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Pakistan’s Defence Day: why nuclear weapon capability was inevitable?

By Asma Khalid

September 6 is known as Defense Day (Youm-e-Difa) of Pakistan. It is celebrated every year with full devotion to give tribute to the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the defence of Pakistan during second war between India and Pakistan in 1965.  Though on 6 September 1965, Pakistan’s forces played a vital role in nation’s defence but at the same time, the war has fundamentally changed the strategic thinking and security landscape of region. To understand the emerging strategic landscape of South Asia, it is necessary to study bilateral relations of India and Pakistan.

Relations between these two major powers of South Asia have remained hostile since independence. Historical disputes, contested boundaries, and disturbed balance of power forced India and Pakistan to search for counterweights through improved relations with other major powers of the world. Consequently, India’s more offensive policies and its objective to acquire “status of hegemonic power” in South Asia has consistently undermined Pakistan’s efforts to maintain “Balance of Power” and “peace” in the region. The enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan has developed a “classic insecurity trap” in the military preparations of both states.  India’s initiation of nuclear weapon program in 1960 and its expanding capabilities as potential proliferator added nuclear dimension to Pakistan’s security calculations in early 1960. The turning point came in the mid-1960s after India acquired a research reactor (1960) and built a reprocessing plant in 1964. Same year, in response to China’s nuclear test, an intensive debate initiated in Indian Parliament and public circle for “nuclear bomb”.

Paradoxically, the 1965 war triggered the new demand in India for Nuclear bomb. Homi Babha’s statement was carefully noted by officials in Pakistan in which he claimed that “India could build a nuclear weapon within twelve and eighteen months”. India’s quest of nuclear capability and war of 1965 played vital role in making Pakistan realize that the state has to diversify its security measures and relying only on conventional capability is not sufficient to maintain state’s security. Therefore, Pakistan’s security concerns acquired nuclear dimension.  The war of 1971 appears to have additional stimulus for Pakistan’s decision makers to favor the pursuit of a nuclear weapon capability option for Pakistan. In the wake of 1971 war, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gave a decisive flip to country’s nuclear program. In 1972, PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto stated that, “We (Pakistan) will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own (Atom bomb)…. We have no other choice”. Furthermore, Pakistan’s need for nuclear weapon capability was impelled by multiple factors including wars of 1965 and1971 between India and Pakistan; inadequate conventional capabilities to counter India’s threats and India’s first nuclear weapon test in 1974.  Hence, Pakistan detonated its nuclear weapon on 28 May 1998 in response to India’s second series of nuclear weapon test on 11 and 13 May, 1998.

These factors show that Pakistan did not initiate the nuclearization of South Asia; actually India’s adversarial nature, offensive mindset of its policymakers and its inability to accept the existence of Pakistan as independent state continue to be the major hurdles in the way of establishing peaceful cooperative relations on the basis of equality. Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability has played central role in countering any kind of external aggression through operational preparedness of the strategic forces. Though nuclear weapon capability has prevented the war between India and Pakistan by maintaining deterrence equilibrium but on this defence day it is inevitable to understand that ‘Defence’ is not limited to direct military clashes or borders security. Now defence of the state has much more meaning, obligations and complexities.Therefore, Pakistan should formulate a pragmatic policy that can counter ‘cruel and protracted tactics’ employed by the country’s adversaries to undermine its security from within. One effective tool could be the art of fourth or fifth generation warfare, more commonly known as 5GW which is more decentralized, fluid and is strategically calculated to engage the enemy on all fronts. As SunTzu stated,“supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”.

Asma Khalid is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a think-tank based in Islamabad, Pakistan

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