Tuesday 15 October 2019, 07:16 AM
Calling Pak''s nuke bluff: Possible again and again
By Sushil Sharma | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 9/19/2019 3:58:46 PM
Calling Pak''s nuke bluff: Possible again and again

Voices emanating from Pakistan in 2019 following the February Balakot airstrike by India and the abrogation of Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir have sounded alarming, threatening that a nuclear conflict between the South Asian neighbours is a possibility.Even though a large scale destructive nuclear war is not imminent, it is feared by the international community that Pakistan may use its Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) to prevent a conventional war with India.

This is nothing but a Red Herring. For, it was to come to a nuke threat to the region, we would still not be writing this analysis, but would be dealing with prognosis of the nuclear attack aftermath, considering that India's stated nuclear doctrine is to strike hard and adequately if any nuclear-armed nation attacks it with a nuke.

Let's consider the ground realities. In 2011, Pakistan confirmed that it had acquired tactical nuclear weapon capability, wherein smaller nuclear warheads are attached to short-range missiles (50-100km) as a deterrent against relatively small-scale conventional Indian attacks. The addition of tactical nuclear weapons to Pakistan's arsenal lowers the threshold for nuclear weapon use, giving Pakistan what its military terms "full-spectrum deterrence" against India's conventional forces.

The weapons were developed to counter what has been called in the strategic circles as India's 'Cold Start' doctrine, which envisions a shallow incursion into Pakistani territory without breaching its previous nuclear threshold. Pakistan has 140 to 150 nuclear warheads, compared with India's 130-140 warheads, according to SIPRI.

First, we got to question the credibility of the Pakistani confirmations of having acquired the tactical nuke capability. This definitely leads us to the issue regarding the effectiveness of Pakistani artillery weapon 'Nasr', with a nuke capability of a 60-km range. For Nasr to be successful, the first question is whether the warhead has been miniaturised successfully. There is no scientific proof that this has been completed. Accordingly, the weapon remains cold tested and uncertain, according to experts.

Second, comes the question of deployment. With limitations of a short-range, the risk of Nasr causing damage to own territory and resultantly, to Pakistan's own population is extremely high. Hence, the only possibility of deployment is from about 20-km inside Pakistani territory, aimed at the Indian side of the border. But, can it be deployed in mountainous terrain such as Kashmir, where it will be ineffective if the yield is a sub-kilo ton. The answer simply is a big 'no'. The Pakistan Army general, most of whom are from Punjab, aren't going to be willing enough to use it in the Punjab plains, where their own population could be the victims.

The only place Pakistan can imagine using the 'Nasr' is in the Rajasthan desert. However, considering the vast expanse of the sandy terrain, Pakistan would need a large arsenal of tactical nukes, at least twice the number of its current stock of 150 warheads before it can cause any damage to the thrusting armoured columns of India. However, even at the current stockpile levels, not more than 30 miniaturised warheads would be available to Pakistan from among the 150 warheads it currently possesses.

If Islamabad uses its tactical nukes, the resultant retaliation from India will be so huge that the cost of war will the wiping out of Pakistan from the world map. Pakistan, it is felt, will not be ready to bear that cost and its Army generals are wise men not to risk the annihilation of the nation they have.

India has in the recent years building on its capability to counter Pakistan's artillery, missiles combat aircraft, drones and such platforms using its Ballistic Missile Defence, S-400 missiles and such countermeasures. But as of today, India doesn't possess an effective counter to the 'Nasr' tactical nuclear warhead delivery weapon.

It is pertinent that Indian military planners and defence scientists soon come up with a countermeasure, even though the effectiveness of the weapon as a counter to an Indian conventional attack is questionable. If not, they should at least buy countermeasures for the artillery weapons such as the 'Nasr' from abroad. Still, better collaborate with nations such as the United States or Israel to build a system like the Iron Dome.

The reason is to provide India's military commanders with the operational flexibility even if India doesn't want to go the whole hog of a nuke response to the Pakistani tactical nukes in case Nasr is used in the battlefield. That will enable the Indian armed forces to carry out conventional operations without any reservations.

The purpose of nuclear deterrence is to prevent a nuclear war. This has held good even in 2019 when India and Pakistan were so close to declaring war on each other, twice within a span of six months. India has called the Pakistani nuclear bluff already, but it is important and an imperative to call the bluff, all over again and again in the days and years to come.

Sushil Sharma

 

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Pakistan,nuclear war,adequately,Nuclear,conventional,doctrine,armed,Weapons,

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