17 days vs 18 years
THIS May, the two South Asian nuclear states mark the eigh teenth anniversary to the first detonation of their nuclear devices. Pakistan and India celebrates national days in commemoration of Chagai and Pokhran-II respectively that established nuclear deterrence for both states. The explosion of atomic bombs embarked ‘overt’ nuclearization of South Asia albeit the aspect of nuclear deterrence in region can be traced back to the pre-nuclearization period when the debates raged with ambiguities regarding their nuclear capabilities.
India announced two sets of nuclear detonations on May 11 and 13. It was a worrisome and shocking moment for the world especially for Pakistan. Notwithstanding it was the first explosion since the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) opened for signature in 1996 and Indian initiative of nuclear detonation had heavily tilted balance of power towards India in South Asia accompanied with the fear to start a destabilizing arms race between the neighboring states, there was no retaliatory action by the international community against India for violating the established norm of nuclear nonproliferation. The change in the geostrategic situation of the region, after Indian nuclear tests, was evident in the seventeen days before Pakistan decided to exercise its nuclear option. The additional army divisions were sent into Indian-held Kashmir and Pakistan had been told ‘to realize the new realities on the ground’ by the then Indian home minister and former BJP president, L K Advani. He warned Pakistan about the govt’s new pro-active approach to deal firmly with Pakistan in Kashmir. India’s entrance in the nuclear club had been declared a decisive step by the Indian policy makers to bring a qualitatively new stage in Indo-Pak relations, particularly in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem.
These seventeen days were the most critical in the history of Pakistan. After deliberating various policy options and days of excruciating, Pakistan finally decided to carry out nuclear tests on May 28 and 30 in response to Indian nuclear explosions. Finally, the agonizing clouds displaced and replaced with the mushroom-shaped smoke. Interestingly, the United Nations Security Council Resolution to condemn the nuclear detonation of two states and US sanctions were surfaced only after Pakistan conducted the nuclear tests.
In recent times, the growing disparity and asymmetry in South Asia is favorable to India but challenging for Pakistan. Nonetheless, the nuclear factor balances the strategic equation in South Asian landscape. 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 the existence of nuclear weapons restrained Pakistan and India to wage another war after 1971.
However the need of time is that both states should start strategic dialogues to consider Confidence Building Measures (CBM) in order to avoid any misfortune event in future. This would be significant move in a scenario when Pakistan in response to India is building up its nuclear capabilities to ensure the credibility of its nuclear deterrence. India’s doctrinal transformation and ballistic missile defence capabilities, which are rapidly maturing, had indulged Pakistan in miniaturization of warheads. Lately, India’s evolving sea-based capabilities is coercing Pakistan to develop full spectrum credible minimum deterrence capability, by having each leg of nuclear triad, to deter all form of aggression.
After eighteen years of deterrence, May 28 reminds the “historic milestone” towards reinforcement and maintenance of Pakistan’s deterrence capability. This timely and successful response showed operational preparedness of the Strategic Forces and Pakistan’s capabilities to safeguard its security, which should not be undermined. Every year the day recalls that Pakistan’s decision to exercise the nuclear option had been taken in the interest of national selfdefence, to deter aggression, whether nuclear or conventional. Thus, on May 28 Pakistan completed a landmark journey with triumph, which makes this a historical occasion for all the years to come. — The writer is member Strategic Vision Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.