IPCS Debate

India-Pakistan and Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Implications of Hatf-9

12 Nov, 2013    ·   4173

Beenish Altaf argues that the missile adds to Pakistan's full-spectrum deterrence capability

The Nasr missile, with its enhanced capability, was successfully test-fired on 05 November 2013. A short range surface-to-surface ballistic missile (SRBM), also called Hatf IX, it has a range of 60 km. The test fire was conducted with successive launches of 4 x missiles in salvo mode from a state-of-the-art multi-tube launcher. Nasr, with its in-flight maneouvering capability, is a quick response system, equipped with shoot and scoot attributes. Being a kind of TNW, it has strategic nuclear implications for South Asia.

New Delhi’s immense investment in conventional arms, the upgrading of its anti-missile programme (Ballistic Missile Defense), and its latest doctrinal transformation have induced Pakistan to respond in the form of TNWs, which is considered necessary to restore and maintain the credibility of its nuclear deterrence. The Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, acknowledging the effort as an addition to Pakistan’s deterrence, congratulated the scientists and engineers on this outstanding achievement that consolidates Pakistan's deterrence capability. Evidently, the main purpose of this is to ensure that Pakistan has that counter-strike capability that limits the threat of India’s conventional limited war.

The use of a multi-tube launcher is an improved effort to respond to India’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD)/Proactive Defence Strategy, which was introduced with the purpose of finding space for counter strikes, preemptive counter strikes or limited counter strikes by achieving the objective of remaining below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. The recent Nasr test contributes to Pakistan’s full spectrum deterrence against multidimensional threats in view of evolving scenarios. Lt Gen (Retd) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, Director General of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, termed the short-range ballistic missile Hatf-IX (Nasr) a ‘weapon of peace’ after its successful test flight in 2012. The test was a major development in strengthening Pakistan’s deterrence capability Pakistan at all levels of the threat spectrum, thereby ensuring peace in the region. Therefore, Pakistan’s decision to introduce these weapons in its nuclear force posture is very much in keeping with Waltz’s argument that in an anarchical international system, states must rely on the self-help mechanism to protect its sovereignty and national security. Pragmatically speaking, Pakistan opted for nuclear weapons in response to India’s decision to go weaponise. Similarly, Pakistan opted for TNWs only in response to Indian conventional arms supremacy. If it had not, deterrence in South Asia would have been badly shaken. If India assumes that it could dominate the equation through surgical strikes or its so-called CSD without crossing the nuclear threshold, then they now need to correct themselves keeping in mind the successful Nasr tests.

The Nasr is aimed to target ‘advancing Indian Army armored columns’ or proactive Indian army operations inside Pakistani borders. The cutting edge technology used for Nasr is intended for large army concentrations. Its shoot and scoot nuclear missile could be fired upon an area of operation of a divisional or corps level attack. The former Indian Air Chief belligerent statement would be relevant here, in which he categorically said that such short-range missiles, even at this level, would invite a massive response from India. Although he did not cite the cities that would be targeted, it had been assumed by analysts that they might be Lahore and Karachi. Defence analysts had also surmised that Pakistan is at a distinct disadvantage by producing this weapon system because it cannot be used for countering insurgency or terrorism but billions of dollars have been spent all the same. Ironically, in this context, it is believed to be more of a liability than a benefit, especially since it is not being used to counter threats like drone attacks etc and is yet meant for deterrence purposes.

Lastly, since this game was initiated by the India-sponsored CSD, Pakistan needs to keep on test firing these upgraded missiles or TNWs. Let’s wait and see how India reacts. Pakistan will continue to test the upgraded versions and definitely further modernise its ‘weapon of peace’, conditional on Indian conventional arms build-up. It is a soft message to Indians that if they ever opt for a conventional military strike or to the so-called limited war, it would not be limited war for Pakistan since Pakistan has the capability to retaliate through TNWs.