an editorial in its issue of May 30-31, 1998. 'Restraint was widely urged on Pakistan after India conducted five nuclear tests. But those doing the urging had to know their appeal was hollow. Pakistan, feeling that nothing less than its survival was at stake, was being asked to give up a matching nuclear option in return for an uncertain set of international guarantees. India's tests were strategically gratuitous (uncalled for, motiveless). They did not emanate from any threat that reasonable people could perceive, certainly not one from Pakistan. Pakistan's five tests on Thursday (May 28) however, had a claim of strategic justification. That is why India's tests enraged many in Washington and elsewhere, while Pakistan's were received more in sorrow than in anger'.

After acquiring nuclear weapons capability India's stance towards Pakistan completely changed. Mr L. K. Advani the pro-nuclear Indian home minister made statements showing India's intention to cross the Line of Control in Kashmir under the pretext of 'hot pursuit'. These statements were supported and often repeated by Indian-occupied Kashmir's chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah. The Indian Corps Commander in Kashmir Lt. Gen Kishan Pal addressed an unprecedented news conference to advocate his plans of attacking Azad Kashmir territory across the Line of Control. These provocative statements could not have been made without Delhi's approval. These were followed by appropriate military moves by India. An extra infantry division was sent into Kashmir and another one was placed at short notice to move. During my tour to the Line of Control the local army commanders informed me that India had started to dump artillery and other ammunition into forward locations. This is often a prelude to war.

With Pakistan's atomic tests her nuclear weapons capability was overtly demonstrated for all to see: friends and foes alike. It was surprising to note that India's aggressive tone based on her military muscle immediately changed for the better. There was now talk of peace and negotiations. The war hysteria seemed to have subsided. This is what deterrence is all about. By a demonstrated nuclear capability and parity on either side of the border, a form of defence equilibrium has been restored between India and Pakistan. If not disturbed any further this should augur well for future peace in the region.

It is the considered opinion of defence analysts at home and abroad that when only one side possesses nuclear devices, it is a weapon of mass destruction, and is likely to be used. But on the other hand when both sides have acquired nuclear devices, it becomes a deterrent that could avoid an armed conflict and the enormous destruction that would follow.

India's attitude after Pakistan tested six nuclear devices is well described by Professor Stephen P. Cohen of Illinois University, USA, whom I have known for 20 years. Stephen is a US expert on South Asia, has visited India and Pakistan and written about the two armies. He wrote in the New York Times on June 3, 1998 that, 'In the three weeks since India conducted its nuclear tests, the tough talk of Indian leaders seems to have faded to a whisper. They are now proposing that their country and Pakistan sign a treaty agreeing not to be the first to use such weapons against each other'. It is certainly a good beginning.

Now that India and Pakistan are both nuclear weapon states, greater responsibility rests on the leaders of these countries to ensure that peace and amity returns to South Asia. Some rules must be laid down and a policy formulated for the manufacture, storage and use of nuclear weapons. In other words an official doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons. Although Pakistan has not made any official announcement, India has given some policy options. Mr G. Balachandran writing about India's nuclear doctrine in 'The Hindu' of Delhi on February 15, 1999 says 'While there has not been any detailed enunciation of the nuclear doctrine, a major element has been announced by the government. That is a policy of no-first use. India will not be the first to initiate the use of a nuclear weapon. It will only retaliate with nuclear weapons if such weapons are first used against India.'

Mr K. Subrahmanyam, convener of the Indian National Security Advisory Board explained India's approach to the no-first-use doctrine in a newspaper article. According to him, 'The Indian no-first-use doctrine is not just a declaratory policy unrelated to deployment and command and control. It is rooted in the perception that the core of deterrence lies in the uncertainty about the adversary's likely capability to cause unacceptable damage to oneself after the initial use of nuclear weapons against him. The survivability of the assets to strike back in retaliation constitutes deterrence and not the provocative forward and risky deployment as was carried out by the nuclear weapons powers'. This approach to deterrence would be applicable to Pakistan as well.

India's offer of a treaty to be signed by the two countries, agreeing not to be the first to use nuclear weapons against each other is one-sided and would benefit India only, as it has a superior conventional force. It may be more appropriate for both countries to sign a mutual test ban treaty to start with, followed by a no-war pact.

India has military superiority over Pakistan in troops ratio and conventional arms. This superiority is being augmented every year from indigenous and outside sources, while there is no apparent danger to her security from her small neighbours. India's recent agreement with Russia for import of 1.6 billion dollars worth of modern arms is a case in point. On the other hand Pakistan's defence capability has somewhat been reduced owing to the unwillingness of the United States and Russia to allow the import of modern weapons from their countries. French weapons are far too expensive. China remains a steadfast friend and supporter.

What would be Pakistan's reaction in case of an overwhelming Indian conventional attack. In this context it would be worth reminding ourselves what the deputy supreme commander of NATO said some years ago. Field Marshal Montgomery whom I had the honour of meeting said in October 1954. 'I want to make it very clear that we are basing all our operational plans on using atomic and thermo-nuclear weapons in our defence. With us it is no longer: 'They may possibly be used'. It is very definitely: 'They will be used, if we are attacked'. The reason for this action is that we cannot match the strength that could be brought against us unless we use nuclear weapons .... There are some who say that if war is joined, nuclear weapons will not be used: I would disagree with that. My opinion is that the fear of atomic and thermonuclear weapons is a powerful deterrent to war: but once a World hot war has started, both sides are likely to use them. We would certainly use them if we are attacked'.

From the above it is absolutely clear what Western Europe would have done if attacked by the USSR. To offset Soviet superiority in manpower and conventional weapons NATO would use nuclear weapons if attacked. Another point that was evident from the Field Marshal's statement is that a deterrent is viable only as long as a nation is prepared to use it. the political will is essential, and certainly an important factor.

During the cold war and the East-West nuclear confrontation the first firm doctrine for the employment of nuclear weapons was given by John Foster Dulles, US Secretary of State during the Eisenhower administration in 1954. It was the doctrine of 'Massive Retaliation' which meant that any Soviet attack would be answered with a massive retaliation with nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union. In 1962 it was changed to 'Flexible response' during the Kennedy administration, the emphasis being on 'Damage Limitation' and 'Counter Force Targeting'. It became the official NATO nuclear doctrine in 1967. This was later changed to 'Strategy of Assured Destruction'. As destruction would be caused to both sides, it became 'Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). In 1972 in the Nixon administration Kissinger as the National Security Adviser came up with the 'Strategy of Limited Nuclear Options', also known as the 'Schlesinger Doctrine'. The main feature of this doctrine was escalation control through a series of limited and selective strikes with pauses in between to allow for a negotiated cease-fire.

In 1979 during the Carter administration the nuclear doctrine was contained in the 'Countervailing Strategy' which was essentially a refinement of the 'Schlesinger Doctrine'. It enhanced the flexibility and gave the President a number of options for retaliation. It also sought to convince the USSR that it would be denied victory in a nuclear conflict. The emphasis being on counter force targeting. During the Ronald Reagan era the 'countervailing strategy' was replaced by the 'Prevailing Strategy' which aimed at securing an American victory in all eventualities rather than denying victory to the USSR.

It will be noted that various alterations and changes took place in the United States nuclear doctrine under different administrations but the underlying theme remained constant. That nuclear weapons would be employed against the USSR in any future conflict to offset their numerical superiority in manpower and conventional arms, which could not be brought at par.

During any future Indo-Pak armed conflict India's numerical superiority in men and conventional arms is likely to exert pressure beyond endurance. In a deteriorating military situation when an Indian conventional attack is likely to break through our defences or has already breached the main defence line causing a major set-back to the defences, which cannot be restored by conventional means at our disposal, the government would be left with no other option except to use Nuclear Weapons to stabilize the situation. India's superiority in conventional arms and manpower would have to be offset by nuclear weapons. The political will to use nuclear weapons is essential to prevent a conventional armed conflict, which would later on escalate into a nuclear war.

Pakistan's Nuclear Doctrine would therefore essentially revolve around the first-strike option. In other words we will use nuclear weapons if attacked by India even if the attack is with conventional weapons. With his American experience of a graduated nuclear response Professor Stephen P. Cohen feels that Pakistan would use what he calls an 'option-enhancing policy' for a possible use of nuclear weapons. This would entail a stage-by-stage approach in which the nuclear threat is increased at each step to deter India from attack. The first step could be a public or private warning, the second a demonstration explosion of a small nuclear weapon on its own soil, the third step would be the use of a few nuclear weapons on its own soil against Indian attacking forces. The fourth stage would be used against critical but purely military targets in India across the border from Pakistan. Probably in thinly populated areas in the desert or semi-desert, causing least collateral damage. this may prevent Indian retaliation against cities in Pakistan. Some weapon systems would be in reserve for the counter-value role. These weapons would be safe from Indian attack as some would be airborne while the ground based ones are mobile and could be moved around the country.

With some experience and the passage of time a degree of sophistication will certainly be introduced in Pakistan's nuclear doctrine of the first-use of nuclear weapons to provide the government more options in the use of nuclear weapons. This would also avoid unessential collateral damage to cities and other population centres in both countries. The object would be to employ nuclear weapons if attacked yet cause the least civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure.

It must be appreciated that a nuclear device is not just another weapon with increased firepower. It is in fact a weapon of mass destruction and a whole new system, requiring new rules of command, control, communications, deployment and engagement. It is obvious that the control of this devastating weapon must rest firmly in the hands of the highest political authority in the country. In our case the Prime Minister. It is envisaged that the Prime Minister's decision would be based on an earlier discussion in the Federal Cabinet, of the grave situation in the country pursuant to an armed conflict with India or danger of such a conflict. The matter would also have been discussed in the Defence Committee of the Cabinet which is responsible for defence and security of the country.

Although the decision to employ the nuclear option is that of the government. Yet it must be decided before hand as to when and to whom would the authority to use nuclear weapons be delegated in a crisis situation. India our potential enemy has numerical superiority in conventional forces and would have the advantage of initiative as an aggressor, time would therefore be of essence to the defender with numerical inferiority. Delegation of authority to use the nuclear option would therefore be essential. It may eventually be given to the commander of forces in the field under specified circumstances depending on the course and direction in which the battle unfolds to our eventual disadvantage.

Fast and secure communications is another essential factor in a nuclear environment. Communications from the Prime Minister and his security team through the shortest chain of command to the actual launch area of the nuclear weapon must be secure at all times.

As an ultimate precaution there must be presumed delegation of authority in cases where the seat of government has been wholly or partially destroyed and rendered ineffective by the enemy's nuclear strike. This would also be applicable when a higher military headquarters has been knocked out and ceases to function effectively, temporarily or permanently.

Intelligence gathering would gain added importance in a nuclear environment. It would be essential to have accurate, up to date and timely information about our potential enemy's additional troop, aircraft and ship deployments and their likely intentions. His preparations for a nuclear first strike must be known at the earliest.

For the daily conduct of the war it may well be appropriate to have a small committee under the Prime Minister with the ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs as members along with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The Defence Secretary acting as secretary of the committee. In the final analysis it is possible that the Prime Minister representing the political will of the nation and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, representing the views and recommendations of the three services would be working together to provide the correct direction to the war effort.

It is suggested that Army's Air Defence commands on geographical basis suitably augmented should be responsible to trace, identify and destroy incoming enemy missiles and to launch our own nuclear weapons. Two Air Defence Commands should control nuclear weapons on our Eastern borders, with the dividing line at Bahawalpur. By designating one headquarters to control and launch nuclear weapons, unity of command and safety of launch is maintained. There would therefore be one officer of three-star rank taking his orders from General Headquarters (GHQ), unless it has been delegated to a threatened Corps in a crisis situation.

The government must decide before hand when and at what stage of a military conflict with India it would be forced to employ the nuclear option. The threshold must be clear and unambiguous. To use the modern Jargon, the bottom line needs to be clearly defined to avoid a miscalculation.

To prevent a nuclear war by mistake, a misadventure or a miscalculation, certain confidence building measures would have to be taken urgently.

Owing to a much smaller number of nuclear weapons that could be maintained in South Asia compared to the nuclear powers, an elaborate command and control structure would not be necessary. The cost would consequently be modest as well. It is estimated to be in the region of 150 to 200 million rupees per year, for the next five years at least.

As far as cost of the nuclear weapons and their delivery system, it would depend on each country's perception and requirement of a minimum nuclear deterrent. According to Amit Gupta in the Armed Forces Journal of September 1998, many analysts agree that India requires 100 to 150 nuclear weapons as a deterrent against China and Pakistan as a minimum. The estimated cost would be 714 million dollars a year for the next 10 years. In Pakistan a minimum deterrent could range between 30 to 50 nuclear weapons. Gen Mirza Aslam Beg calculates the cost to be in the range of 250 million dollars.

In a nuclear environment a Joint Staff HQ with added responsibility would be essential. Under it a new Nuclear Command could be created to control and co-ordinate all Nuclear effort in the country. Instructions to Service HQ would pass through this new command for clarity and security.

It is the opinion of some experts that having achieved nuclear status India and Pakistan should return to the pre-nuclear test era of ambiguity with regard to the nuclear response in an armed conflict. In other words the doctrine itself should provide some answers and leave others to the imagination creating some uncertainty and doubt in the aggressors' mind. This would force caution and some delay, probably second thoughts, resulting in a prevention of conflict.

When all is said and done it must be the concern of both India and Pakistan to avoid a future armed conflict. The possession of nuclear weapons should be used to prevent war and bring peace to the region. The Prime Minister of Pakistan is committed to reducing tension in Indo-Pak relations and solving all disputes with India by peaceful means. India has taken a step forward in the Bus diplomacy which must be reciprocated in full measure for the benefit of the people of South Asia.