Jingoistic rhetoric; nukes; right-wing politics. Oh boy, it’s a combo that can scare the hell out of anyone. But, we in Pakistan and India are so accustomed to it. We’re pretty good at playing this game, anyway. With 2017 less than a week away, we need to set the priorities right. A nuclear war that results in a modern-day catastrophe. Or, a bit of sanity on both sides of the LOC. The latter wouldn’t do much of a harm, would it?

A nuclear South Asia has changed the strategic thinking and culture in the region. For India, it was, primarily, to deter China and avenge the humiliation it faced in 1962. For Pakistan, it was to ensure the larger state, i.e. India, would not get involved in any misadventure. However, both India and Pakistan view each other as their intrinsic enemy, and the acquisition of weapons by one country is either, met by discontent and fury, or a similar purchase by the other, or more often than not, both.

For Pakistan, this arms race does not serve the purpose, as engaging in an arms race just for the sake of buying weapons can become unsustainable for the nation, as a whole. Pakistan should pursue an independent warfare policy, which should focus on attaining ‘invincibility’ by means of full-spectrum deterrence. And, once it has been achieved, and there is a reasonable assurance that any aggression from India can be deterred and countered effectively, then there is no point in engaging in an arms race that would only add to the already acquired deterrence capability.

In purely practical terms, neither the qualitative part of the NPT, i.e. the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), nor the quantitative aspect referred to as the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), have had much effect on how the things work in South Asia. From seismographic stations to monitoring the nuclear explosions in the space, the CTBT official doctrine states that CTBT monitoring capability can sense it all. In that regard, Dr. Rizwana Abbasi, a nuclear expert from Pakistan, has aptly articulated that the International Nuclear Treaties have, somewhat, become irrelevant in today’s world.

What started in 1974 in Pokhran actually culminated in Chagai in 1998. In South Asia, Pakistan and India have been competing for long with each other in terms of the quantity and quality of weaponry each nation possess. India leads the race in conventional weaponry, but Pakistan may not hold back and let the asymmetry in conventional warfare grow manifolds. However, does this race have a finish line in sight? This is one question that baffles the security experts from both the countries.

Whether it be the Brasstacks or the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation post-2001 Indian parliament attacks, it has always been a mobilization on the conventional front that has brought the two neighbors to the cusp of war. And, with the latter case, the nuclear war seemed imminent. However, the 2001-2002 military stand-off between India and Pakistan remained largely below the nuclear threshold, and the reason for this was the fear of engaging in a full-fledged nuclear war. The question to ask is whether engaging in an arms race serves as an effective deterrent? If India spends more on military, does Pakistan have to follow suit?

When Pakistan has the capability to launch an attack on Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India’s easternmost nuclear launching pads, with mid-range missiles specifically having a range of 2,750 km, then why, Pakistan as a nation, often seems phobic of an Indian attack. If a single nuclear bomb can get the job done, or help keep the enemy at bay, then the number of actual nuclear devices in possession of a country becomes irrelevant. General Krishnaswamy, former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army once remarked; “more is unnecessary if less is enough.”

My argument is; when it comes to strategic stability in South Asia, going nuclear was one of the key components that changed the entire complexion. There has been a paradigm shift post-1998, when what was covert transpired into being overt. The stand-alone point of reference for conducting the nuclear tests for both the countries was the concept of deterrence and state security.

Although, the concept of deterrence and nuclear policy-making is rather theoretical in nature, yet Pakistan has been actively pursuing a reactionary mode of doing things. Does Pakistan always have to wait for India to show its cards and then devise its own nuclear or military policy? Is it really the most prudent way to go? What do you think? Can’t wait to hear from you on this.

Happy Holidays!