Pakistan’s Nuclear Capability: Holding the Burden of Maintaining Strategic Stability

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The South Asian region has always remained vulnerable to conflicts and escalation for many decades. This is primarily because of its ever-increasing volatility and the complex security dynamics of the region. Given the hostile nature of the relationship between India and Pakistan, both countries have fought full-fledged wars and limited conflicts in the past. Even now there exists a continuous fear of war and escalation in the region. For many decades, and even now, the regional security dynamics were all determined by the conventional asymmetry, Indian warmongering attitude towards Pakistan, and its acquisition of nuclear weapons. In such a scenario where Pakistan was facing existential threats from India, the acquisition of nuclear capability by the former was more of a strategic compulsion to enhance its security and preserve its sovereignty. However, since the overt nuclearization of South Asia in 1998, the region has emerged as one of the most crucial regions in the world. The acquisition of nuclear capability by Pakistan has since then emboldened it a credible and reliable deterrence posture which ultimately guaranteed a strategic equilibrium in the region. Even now, 23 years after the nuclearization of South Asia, Pakistan’s nuclear capability continues to hold the burden of strategic stability in the region.    

The overt South Asian nuclearization was primarily a consequence of India’s desire to dominate the security calculus of the region and undermine Pakistan’s security. It became inevitable for Pakistan to take concrete steps to enhance its security. The fact remains that it emerged as a strategic obligation for Pakistan to demonstrate its nuclear capability in order to maintain a balance of power in the region. Pakistan’s pursuit of a credible nuclear capability has no doubt equalized the regional strategic balance while neutralizing a broad range of threats coming from India. This notion continues to prevail even today as well. However, the subsequent Indian attempts to undermine the existing strategic balance of the region would likely challenge Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. Evidence comes from how India has been actively involved in an all-encompassing and offensive military modernization, its provocative and self-obsessed notions of ‘surgical strikes’ under a nuclear scenario, and insinuations of drifting away from its stated nuclear use doctrines. These emergent dynamics combined have further undermined the strategic stability of the region in general and Pakistan’s nuclear threshold in particular. This becomes more impactful when Pakistan’s posture of full-spectrum deterrence that is within the ambit of minimum credible deterrence is to be assessed specifically in the contemporary regional security environment.    

In pursuit of its long-term hegemonic designs and great power aspirations, India has been rapidly augmenting its offensive military capabilities against Pakistan. The ongoing extensive military modernization drive is all aspired to re-adjust the strategic balance of power in its favor. Further, it also intends to be at the decisive end while dominating the escalation ladder of the region. In this regard, India possesses a diverse inventory of ballistic and cruise missiles ranging from short to long-range and also ICMB (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles). It has developed Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Systems and has an agreement with Russia for the supply of the S-400 Air Defence System which is no doubt one of the world’s most advanced missile defence shields. Likewise, India has also developed and operationalized some of the world’s fastest supersonic missiles and has been rigorously working on the development of hypersonic weapons and space weapons. These advanced missiles are obviously meant for delivering nuclear warheads while providing a significant edge to India and tilting the strategic balance of power in favor of India. Further, India has also acquired Rafale fighter jets from France which are among the most advanced jets in the world. This brief analysis of the Indian military modernization drive indicates that it intends to become a regional hegemon while dominating the region militarily. Thus, further increasing the threat perception of Pakistan and compelling Pakistan to hold the burden of strategic stability in the region.   

In addition to these, India’s attempt to undermine the strategic stability of the region is also evident in its self-proclaimed existence of ‘new normal’ in South Asia. Especially at a time when the region seems to be still under the impact of the Pulwama-Balakot crisis of 2019 that resulted in an exchange of hostilities between India and Pakistan; however, Pakistan’s nuclear capability emerged as the decisive factor at that time and the crisis did not go beyond a certain level of escalation. This again implies that the burden of maintaining the strategic stability in the region ultimately comes on Pakistan.  

To sum up this whole debacle, the Indian strategic aspirations coupled with its offensive military modernization would likely further destabilize the already fragile South Asian region. Similarly, these appear as a deliberate Indian attempt to undermine Pakistan’s nuclear threshold and to endanger the strategic environment of the region. Pakistan, on the other hand, which already relies on very calculated response options; the nuclear capability would likely continue to play the decisive role. Given the economic difficulties of the country and its reluctance to indulge in an arms race with India, Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence; either full-spectrum or minimum credible would likely serve the purpose of enhancing its security and preserving its sovereignty. Last but not the least, Pakistan’s nuclear capability which has ensured strategic deterrence since the beginning and till now can also further hold the burden of maintaining strategic stability in South Asia. 

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Haris Bilal Malik
About Haris Bilal Malik 13 Articles
The writer is working as a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) Islamabad.

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