India and Pakistan: Enforcing strategic deterrence

By Maimuna Ashraf

The growing disparity and asymmetry in South Asia is favorable to India yet challenging for Pakistan. India’s rising nuclear and conventional ambitions have enforced Pakistan to build up its nuclear capabilities to ensure the credibility of its nuclear deterrence. Previously, India’s doctrinal transformation and ballistic missile defense capabilities which are rapidly maturing, have indulged Pakistan in miniaturization of warheads. Lately, the evolving South Asian regional security dynamics in Modi’s regime is coercing Pakistan to develop full spectrum credible minimum deterrence capability to deter all form of aggression.

The recent successful test launch of Shaheen-III Surface to Surface Ballistic Missile (SSBM) on March 9th from the Southern coast off the Arabian Sea is an appropriate, requisite and well-timed response to India’s sophisticated and intensive ballistic missile and anti-missile developments. India on 19th February test-fired nuclear capable Prithvi-II missile hence a response from Pakistan was evident and essential to ensure that Islamabad has the capabilities to counter the intimidating advancement. Shaheen III SSBM capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads to a range of 2,750 km. The missile is an updated version of Shaheen I and Shaheen II, the maximum range of the earlier versions of Shaheen missiles was of about 2,500 km. This Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) is a solid fuelled missile and is currently the longest range missile in Pakistan. The Director General Strategic Plans Division, Lieutenant General Zubair Mehmood Hayat has stated the development “yet another historic milestone” towards reinforcement and maintenance of Pakistan’s deterrence capability.

Pakistan currently has three tiers of ballistic missiles ranging from Battlefield Short Range Ballistic Missiles (BSRBMs) to Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs) and Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs). The ballistic missile system developments of Islamabad is focused to respond Dehli’s advancements which serves the purpose to ensure  counter strike capability, maintains credible deterrence, readiness and robustness of Pakistan which reduces the threat of India’s conventional limited war. Deterrence, as precisely termed, is “the exploitation of a threat without implementing it, or exploiting the existence of weapons without activating them”. Consequently nuclear weapons are essentially supposed to be the weapons of peace and not war. It is extensively believed that existence of nuclear weapons restrained Pakistan and India to wage another war after 1971. However, the Indian arrogance to exploit conventional supremacy and regional hegemonic aspirations are evident from assorted course of actions. After the failure of Sundarji doctrine in operation Parakram which took place in 2001-2002, India announced a new limited war ‘Cold Start’ doctrine in 2004. The Sundarji doctrine faltered due to dawdling Indian mobilization that permitted Pakistan to mount its reaction and beat Indian strategic designs. The new Cold Start doctrine was resultantly aimed to mobilize quickly and to exterminate Pakistani armed forces before they could accumulate a response. Nasr (Hatf IX) BSRBM was designed to counter India’s Cold start and limited war strategy, which has the quick reactionary shoot-and-scoot technology. While the Nasr serves the purpose of battlefield deterrent, the Abdali (Hatf-II) BSRBM fulfils the role of traditional short-range strategic deterrent. The cornerstones of Pakistan’s deterrent arsenal are Ghauri II (Hatf VA), Shaheen II (Hatf VI) and Shaheen III MRBMs, with ability to strike any strategic target in India.

Pakistan tests Shaheen-III missile (Photo: Courtesy of WikiCommons)
Pakistan tests Shaheen-III missile (Photo: Courtesy of WikiCommons)

The regional stability has been threatened after Modi’s government aggressive postures that include abetting terrorism in Pakistan, blatant attrition at the line of control (LoC), Indo-US-Israeli Ballistic Missile Defense Cooperation, revival of Indo-US nuclear deal and significant hike in defense budget. India is also developing its heavy bombers, land-based ballistic missiles, maritime strategic forces and submarine-launched ballistic missiles to have a complete triad of land-based and sea-based ballistic missiles. It is viewed by many that by maintaining such belligerent posture, Dehli is looking for a strategic space to start a limited war against Pakistan which is believed to be indebted after Kargil. Resultantly, the developing regional dynamics inflict Pakistan to convert credible minimum deterrence into full spectrum credible minimum deterrence. While India is developing its short range ballistic missiles, inter-continental ballistic missiles and anti-missile program, Pakistan is focusing on its short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles with improved payloads, range and reliability. The previous versions of Shaheen could not reach India’s eastern front but latest launch test has ended this limitation and consequently, the launch of Shaheen III is of prominent significance because it consolidates Pakistan’s strategic deterrence in evolving regional scenario.

The continuing race between Pakistan and India is of grave regional concern. Yet evidently, Islamabad is not seeking a nuclear parity with New-Dehli but compelled to exhibit a reaction in response to an action. Nonetheless, a timely successful response shows operational preparedness of the Strategic Forces and Pakistan’s capabilities to safeguards its security, which should not be undermined.

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Maimuna Ashraf

Maimuna Ashraf works as a Senior Research Associate for an Islamabad-based think tank Strategic Vision Institute. She works on issues related to nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and South Asian nuclear equation. She writes for South Asian Voices, international blogs and national dailies.

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