Nuclear Pakistan: Incessant Tail Wagging
As to Pakistani nuclear capability, even if she did not develop her own nuclear tipped submarine based cruise missile, would China not gift them to Pakistan? Where is the question of China not helping Pakistan complete her nuclear triad?
As Nawaz Sharif began preparations to travel to Washington to meet Obama, it was certain that Pakistan will start wagging her nuclear tail furiously, much to the delight of indigenous Pakistan media and that of the West. So you first had Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary stating that Pakistan needed tactical nuclear weapons because of India’s ‘Cold Start’ doctrine. Then you had the well timed release of the report on ‘Pakistani nuclear forces 2015’ from the Nuclear Notebook by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists coinciding with Nawaz Sharif’s US visit.
Authored by Hans M Kristensen and Robert S Norris, the report says that Pakistan already has a stockpile of 110-130 warheads compared to 90-110 warheads in 2011, and that at this rate Pakistan could emerge as the fifth largest nuclear power by 2025. With several delivery systems under development, four already functional plutonium production reactors, multiple uranium facilities, and based on Pakistani performance over past 20 years and current and anticipated deployments, Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile could grow to 220-250 by 2025.
The Nuclear Notebook report further says Pakistan appears having six types of operational nuclear capable ballistic missiles, with another two under development (short range Shaheen-1A and medium range Shaheen-3). In addition, Pakistan is also developing two new cruise missiles—one ground and other air launched, and possibly one nuclear capable cruise missile that would submarine mounted. Then was another well timed report in Reuters just before the Obama-Nawaz meet that Pakistan won’t accept limits on her tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs). With this the subterfuge was complete for the time being.
As to Pakistani nuclear capability, even if she did not develop her own nuclear tipped submarine based cruise missile, would China not gift them to Pakistan? Where is the question of China not helping Pakistan complete her nuclear triad? After all isn’t basis of intimate Chinese support why Pakistan established Headquarters Naval Strategic Forces Command in 2012 for development and deployment of sea-based strategic nuclear force?
But then is there anything new about this nuclear tail wagging by Pakistan? Khalid Kidwai, former Pakistani General and Adviser to Pakistan’s National Command Authority had stated months back that Pakistan needs TNWs to deter India’s Cold Start doctrine. Not material Kidwai contradicted himself by saying that Pakistan’s TNWs had already forced India to rethink its Cold Start doctrine. So if the Cold Start doctrine is dead then why go on multiplying TNWs? Interestingly, while Pakistan insists her nuclear program is India specific, the Shaheen-III missile has a range of 1,700 miles (2,750 kilometers), giving it the capability to also reach Middle East, including Israel. The nuclear sabre rattling is used periodically by Pakistan to keep her value high with the West while the latter uses it as an excuse to continue supporting the Pakistani military and use Pakistani proxies to advance their own national interests.
In 2014, Michael Krepon, co-founder of Stimson Centre had stated, “The assurances Pakistan has given the world about the safety of its nuclear program will be severely tested with short-range and sea-based systems, but they are coming …. “A cardinal principle of Pakistan’s nuclear program has been,
‘Don’t worry; we separate warheads from launchers.’ Well, that is very hard to do at sea.”
Naturally, being a rogue nation that has a state policy of terrorism controlled by its military-ISI with deep deniable links with multiple terrorist organizations, and where part of the political organization and administration too is linked with radicals both for ideology and survival, to say that these weapons would not fall into hands of radicals, cannot be believed”. What can be more explicit than this truth?
Politics of nuclearization is hardly new. It has been in existence all along with the US looking the other way when China indulged in blatant nuclear proliferation to Pakistan and North Korea and even supply of nuclear capable Silkworm missiles to Saudi Arabia decades back. Despite denials by China, the fact that she supplied 500 ring magnets to Pakistan to kick start latter’s nuclear program and more importantly conducting the first Pakistani nuclear device test on Chinese soil are well known secrets.
To say that the US was unaware of all this is difficult to digest, amounting to Musharraf saying AQ Khan was doing all the proliferation on his own. The fact that Pakistani nukes are packed and ready to be shipped to Saudi Arabia in event of Iran going nuclear too has been the subject of discussion in recent times, some even speculating that the transaction has already been affected with Washington in the know. Then is the league of extraordinary nations who are known to have nuclear capabilities without having conducted any tests; Israel, Japan, South Korea, even Iran?
The bottom-line is how does it matter whether Pakistan has 250 nuclear warhead or 2500? Crossing the nuclear threshold implies triggering just one nuke, irrespective of whether it is a strategic or tactical weapon. Pakistan Army is not stupid to fire a nuke against India knowing the consequences they will face and India understands Pakistan’s bluff. Both armies do not exercise for nuclear war and there is no chance of nuclear war as conventional conflict gone out of control.
It is now known that Musharraf wanted to deploy the Ghauri nuclear missiles to reinforce the massive Kargil intrusions in 1999 but then “air went out of his balloon when his top general in charge of the missile program told him the missile had a faulty guidance system”, as claimed by a retired Pakistani nuclear scientist. Incidentally, a 2014 media report had brought out that during the VP Singh government in India, the LeT had threatened a nuclear strike against India. That such threat would have been on behest of the Pakistani military-ISI is unquestionable.
Nuclear sabre rattling by Pakistan should be expected to continue but should the US and allies be worried? The Obama administration never listened to US and NATO Generals deployed in Afghanistan about the double game being played by Pakistan and the men they were losing because of Pakistani proxies. So it is unlikely they would pay any heed now. But they would do well to read up on the book ‘Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation’ co-authored by Thomas C Reed, former Secretary USAF, and Danny B Stillman, Director of Los Alamos Technical Intelligence Division, which brings out that during the regime of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese were of the view that a use nuclear weapons against the West by radical and rogue countries would be good for China provided the trail is not traced back to China. Hence, China undertook deliberate nuclearization of Pakistan and North Korea. Significantly, these findings were based on the authors interviewing Chinese scientists and the best part is China has declines to give any comments on the book.
What the US should be more than worried is Pakistani nukes falling into terrorist hands and the Pakistani army getting increasingly radicalized. If the financing of 9/11 was traced back to Pakistan, the origin of a terrorist nuclear strike on US soil may well be Pakistan, now that the ISIS already has access to chemical weapons and the Pakistani ISI appears confident of manipulating the ISIS akin to both the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban. The discovery of some 8,000 fake passports with the purported Syrian refugee influx into Europe should equally worry the Obama administration.
(Indian Defence Review)
By Lt Gen (RETD.) Prakash Katoch