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Sowmya Sai asked: Why is Pakistan's lowering of nuclear threshold a problem for India and its doctrine?

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  • A. Vinod Kumar replies: Unlike India’s declaration of a nuclear doctrine centered on a no-first-use (NFU) posture, Pakistan has not publicly shared a similar doctrinal document but has repeatedly declared its intention to use nuclear weapons first, citing India’s conventional superiority. Yet, there has been no formally declared threshold for such nuclear use though Pakistan has exploited this ambiguity to engage in brinkmanship in the years after overt nuclearisation. This was evident during the four crises that followed the 1998 tests – Kargil (1999), Parliament attack (2001), Operation Parakram (2002) and Mumbai terror attack (2008), when threats of nuclear attack were repeatedly made. Amid varied articulations by Pakistani officials and politicians on the ‘redlines’ of nuclear use - from crossing of the border by Indian forces to decimation of a population centre, naval embargo or even economic strangulation – the head of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division (SPD), Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai, in a 2002 interview to an Italian institution had indicated that the survival of Pakistani state should be seen as most credible threshold for Pakistan’s nuclear response.

    While the above understanding has prevailed since then, Pakistan’s introduction of a tactical nuclear delivery capability (Nasr) earlier this decade, as a response to doctrinal shifts (Cold Start) and capability acquisition (missile defence) initiated by India, has created possibilities of Pakistan launching a theatre-level nuclear attack on India’s strike corps within the Pakistani territory. However, despite having a similar theatre nuclear capability (Prahaar), India refused to enter the ‘tactical’ equation and has retained its original doctrinal position that any nuclear use (tactical or strategic) will invite a massive retaliation. The efficacy of such posturing can be underlined from the fact that India had successfully undertaken sub-conventional military operations (surgical strike) under a nuclear overhang without hitting any of the perceived ‘redlines’. Further, it should be noted that Pakistan has, in recent years, contrasted its previously-held postural ambiguity with a vague adoption of a second-strike policy (centered on naval platforms), and buttressed by a posturing of ‘full-spectrum deterrence’.

    Posted on January 08, 2019