India is indeed a large land mass with a huge population; however, its ego and ambitions transcends its size and potential. It perceives itself a regional power and an emerging world power, notwithstanding that the elements of its national power potential, especially the armed forces, have repeatedly fallen short of the expectations of the Indian public and the national leadership.

The 1962 Sino-India military conflict was no less than a humiliation. Similarly, performance of the Indian armed forces against a much smaller adversary in the 1965 war was also embarrassing, to say the least. The conventional military failures led India to pursue acquisition of nuclear capability. India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 naming it “Smiling Buddha”, at the time, claimed to be for peaceful purposes. In May 1998, India conducted a series of nuclear tests and proclaimed to have acquired nuclear weapon capability. The Indian Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND) issued on 17 August 1999 claimed pursuance of credible minimum nuclear deterrence under a policy of retaliation only, clearly denouncing the option of first use. While it claimed that India would not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, it retained an ambiguity against the threat of use of nuclear weapons against India. It also claimed that India would not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against states which did not possess nuclear weapons, or were not aligned with nuclear weapon states.

After the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in 2001, India deployed its armed forces along the Pakistani border resulting in a ten-month long military standoff between the two nuclear rivals. Failing to coerce Pakistan, India pulled back its forces. This led to a reconsideration of conventional military employment as well as a rethink on its nuclear doctrine. On the conventional side, India introduced its Cold Start Doctrine, aimed at fighting a limited conventional war under a nuclear overhang. The release of the official Indian nuclear doctrine also came almost alongside its Cold Start Doctrine. The official nuclear doctrine, though based on the earlier DND, had few differences with it. The Indian Nuclear Doctrine declared that India might use nuclear weapons to retaliate against Chemical and Biological Weapons (CBW) attacks. It also stated that Indian retaliation to any nuclear attack would be massive. Both, nuclear response to CBW attack and massive retaliation instead of punitive retaliation were a departure from what had been stated in the DND.

In 2008, India blamed Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks and threatened military action. However, India neither had any proof nor the capacity to undertake military action. Later in 2010, in a speech, the then national security adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon, stated that India’s doctrine was “no first use against non-nuclear weapon states,” implying that NFU did not apply to nuclear-armed powers. This was again a major departure from the stated Indian nuclear doctrine; also suggesting failure of the Indian Cold Start Doctrine to achieve the perceived strategic effects.

In February 2019, when a Kashmiri youth blew himself up killing dozens of CRPF personnel, Indian government lost no time in blaming Pakistan. The Indian electronic media immediately went into overdrive to create war hysteria. Just weeks ahead of the national elections, BJP government found it opportunistic to use this frenzy to their electoral advantage. In a bid to project BJP as a party capable of taking punitive action against Pakistan, IAF was tasked to undertake a surgical strike inside Pakistani territory. IAF failed to engage its intended targets and could not support its fictitious claims with any proof. However, Pakistan Air Force’s response the very next day was not only an embarrassment for the IAF, but it also exposed IAF’s incompetence and its poor leadership. The Indian electronic media, however, managed to hoodwink the Indian public, resulting in a massive electoral victory for BJP.

Following IAF’s humiliation on February 27, during his visit to Pokhran, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh argued that India’s adherence to the principle of ‘No First Use’ of nuclear weapons was not sacrosanct. He added that while India remained firmly committed to the ‘no first use’ doctrine, its future policy, would depend on circumstances.

India has an ever-expanding trade relationship with China, while all its other neighboring countries are much smaller in size as well as military capability. With the fourth largest military, India should be confident of its ability to defend against any aggression. However, pursuing nuclear weapon capability at the cost of nuclearisation of South Asia, and its ever-shifting stance in the nuclear doctrine from ‘No First Use’ to the possible ‘First Use’ are suggestive of the weakness of the Indian military. Looking at the performance of Indian armed forces in the past military conflicts in general and that of 27th February 2019 in particular, and ever-increasing reliance on nuclear weapons with continuously changing stance on the possible use of these weapons, it is obvious that the Indian leadership has lost confidence in its armed forces. It would however, expectedly continue to invest huge sums of money in the military equipment, as it benefits many interest groups.

M Ashfaque Arain

The author is a retired Air Marshal of the PAF who served as Pakistan’s Air Adviser at New Delhi from 2002 to 2006, presently working as Director at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies. ashfaquearain