The Center for International Strategic Studies conducted a webinar on, “Dynamics of Nuclear South Asia: 22 Years of Nuclearization”, to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tests on May 3 2020. Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi opened his remarks by welcoming the panelists and participants and giving a background to the deliberations leading to the nuclear testing decision. Being the Additional Secretary Americas during that time, Ambassador Naqvi spoke at length, from the vantage point of being a witness to the decision-making process for the nuclear tests.
Dr. Naeem Salik, Senior Fellow CISS, in his presentation discussed the past crises in post nuclearization era apart from discussing the strategic environment in pre and post nuclearization. Commenting on the so-called Indian claim of surgical strike across the Line of Control, Dr Salik criticized the international community’s encouragement of India’s actions rather than reprimanding them. Such encouragement led India to believe that any future attempts at bellicosity would be approved by international community and go unanswered by Pakistan, he believed. Later in the Balakot strikes, according to Dr. Salik, it was the good fortune of India that no casualties happened in Pakistan because if there were causalities or damage to infrastructure, the consequences/retaliation from Pakistan could have gone far beyond their imagination. Commenting on the ‘new normal’ debate in the last crisis, Dr. Salik posited that from a Pakistani perspective, the ‘new normal’ that has been set, is that any future attempts by India to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty would be responded strongly, aggressively and with an equal or greater measure. He voiced his concerns regarding the Indian nuclear weapons being in the wrong hands, with bellicose statements coming from Indian Prime Minister Modi, who has his finger on the Indian nuclear button. He concluded that since India has set a new normal in the strategic environment, the strategic stability in South Asia rests on very shaky ground. It is tenuous and in absence of any strategic restraint regime, it is very dangerous for the peace of region.
Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, Senior Fellow CISS, while talking about the evolving nuclear threat in South Asia, stated that revolution in military technologies over the years has boosted conventional and strategic military capabilities of India and Pakistan. Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) has been a driving factor behind New Delhi’s change in its Land Warfare Doctrine as the country is trying to develop capabilities to fight a two-front war with China and Pakistan. According to him, the most glaring imbalance in conventional forces of India and Pakistan lies in the naval domain. He believed that India will use its advanced weapons technology against Pakistan since it lacked the will and the capability to fight against China; although the pretext of building up arms for countering the rise of China has earned New Delhi strategic concessions from the United States. By fueling and building up the strategic triad, New Delhi aims to achieve escalation dominance and counterforce strike capability against Pakistan, he added. Finally, he recommended that Pakistan must not go for tit-for-tat in an arms race with India, maintain its full spectrum deterrence instead, invest in defense research and development, and build domestic economic infrastructure.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, Professor at Quaid e Azam University Islamabad, talked about the Nuclear Deterrence and Crisis Stability in South Asia. He pointed out nine factors which undermine the crisis stability between India and Pakistan Including India’s struggle for creation of space for limited war i.e.; Cold Start Doctrine. He stated that during the last two decades the imbalance in conventional military capabilities between India and Pakistan is creating a offense-defense imbalance where the state with offensive capability will have great incentive to undertake preemption. He further stated that in the current global strategic environment, India has been encouraged to acquire the capability to implement the so-called new normal; where India claims that Indian Ocean is ‘India’s ocean’ and there is coupling of Indo-Pacific Strategy of New Delhi with Indo-Pacific Strategy of Washington. In this context, the west views India as a counter-balancer to China. Whether India can keep a check on China or not, is another debate altogether but with this arms buildup and modernization of Indian military and strategic forces, the imbalance between India and Pakistan is increasing which would bring instability in the region.
The webinar was very well-attended by foreign diplomats, retired ambassadors, senior practitioners, policy-makers, academicians and students.