The Genesis of South Asian Nuclear Deterrence: Pakistan’s Perspective
Tara Sarin ·       

The concept of deterrence has been a feature of nations since time immemorial. Since the first bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, deterrence acquired a special significance, particularly due to the development of nuclear weapons. It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the post- war period peace and stability have largely been functions of the policy and strategy of deterrence. The conditions and context under which nuclear deterrence functions has drastically altered since the Cold War period. In fact South Asia is seen as the most dangerous case of contemporary nuclear stand-off where deterrence can fail.

Brigadier Naeem Ahmad Salik provides a comparative study of the dynamics of the South Asian nuclearization. There are several seminal works on the Indian nuclear programme and policies by both Indian and foreign strategic analysts and academics. Unfortunately, no substantive literature on the genre has emerged from Pakistan exposing the shortcomings in contemporary analysis and reflecting a need for a publication of this sort. Given the controversies surrounding the nuclear safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the AQ Khan proliferation network, the volume offers an alternate perspective on a matter of great concern to the region and the international community. Salik is an authority on nuclear proliferation and strategic issues. He was among a distinct group of officers who conceived and established the Pakistan Nuclear Command and Control Structure and formulated its nuclear policies after the May 1998 nuclear tests. Given his background, one can deduce that he was privy to a great deal of sensitive information and that his arguments will be influenced by the official Pakistani stance.

The ten chapters comprising the book revisit some familiar terrain, while simultaneously exploring unchartered territory. The author begins by describing the motives behind the evolution of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programmes, their nuclear capabilities and doctrines and the nuances of the countries’ respective policies towards the international non-proliferation regime and missile defence. He goes on to discuss the development of their nuclear delivery systems and their command and control systems in relation to deterrence stability and confidence building measures. He concludes by addressing the concerns surrounding both the AQ Khan network and the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal by offering new insights to the debate. Salik’s ultimate objective is to systematically examine the developments since May 1998 in the two countries with respect to their efforts at stabilizing the nuclear environment in South Asia. 

The author traces the origin of India’s nuclear programme from its inception to the 1998 atomic tests. India’s quest for nuclear power began with the ambition of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Dr. Homi Bhabha. They both recognized the importance of the dual-use of nuclear technology and sought the prestige and benefits associated with being a nuclear power, including the option of building a nuclear bomb. Yet, India’s nuclear programme was triggered by the Chinese nuclear test in October 1964 and India’s experience in the 1962 border war with China. Salik characterizes the Indian approach to nuclearisation as assertive and the Pakistani stance as purely defensive and adamantly views the “action-reaction” phenomena as the sole contribution to Pakistan’s quest for achieving nuclear parity with India. Pakistan’s motives for deriving its nuclear programme are solely based on the threat from India, tracing back to 1971, and that India’s peaceful nuclear explosion in 1974 alarmed Pakistan and triggered it to seek unconventional means to acquire the necessary materials and equipment to pursue nuclear weapons. This, according to Salik, “led to some potentially dangerous practices, which subsequently were to haunt Pakistan” and damage its international credibility, seemingly implying AQ Khan.

Underscoring the significance of the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference approaches, the book is of particular relevance, as it attempts to provide an understanding of Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions and reasons for why Pakistan should not be “discriminated against on the pretext of the past doings of the AQ Khan network, while there is a failure to acknowledge the measures it has taken to remedy the situation” (p.292). Salik devotes an entire chapter to the role of the “father of the Pakistani bomb” and spends considerable time in distancing Pakistan’s military from Khan’s “nuclear wal-mart,” stating that initially it was promoted for national purposes, but later for private gain. Khan’s extensive language skills, translating abilities and European contacts enabled him to establish the network rooted in Dubai. What is not explained is how these skills gave him the ability to transfer nuclear equipment to Iran, North Korea and Libya without official knowledge or sanction.

In light of the recently concluded Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, after its endorsement by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and agreement on safeguards between India and the IAEA, Salik concedes that unless Pakistan is afforded similar benefits it may “lead to consequences which would be undesirable both for regional stability as well as the cause of non-proliferation” (p.292). It is evident that Pakistan felt discriminated and victimized by the international community when India was granted defacto nuclear weapons status. Under these circumstances, Salik argues that it is essential to develop “an arrangement that accommodates all the three non-NPT nuclear states of India, Pakistan and Israel, one country or the other out of the mainstream, is likely to prove counter productive in the long run” (p.297).

Salik covers in some detail the salient features of the nuclear programmes of both Pakistan and India. In the comparison, he analyzes each country’s capacity to produce fissile material and build nuclear weapons. He is of the opinion that the Indo-US nuclear deal has dealt the international non-proliferation regime a serious setback. Salik estimates that with assured supplies of fissile material from the NSG, India would be free to divert fissile material produced from its indigenous uranium resources to build “about 75 to 90 additional weapons per year” (p.185). He predicts that this could trigger a nuclear arms race, thereby jeopardizing the very concept of deterrence and seriously disturbing strategic stability.

Throughout the book Salik advocates the policy of minimum nuclear deterrence for Pakistan. This is no different than what is stated in India’s nuclear doctrine. The author considers that the India centric approach has resulted in “…a situation in which Pakistani policies are bound to be affected by the actions and policy positions taken by India, with the undesirable possibility of being wittingly or unwittingly sucked into a nuclear and missiles arms race with India” (p.154). In the final paragraphs of the epilogue, he takes an opposing approach, “…Pakistan will do what it must to maintain its strategic autonomy, and would not let India get away with strategic dominance of the region” (p.297). If Salik maintains the notion that Pakistan’s policy of credible minimum deterrence is inherently linked to India’s actions then his view that Pakistan should articulate an independent nuclear stance seems misplaced. It is evident that both countries have similar nuclear doctrines on avoiding a nuclear arms race in the region, supporting non-discriminatory nuclear non-proliferation regimes, refraining from further nuclear testing but remain steadfast on reserving their position to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and negotiations for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).

It is fair to conclude that the book provides dependable scholarly material to develop an understanding about the South Asian nuclear deterrence model through a Pakistani lens. What can be deduced from this volume is that the potential for an India and Pakistan conflict to escalate from a conventional to a nuclear armed one remains dangerously conceivable, particularly with the culmination of the Indo-US nuclear deal, and presents a constant danger to the international regime. In the short term the status of nuclear deterrence has prevented this situation from evolving but there is no assurance that it will not crumble at the slightest test. The sole solution to the existing danger in South Asia is the complete elimination of nuclear weapons in the region.