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Waltz’s Misplaced Nuclear Deterrent and the India-Pakistan Conundrum over Kashmir

Photo: Radio Pakistan

By Rameez Raja

The deterrence theory was vehemently supported by Kenneth Waltz and his iron rule states that “whoever gets nuclear weapons behaves with caution and moderation” and whoever gets nuclear weapons does not “get attacked militarily”. Kenneth Waltz further stated, “Deterrence does not depend on rationality. It depends on fear. To create fear, nuclear weapons are the most possible means.” He vaguely posited that nuclear weapons have helped to maintain peace between the great powers and its spread may be better.

In contrast to Waltz’s argument that “Nuclear Weapons Spread May Be Better”, India-Pakistan nuclear proliferation will increase risks rather than create stability in the region. India-Pakistan tensions are explicitly related with historical dynamic of bigotry and enmity. Pakistani leaders have been deeply unhappy with the division of Kashmir since India’s partition in 1947 and have fought three wars with India over the territory. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stated after the 1971 war that “we cannot go to war for next 5, 10 or 15 years.” However, “if tomorrow the people of Kashmir start freedom movement. . . .  [w]e will fight if we want to fight…” (Ganguly and Kapur, 2010). The Indian misrule in Kashmir resulted in the 1989-90 uprisings, as admitted by Ganguly and Kapur, and these uprisings provided impetus to Pakistan to support Kashmiris. Pakistan’s disparity with India in conventional matters was fulfilled by its nuclear weapon acquisition and this led Pakistan to change its behaviour towards India in the 1980s and 1990s. Pakistan threatened India on several occasions with its nukes and vice versa. Pakistan declared in its nuclear doctrine that it will use its nuclear weapons against any conventional attack by its adversary.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayab Khan told the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, in 1998 that “any aggression on us from any side will be met with a merciless reprisal response against India.” There is also fear of sudden pre-emptive strike by India or with Indian help remains alive in Pakistani minds. The Indian threat remains the ubiquitous point of reference or raison d’être in Pakistani thinking about nuclear weapons.

After 1989, Pakistan acquired a viable nuclear weapon capability. It is because of this instrumentality of wreaking havoc that 1999 Kargil skirmish happened after a long period of tranquility from 1971 to 1999 between the two states under the nuclear umbrella. However, it was India not Pakistan that first made overt references to nuclear weapons in the Kashmir conflict. After the nuclear tests in May 1998, Pakistan behaved even more provocatively than before. Parvez Musharraf stated that “Kargil was fundamentally about Kashmir” and India’s nukes did not deter Pakistan in 1999 Kargil skirmish. From the Indian side, V.P. Malik, the Indian Army Chief of Staff during Kargil, explained that the Indians avoided crossing the Line of Control (LOC) mainly out of concern of world opinion. Pakistan’s nukes, too, did not deter India to fight a limited war with Pakistan in retaliation or in terms of preventive strike. It seems clear that nuclear weapons are not and will not deter both states to fight limited wars with each other under the nuclear shadow.

It is widely held that the Kargil skirmish and the 2002 stalemate between India and Pakistan were averted by the pressure of the United States than by any logic of nuclear deterrent. First, the reduction in infiltration from 2002 to 2008 was the direct result of America’s pressure on Pakistan after 9/11 and the US turned a blind eye towards Pakistani support for militancy in South Asia. Second, the decline of militancy in Kashmir resulted largely from Pakistan’s strategic environment and domestic security situation in the aftermath of 9/11 and has nothing to do with nuclear deterrent.

When both conventional wars and nukes failed to resolve Kashmir dispute, India shifted to Cold Start Doctrine (CSD). A CSD is a limited war strategy (conventional) under the nuclear umbrella against Pakistan. In resistance, Pakistan explicitly stated that it would use Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) like ‘Nasr Missile’ against India’s Cold Start Doctrine on its own soil. Moreover, in response to Indian Cold Start Strategy, Brigadier General Khawar Hanif, former defence attaché to the US, argued that Cold Start will create a “greater justification for Pakistani nuclear weapon” and may increase the danger of nuclear use. Major General Muhammad Mustafa Khan similarly held that Cold Start “is destabilizing, it is meant to circumvent nuclear deterrence…”

The declaration of utilization of TNWs by Pakistan on its own soil against India’s Cold Start Doctrine is dangerous as it may also pave the way for India to retaliate with strategic nuclear weapons to fill the gap. The region had experienced the chances of nuclear exchange and it is futile to believe that both the states cannot behave in a pusillanimous and dishonourable fashion. It is reported that during the Kargil skirmish, India and Pakistan exchanged nuclear threats (13 times) with each other.

The continued nuclear arms race between two states has exacerbated the tension. As Ayesha Siddiqa states, the missile defence system which India is currently developing may not compel Pakistan to increase its nukes to launch an attack on India’s missile defence system in its first strike. It will increase instability in the region. Pakistan has not yet made any official statement about its credible minimum deterrence and the missile defence system from the Indian side may not compel Pakistan to increases its nuclear arsenal, despite its nuclear programme being Indo-centric. As argued by Abdul Sattar, “…In order to ensure the survivability and credibility of the deterrent, Pakistan will have to maintain, preserve and upgrade its capability.”

Pakistan conducted its first flight test of nuclear capable “Ababeel” surface to surface ballistic missile with range of 2, 200 kilometers on 25 January, 2017. It is reported by the Strategic Forces Command of Pakistan that the missile is a Multi Independently Targetable Re-Entry Vehicle (MIRV) capable ballistic missile, which has multiple warheads, instead of a single warhead. Pakistan claimed that this missile was in response to India’s quest for Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) that challenged the effectiveness of Pakistan’s strategic deterrence (Osman, 2016). However, India did not lose much time and tested the guided Pinaka multi barrel launcher on the same day.

The threat has been increased due to the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2005 and grant of Nuclear Supplier Waiver (NSW) to India in 2008. The Pakistani Foreign Office has criticized this deal as a source of strategic instability. Moreover, along with the Israeli transfer of missile defence capabilities to India, an additional source of concern is the presence of Israeli nuclear-capable submarines in the Indian Ocean. In response to Indian nuclear submarines, Pakistan is moving towards nuclear triad and a deal for the acquisition of submarines from China had been finalised. Four among these eight submarines would be built in Karachi, as stated by the Minister for Defence Production, Rana Tanveer Hussain.

Currently both states keep their nukes in an unassembled state. But if deployment occurs, it would be a source of great anxiety for both. The flight time for missiles is a matter of few minutes and one cannot ignore the 1999 Kargil skirmish and 2001-2 stalemate of deployment of nuclear weapons on the borders of the two states. Both have followed the irrelevant doctrine over first use/no first use of nuclear weapons and have indulged in risk-laden policies under the stability-instability paradox. These are signs of instability.

Not only Pakistan is concerned about Kashmir’s self-determination but the militants, too, have demanded the liberation of Kashmir from India. Nasr Javed, a Lashkar-e-Toiba official, stated on 5 February, 2008, “…Jihad will spread from Kashmir to other parts of India… Nobody can stop it – be it the U.S. or Musharraf” (Ganguly and Kapur, 2010). Indian Nuclear weapons or CSD is hardly a deterrent for militants to stop ventilating their jihad over Kashmir. The recent Uri incident and the Indian Surgical Strikes, as claimed by the Indian army, on Pakistani soil have added fuel to the fire in India-Pakistan relations during the Kashmir uprisings of 2016, right after the killing of Burhan Wani (Hizbul Mujahidin Commander) by the Indian security forces. Along the borders, both forces remained busy in cross-firing which resulted in killings of both security men and civilians. Without moving to normalcy during the Kashmir uprisings of 2016, which killed more than 90 civilian with thousands injured and more than 1200 blinded by Indian security forces with the help of United Nations-banned pellet guns, both states test their missiles which are capable of nuclear warheads. It seems clear that both states are busy in managing the crises rather than terminating them.

Wars can be better avoided through the process of mutual trust and certainty between the states. Argentina and Brazil resolved their disputes and adopted measures such as ‘trust building perspectives’ that averted regional nuclear arms race between the two. It was because of their trust that in the early 1990s, the Argentine-Brazilian Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) was established.

This type of trust can also be developed between India and Pakistan and can jointly resolve their disputes by allowing the third party in resolving the Kashmir dispute. It is because of the trust deficit between India and Pakistan that their disputes have largely remained unresolved. Good Friday Agreement (10 April, 1998) that ended the civil war in which Northern Ireland was granted autonomy provides an example for India-Pakistan to resolve Kashmir dispute. Pervez Hoodbhoy remarkably argued that both the nations should consider Kashmir with Kashmiriyat to resolve Kashmir dispute. The dispute over Kashmir is not just a matter of India-Pakistan; it is first about Kashmiri people. This is not mere hyperbole. Rather, this is a fact that both the states have indulged in attitudinarianism, egoism, and the Hindu-Muslim mentality. In this context, Douglas Gibler has argued that the territorial disputes, which have had a history of partitions on religious and ethnic lines and wars over territory and border, can be resolved through the “territorial settlement treaties.”

In Waltz’s conception of the nuclear world, trust has been replaced by fear that leads states to seek security in the bomb. Since trust has been misplaced and leaders prove costly and dangerous, risks have also increased. Despite Waltz’s sustained argument to the contrary, there is enough historical evidence from both the Cold War and South Asia to suggest that these risks will increase more if nuclear weapons spread further. India-Pakistan nuclear arms race and these nukes will tempt both states to embark upon destruction in the region.

It is the need of the hour that the political establishments and the civil societies in both India and Pakistan evince greater seriousness towards the insidious proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, and strive towards bringing an understanding among the two neighbours about the futility of deterrence theory. And, instead of using nuclear weapons as their main instruments of security (based on fear), the two nations should try to find ways for forming robust and sensible security communities embedded in relations of trust, as advocated by Karl W. Deutsch in his demand of peaceful change.

The immediate step between the two states should be to bring economic prosperity, peace, and social stability in Kashmir and separate their nuclear stability from the political dispute over Kashmir. The disparagement of the people of Kashmir in the Kashmir dispute is a constant process from the Indian side. The indigenous Kashmiri people should be given first priority in solving the dispute. India should act as a benevolent hegemon. The militancy is neither the first nor even the last option to solve the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan has to give up its flawed policies and adopt policies which can establish peace process in Kashmir.

Along with these initiatives, India and Pakistan should also try to progressively abandon claims of suzerainty over Kashmir. They must give up the practice of subterfuge and stratagem over Kashmir, avoid the game of “my gain your loss”, and vituperation against each other.

Ganguly, Summit and Kapur, S. Paul. 2010, India, Pakistan and the Bomb: Debating Nuclear Stability in South Asia, New Delhi: Penguin, pp. 39, 79.
Osman, Ali. 25 January, 2016, “What you need to know about Pakistan’s Ababeel ballistic missile.” Accessed on 25/01/2016.

Rameez Raja
is a Ph. D. scholar at the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He specializes in India’s nuclear policy. Email ID:


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