Future of nuclear weapons in South Asia

by Muhammad Zeeshan Hayat

Currently there are two countries in South Asia which are nuclear powers that is India and Pakistan and both give great role to nuclear weapons in their national security strategy.

India sees their nuclear weapon as deterrence against perceived Chinese threat and Pakistan developed their nuclear weapons to deter Indian threat because both countries are arch rivals and have fought three major wars since their independence. Since the nuclearization of South Asia in 1998 no war of great intensity like 1965 war or 1971 war has ever been fought between India and Pakistan despite been military crisis emerged in 2001-02 after terrorist attack on Indian parliament and on Tajmahal hotel in 2008 and one may give credit to nuclear weapons for that because they are more of a war preventing rather than war escalating weapon because they are such a highly destructive weapon that countries which are nuclear powers even avoid to start a conventional war fearing that it may led to a nuclear war which may result in total destruction of both the sides.

So what will be the future of nuclear weapon in south Asia? Will south Asia moves toward gradual disarmament or will nuclear weapons remain at the centre of the national security strategy of both the nuclear powers in south Asia?

If you see the Pakistani perspective, nuclear weapons are very essential for its security because they are facing an enemy on their western border since their inception which is much larger, stronger and powerful than Pakistan, militarily, economically and geographically. Especially in term of conventional military there is a huge asymmetry between India and Pakistan, and Pakistan cannot match with Indian conventional military because of its weak economy so in order to compensate for India’s superior conventional military capability, Pakistan has to depend on its nuclear weapons for its security.

India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 and called it a peaceful nuclear explosion motivated by economic incentive. Although it is difficult to sort out the real determinants of the decision as many Indian analyst argues that national security concern in the form of perceived threat from china was primary motivation for the Indian nuclear explosion as China had thoroughly trounced India in a 1962 border war and had tested nuclear weapons in 1964 but this security oriented argument fails to explain the Indian’s failure to develop a nuclear weapon capability or to acquire a third party security guarantee in the immediate aftermath of China’s 1964 nuclear test as immediately after Chinese test Dr. Homi Bhabha the father of the Indian nuclear industry announced at a press conference that India could produce a bomb within eighteen months. Thus according to many analyst domestic politics and international prestige played especial roles in India’s pursuit of nuclear weapons because according to one Indian analyst circumstantial evidence suggests that not only the actual detonation decision but each major decision since 1964 leading toward the bomb had been taken by prime ministers at the time of political weakness and as for as international prestige was concern the message of the nuclear test was that India was an emerging global as well as regional power and could no longer be taken for granted by the superpowers in the international affairs as said by K. Subrahmanyam, “In a world organized about the acquisition of power, the nation which does not acquire power to deter power being used against itself is at a substantial disadvantage.”

So if India continues its political ambitions imagine the threat they creates for smaller country like Pakistan with a much more limited defence capabilities and does not enjoy a good relation with India and had fought three major wars and number of border skirmishes and have number of serious unresolved issues with India. So this situation is compelling Pakistan to depend on its nuclear weapons capability for its security because they create a strategic equilibrium in the region for Pakistan vis- a- vis India.

India’s ambition of becoming a dominant regional power and steps like Indo-US nuclear deal and Indian acquisition on Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) is challenging the strategic stability of South Asia and will undermine Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent and would start a nuclear arms race in the region so global aim of nuclear disarmament will not be accessible.

As long as India continues its political ambitions, relations between India and Pakistan do not improve and issues like Kashmir conflict, Siachen dispute, Sir Creek remain unresolved and crisis continue to emerge nuclear weapons will continue to increase and continue to play a major role in both the countries national security strategies and will remain in India and Pakistan for the foreseeable future.

 

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