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Pakistan: Brief on Nuclear Doctrine

Published Apr 25, 2020
Updated Apr 25, 2020

Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is not published though it is believed that such a document may exist in the portals of the National Security Council or the Strategic Planning Directorate (SPD).

Pakistan’s analysts claim that ambiguity serves as a layer of deterrence though this surmise is debatable.

Never the less reasonable deductions on Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine can be drawn culled from various sources including public statements by those in the atomic loop one of the most prominent being Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai a retired three-star general who was the founding head of the SPD and continues to be an adviser to the body.

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal or deterrence is India centric. Developments regarding weapon systems, command and control and delivery run parallel or contingent upon developments in India in this as well as in the conventional sphere as in Pakistan’s strategic thinking nuclear weapons are for full spectrum deterrence that is including against proactive conventional offensive operations by India also known as Cold Start.

Kidwai boasts of Full Spectrum Deterrence, Ignores Pak Cross Border Terror Strategy

Deterrence is seen as the sole objective of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. While initially, Pakistan did not envisage nuclear weapons for warfighting today increasingly there is a move towards the same with the development of the 60 km range Nasr battlefield rockets, though the technical credibility of these remains low. Moreover, it is not clear if adequate command and control and other necessary instruments for useful employment have been developed.

Though the deterrence is said to be achieved by maintaining minimal force levels, given the recent increase in the number of warheads reported by think tanks as the SIPRI, whether there is a change in the approach needs consideration. Similarly, quantification of minimal remains ambiguous.

Importantly Pakistan does not profess a No First Use (NFU) and given the challenge from massive retaliation by a second strike as per the Indian nuclear doctrine, has to maintain a sizeable survivable arsenal for a counter strike. This to some extent may dictate enhancements in the nuclear weapons numbers.

Given propagation of First Use, there is a need to identify the exact contours or red lines of Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. Khalid Kidwai, in 2001 delineated four generic “redlines” as stated in Indrastra in terms of thresholds – spatial threshold (loss of large parts of territory), military threshold (destruction of large parts of land or air forces), economic threshold (economic strangulation), and political threshold (political destabilization or large scale internal subversion).

General Kidwai has also accepted that a nuclear program “started with a concept of credible minimum deterrence,” but Islamabad “translated it … to the concept of full-spectrum deterrence.”95 General Kidwai has argued that “by introducing the variety of tactical nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s inventory, and in the strategic stability debate, we have blocked the avenues for serious military operations by the other side.”97

Pakistan is also investing in sea-based and air-based counter second-strike capabilities and may lead to adopting active deterrence with hair-trigger alerts, though at present the command and control architecture remains undefined.

Modi 2.0 – Moving to Cultivated Ambiguity on NFU?

National Command Authority (NCA) is the apex command and control organisation in Pakistan which has the Employment Control Committee (ECC) and the Development Control Committee (DCC).

Simultaneously developments of nuclear capability are expanding. Daniel R Coats Director of US National Intelligence USA in a Statement for the Record Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community on March 6, 2018 records the following, “Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons and develop new types of nuclear weapons, including short-range tactical weapons, sea-based cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and longer-range ballistic missiles. These new types of nuclear weapons will introduce new risks for escalation dynamics and security in the region”.

With continued use of terrorism as a strategic tool vis a vis India the implications of the development of parallel nuclear systems without a stated nuclear doctrine – the ambiguity in Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is potentially destabilising.