Pakistan’s drones & stability instability paradox in South Asia

By Adeel Mukhtar Mirza

Pakistan took a major leap forward in achieving full spectrum deterrence to deter all forms of aggression when Pakistan military successfully tested its own version of armed aerial drones on Friday, March 13, 2015. The drone, designated the Burraq, will be equipped with a laser-guided missile capable of striking with pinpoint accuracy in all types of weather, the military said. In the Quran, Burraq is the name of the white horse that took the Islamic prophet to heaven.[1] Gen. Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s army chief of staff, witnessed the test and commended the country’s engineers and scientists. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the weapons would “add a new dimension to Pakistan’s defenses.” The most obvious advantage of drone is its capacity to save lives as they reduce putting military personnel in combat. They are of low cost as well as low risk. In a nutshell, drones have pinpoint accuracy, lethal, increase surveillance and easier to deploy.

Coming to the main point, the purpose of this article is to analyze whether the stability-instability paradox is applicable to the South Asian strategies. The concept was defined by Glen Snyder according to which, the greater the stability of ‘strategic’ balance of terror, the lower the stability of the overall balance at its lower levels of violence. After the nuclearization of India and Pakistan, Kargil crises and subsequent conflicts, an immense amount of literature was written by various western scholars to prove the similarity between Cold war and Indo-Pak conflict strategies. The major emphasis in these debates is the applicability of stability-instability paradox in South Asia. In this regard, Michael Krepon’s “The Stability-Instability Paradox, Misperception, and Escalation Control in South Asia” gives convincing arguments. According to him, there are two tenets of stability-instability paradox. First, the offsetting nuclear capabilities will increase tensions between adversaries. Second, despite increase tensions and severe tensions, nuclear armed adversaries will avoid a major conflict or a nuclear exchange. According to him, both tenets are relevant in South Asia in the shape of Kargil conflict 1999 and the fortunate of both nations to avoid a nuclear exchange respectively. The author concluded with the assumption that instability, risk, vulnerability and dilemma of brinkmanship have become the fate of both states owing to the presence of nuclear weapons as it happened between the U.S and USSR during the Cold war.[2]

On the other hand, Dr. Adil Sultan in his article, “South Asian Stability-Instability Paradox: Another Perspective” negates the relevance of Cold war and South Asian conflict strategies and argue that the concept of deterrence is very much active in South Asia. According to him, Pakistan like Israel faces existential threats from immediate neighborhood which result in the cycle of action-reaction phenomenon in South Asia. Further, the author goes on to explain that the existence of lingering territorial disputes and bitter historical relationships with India justifies Pakistan’s India-centric policies. In addition, he claims that Kargil was not the result of nuclearization of Pakistan but a part of several limited operations to reclaim Siachin Glacier and, also, it was unlikely that Pakistan’s nuclear capability was operational at that time. However, on the opposite, the presence of nuclear weapons provided India the space and the confidence to inject massive conventional military operations in the shape of ‘hot pursuit’ and ‘cold start.’ Resultantly, Pakistan had to fill the gap to achieve full spectrum deterrence capability to deter all form of aggression which resulted in the development of ‘NASR’ and other conventional capabilities.[3]

Moreover, the writings of Indian scholars like Summit Ganguly who believes Pakistan’s nuclear first use policies as bluff encourage India to peruse aggressive strategies against Pakistan. In this regard, the modernization of weapons, conventional as well as strategic, by Pakistan’s military establishment is need of the hour to secure survival of the state and maintain strategic equilibrium in the region. Similarly, the latest Pakistan drones will not only help Pakistan defense forces in war against terrorism but also to have efficient surveillance especially in border areas and will be useful to neutralize any aggression as well. And, indeed, the development of drones is the part of Pakistani efforts to overcome Indian conventional superiority in one way or another. However, such trend resulted in arms race between both states which not only disturbs regional stability but also avoids regional cooperation and growth. Consequently, such scenario gives leverage to other states to interfere in regional matters and disturbs regional strategic equilibrium. As far as stability-instability paradox is concerned, both India and Pakistan are now aware of the dangers of escalation, behaving rationally and focusing on peaceful dialogues as evident from contemporary events. Hence, it can be said that that India and Pakistan have become fully able to overcome nuclear and conventional dangers exist in South Asia. Last but not the least, there is a need of regional initiative to institutionalize a robust setup to cope up with trust deficit, arms buildup and other much needed issues to avoid any kind of instability in the strategic spectrum.


1. “Pakistan says it will deploy its own armed drones against terrorists,”, accessed on March 24, 2015,;

2. Michael Krepon, “The Stability-Instability Paradox, Misperception, and Escalation Control in South Asia”;

3. Adil Sultan, “South Asian Stability-Instability Paradox: Another perspective,” IPRI, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 21-37.

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Adeel Mukhtar Mirza

Adeel Mukhtar works for the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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