At a time when Pakistan’s arch-rival – India is deeply engaged with China in the eastern Ladakh region, Islamabad knows it has got a clear window of opportunity to edge ahead of India, with the help of its nuclear program.
Pakistan is one of the nine countries to have developed nuclear weapons and in doing so, the country holds a unique strategic advantage over India as it is able to hold off any possible Indian aggression with the threat of using nuclear weapons. As it is, Islamabad does not have a any first use nuclear policy, which further raises doubts in New Delhi.
While Pakistan’s nuclear capacity may still be inferior to “Iron Brother” China, it has a nuclear arsenal that perfectly suits its requirements with an array of tactical nuclear weapons. Unlike significantly larger strategic nuclear weapons, Islamabad’s tactical nuclear weapons, also known as non-strategic nuclear weapons are low-yield weapons, weighing not more than 10 kilotons.
Utilized to eliminate military targets on the battlefield, the weapons are mainly used against troop formations, supply dumps, headquarters units and other high-value targets.
According to Hans M. Kristensen, Director of Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists and his affiliate Robert Norris, Pakistan has “the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile”.
“Pakistan possesses between 150 and 160 nuclear weapons. It has stockpiled approximately 3.4 ± 0.4 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and produces enough HEU for perhaps 10 to 15 warheads per year. Pakistan also has a stockpile of about 280 kg of weapons-grade plutonium.” According to a report published in the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Security Index.
Currently, Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division Force or (SPD Force) is the agency responsible for the protection of the nation’s tactical and strategic nuclear weapons stockpile.
SPD Force Pioneer Director Lieutenant General (retired) Khalid Kidwai, who founded the special division, had earlier put light on Pakistan’s ‘Full Spectrum Deterrence’ policy which is aimed at guiding the development of the nation’s nuclear capability to bring “every Indian target into Pakistan’s striking range”.
“(Pakistan has) the full spectrum of nuclear weapons in all three categories — strategic, operational and tactical, with full range coverage of the large Indian landmass and its outlying territories.” “India would have no place to hide,” said Kidwai.
In comparison to Pakistan, the Indian army is much larger and fields huge numbers of qualitatively superior equipment–particularly the tanks. However, Islamabad’s nuclear weapons, especially their tactical nuclear weapons hold the key to offsetting that advantage from India.
Another added advantage that Pakistan might have over other countries is that, unlike India and China, Islamabad does not have a “no first use” policy, and reserves the right to use nuclear weapons, particularly low-yield tactical nuclear weapons, in a bid to offset India’s advantage in a conventional war.
Thereby, if pressured into resorting to nuclear weapons, Pakistan’s response would be far swifter than its neighbours. Meanwhile, both India and China have a well-defined policy of ‘No First Use’ of nuclear wepaons.
“India’s quest for deterrence stability with China — the ability to have a secure second-strike option against that country — has created crisis instability with Pakistan, where Islamabad/Rawalpindi worries that the INS Arihant, India’s sole nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), will be used for a first strike against Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in a crisis.
Such a belief is likely to generate a “use it or lose it” pressure for Pakistan in a contingency involving India.” says Yogesh Joshi, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University.