Our vision has been obscured by an un-Indian wave of pacifism. Ahimsa is no doubt a great religious creed, but that is a creed which India rejected when she refused to follow Gautama Buddha. The Hindu theory at all times, especially in the periods of her historic greatness, was one of active assertion of the right, if necessary through the force of arms.” So wrote Mr K.M. Panikkar in India and the Indian Ocean just a few years before the British withdrew from South Asia. It would appear that the strategic planners of India in the post-British era took their ideological cue from Mr Panikkar’s maritime vision, which he succinctly encapsulated by stating that “To the Indian Ocean we shall have to turn, as our ancestors did, who conquered Socotra long before the Christian Era and established an Empire in the Pacific, which lasted for 1500 years.”

The hegemonic elements of this strategic vision are obvious by the nostalgic reference to an era when they exercised control over an area extending from the Red Sea in the West to Fiji in the Pacific Ocean. Given the rather modest fleet that the Indians inherited from the British in 1947 and the fact that the “historic greatness” Panikkar referred to was so far distant in time, it was indeed an act of vision and courage that the Indian planners decided to convert the strategic concept into policy. The first manifestation of the policy was acquisition of the aircraft carrier Vikrant in the fifties and the decision by Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1970 to construct a nuclear-powered submarine under the garb of an “Advanced Technology Vehicle” (ATV) and made it a permanent national endeavour.

Whilst Indian nuclear physicists and nuclear engineers were being trained in different countries of the world, civilian and naval shipyards were being developed and updated; the Indian navy was busy learning submarining at sea in the rather rudimentary Foxtrot class Soviet diesel submarines in the sixties. In 1988, the Soviet Union leased a nuclear-powered submarine to India. After more than three and a half years and several accidents Chakra was returned to Russia in 1991. Scientists, engineers, naval architects, submarine crews and all other relevant Indians extracted maximum value from the presence of this invaluable Soviet asset in their country.

The Indian firm, Larsen and Toubro, laid the hull of the first ATV in 1998. Named INS Arihant its 90MW nuclear reactor went critical in 2011. It is expected to be operational by the end of this year. Three more submarines of the same class are at various stages of construction. The second nuclear submarine, Aridhaman, is scheduled to be inducted in the Indian navy in 2015. These nuclear submarines will be armed with Sagarika Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) that has a range of 750 kilometres. This will be replaced by the underdevelopment 3,500 kilometre range K-4 SLBM.

 Nuclear submarines generally are of two basic types. One type is called a Nuclear Attack Submarine (SSN). They are ideal offensive weapons that can threaten any platform at sea. They can also be used as escorts of high value ships and submarines. The other type of nuclear submarine is armed with ballistic missiles (SSBN). The SSBN is a purely offensive weapon that has exclusive strategic role of attacking land-based targets.

Under sea operations and mobility endow, the SSBN has a survival ability that is greater than ballistic missiles based on land or carried on airborne platforms. Hence, the SSBN is viewed as an essential component of a country’s nuclear arsenal. Completion of the Triad (land, air and sea based nuclear weapons) gives a nuclear capable state the ability to respond with nuclear weapons, even if it is surprised by a first nuclear strike by an adversary. INS Arihant has given India this second strike capability.

Though the Indian programme is centred on the indigenous construction of SSBNs, the SSN has not been ignored. Russia has leased two SSNs to India for 10 years. Chakra II was transferred to India in December 2011. This development has given the Indian navy a distinct advantage over all regional navies, including Pakistan, at the tactical naval warfare level. It has also provided it an underwater escort for its strategic nuclear strike force, the SSBNs

Being a neighbour and a country whose persistent desire and effort to develop friendly relations with India have met with partial success, the introduction of this strategic element is of particular interest to Pakistan. India has acquired credible means of effectively projecting its military power in all continents, thus introducing an element of diplomatic “persuasion” that could help it obtain cooperation at various individual state or collective levels that was absent earlier. This may also enable it to negotiate with other states possessing similar capabilities at a level it could not do before it obtained this capability. The economic benefits that could follow are self-evident. Since no other regional country has nuclear submarines, India has the freedom to operate its nuclear submarine in any tactical role it may want without diminishing its strategic value and effectiveness. Australia, Republic of South Africa and all countries on the East African Coast and those Middle Eastern countries that were out of land-based and airborne missile range are now within the Indian nuclear reach.

The introduction of Arihant to India’s already reckonable naval and nuclear arsenal has introduced a fundamental strategic imbalance in the Indo-Pak context. Pakistan is now in a situation where its nuclear capability could be neutralised without it (Pakistan) being able to do the same to India. Thus, a post-Pokhran I situation has developed again, i.e. a situation that existed between 1974 and May 1998.

This was the time between India’s “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974 and Pakistan’s nuclear tests in 1998. Some may say that this situation is fraught with the danger of the possibility of Pakistan being exposed to Indian nuclear blackmail. The diplomatic consequences of this situation would no doubt be of interest to our Foreign Office

Pakistan Navy is now in a situation where the country of its primary concern has acquired a weapons system that cannot be effectively neutralised by it. This is because Pakistan possesses only conventional submarines and in a submarine to submarine combat between a conventional submarine and a nuclear submarine, the conventional submarine is likely to come out second best.

The other factor that could influence deployment of nuclear submarines is the airborne antisubmarine effort at Pakistan Navy’s disposal. Though its present capability is reasonably effective against conventional submarines; the SSBNs and SSNs whittle away the effectiveness of this capability by their uninterrupted submerged operations and their high speed. So, when INS Arihant becomes operational Pakistan will be in a situation where its navy (the only force relevant in this case) will not have the capability to guard against the strategic nuclear threat posed by Arihant. This national vulnerability should be a cause for concern at all levels!

Pakistan, its people, its leaders, its scientists, its engineers, and its civil and military institutions are not unfamiliar with this kind of development. The last time such a situation arose in 1974 (Pokhran I) after the world saw the first “peaceful nuclear explosion,” Pakistan was relatively less equipped to respond in time. But that transient inability was overcome by an unflinching resolve at all levels of national activity and the leaders, the scientists, the engineers, the diplomats, the military and the entire nation acted in unison to be able to respond to Pokhran II within days.

 The post-Arihant situation is serious, but fortunately Pakistan is better equipped to handle it now than it was in the aftermath of Pokhran I. Today, we are fortunate to have a developed nuclear capability; we have a missile capability (both in their widest sense); our relevant engineering capability is better than it was then and we have a submarine expertise capable of handling any enhancement of technology that a new weapons system may require. This pool of expertise of diverse disciplines at the national level is available to the decision makers of today to respond in time to the situation created by the introduction of Arihant in our region.

“Strong fences make good neighbours.” This grassroots wisdom of the United States of America’s populace is very relevant in the situation prevailing in our region. The “strong fence” that had been built between Pakistan and India in the 1990s has been breached by the imbalance caused by the introduction of Arihant. In order to enjoy the benefits of good neighbourly relations with India, Pakistan needs to repair this breach quickly and effectively. It is for the decision makers to determine the best way to do this – perhaps, by revisiting the commendable response of the nation to the post-Pokhran I situation.

n    The writer was a vice admiral in the Pakistan Navy.

    Email: dprnavy@gmail.com