Flexing missile muscle

Published: May 1, 2012

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Last week, the world’s attention was once again focused on the geopolitics of our region when India successfully test fired its improved version of the nuclear capable long-range missile Agni-5 that could strike targets  “as far as Beijing or Shanghai”. Soon after, Pakistan tested its improved version of the medium-range Shaheen-1 (designated 1A). It is claimed that Agni-5 uses better propulsion systems and has greater accuracy than its predecessors. From a prestige perspective, by developing an intermediate-range missile, India has joined the P-5 and Israel league. This was not unexpected as India has been aiming at acquiring most of the ‘attributes’ of major powers. It has successfully placed satellites in polar and geostationary orbits and its ambitious civilian space programme works in tandem with the military projects.

The world reaction to this development was muted. Beijing, as a part of its nuanced diplomacy, played it cool and came out with a statement that India and China enjoyed good relations. Washington deliberately played down the Indian test by merely stating that regional countries should “show restraint”, in sharp contrast to its strong response to missile developments in North Korea and Iran.

Ever since India and Pakistan became nuclear powers, ballistic missiles have acquired a special significance. When armed with nuclear warheads, missiles can provide a credible deterrent force, and in case of Pakistan, also partially offset its conventional numerical inferiority against India. Missiles are also preferred to strike aircraft as they are faster in reaching the target, have a longer range, and — as they are mobile — stand a better chance of evading detection. At the same time, these very characteristics generate instability. Due to geographic proximity, the flight time of missiles to major cities or bases in either country would be 10 minutes or less, making any early warning system practically ineffective. Moreover, the dual use of the same missile system for conventional or nuclear use aggravates instability. Fortunately, so far the two countries have not kept their missiles in a state of alert with mated nuclear warheads, but an escalation in tension can alter the situation.

What does this missile and arms dynamic mean for Pakistan? How should it respond when both countries, in a parallel development, are moving towards improved trade and commercial relations, easing of visa regimes and encouraging more sociocultural interaction? As Pakistan’s current missiles already cover most of India’s major cities and military installations, the question arises whether we still need to develop long-range missiles and match India, system for system? Probably not: Pakistan’s economic conditions and international environment do not favour pursuing costly nuclear deterrence programmes.

Clearly, it is for China to counter the long-range missile and nuclear challenge in this triangular interaction among Pakistan, India and China. India has always taken the line that it faces a two-front nuclear and conventional threat and has to take steps to reduce the asymmetry with China. Chinese missiles cover the whole of India, whereas India does not have a comparable capacity. By developing the Agni-5, India feels it has developed a retaliatory capability against China. If it were to develop a submarine launched version of the missile, it will also have a second-strike capability against Pakistan.

All these interlinking factors make the strategic dynamic among China, India and Pakistan quite complex. The central question is how will these interactions play out in the future. Despite its rise as a world power, China has been cautious and calibrated in developing its nuclear and missile capacity, working on the principle of minimum deterrence. Besides, its priority is sustained economic growth and it does not want to give the US an excuse to raise the alarm about its military build-up. With India trying to bridge its gap with China, and Pakistan trailing behind, it seems we are destined towards modest competition rather than a strategic arms race. The danger, however, is that the region is susceptible to crises that could give rise to additional nuclear requirements. To counter that, it is necessary to take certain stabilisation measures, both bilaterally and among the three countries. A case in point is a potential threat of militant attack in India and New Delhi reacting to it and all this leading to greater reliance on nuclear arms. For this reason it is important that India and Pakistan engage seriously in working towards improving crisis stability to help ensure that these missiles are never actually needed.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2012.

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Reader Comments (41)

  • Dr Kadar Khan FRCS
    May 1, 2012 - 12:38AM

    Very sensible article. We should not enter into a costly contest of these missiles which have a shelf life of 10-15 years. Main reason being we don’t know where we are heading for after that time…


  • Falcon
    May 1, 2012 - 12:41AM

    Whatever stops the arms race in the region and specially Pakistan, I am all for it; whether that involves talks with neighbors or dancing in the streets :)


  • BlackJack
    May 1, 2012 - 1:06AM

    While the submarine version is likely to be reality, I don’t think it is essential for a second strike capability – Shaheen-II barely covers all of the Indian mainland now, and cannot reach Andaman & Nicobar. On a separate note, while I understand that Pak and China enjoy cordial relations, there is no need to prevaricate – China spends more on defense than India and Pakistan combined, despite already being the dominant power in the region by far. It has also been a major contributor to Pakistan’s missile and nuclear program. We have no problem with the spending – any nation is justified to spend as much as it can afford to safeguard its sovereignty. At the same time, for India, upping the consequences of military action from China through a credible deterrent (pls note that we are the only ones in this troika with a no-first use policy) is important. Pak no longer figures in the strategic calculus as far as missile development is concerned.


  • Meekal Ahmed
    May 1, 2012 - 1:14AM


    I find all this to be so stupid and counter-productive, And as a admirer of your sober and sound thinking, I am disappointed — unless I have missed your point or failed to read between the lines..

    Neither country can afford this insane competition. India has 440 million people in poverty; while our poverty figures, while contested, as a percentage of our population, are probably not much better.

    When will this phoney bravado end so that we can turn to issues that really matter?


  • Ali Tanoli
    May 1, 2012 - 1:52AM

    World is beyond the india sir u know what i means.


  • Adeel759
    May 1, 2012 - 3:16AM

    Missiles are indeed needed, as author stated Missile’s mobility, range and accuracy makes it the most useful weapon, especially incase of regional context. The measures that pakistan needs to take are to use 3D policy, of Disrupting, Dismantling and Destroying non state actors and put all state organs under Govt’s strict control so they cant create Mumbai like disastor and crisis. Apart from that, Pakistan should continue with its design to further its Missile capacities, and should take it to ICBMs because it will put pakistan among the Very Few countries with great deterrence.For Pakistan this world is too crazy to depend on China or any one else.Since, though unfortunately, we have become a security state so why not achieve the best.


  • Rajendra Kalkhande
    May 1, 2012 - 3:23AM

    How can India and Pakistan work seriously when Pakistan allegedly has no control over the so called non-state actors? Can Pakistan deliver on her promises? India has been in a difficult neighborhood for almost 1000 years. India has no options but be ready to face any eventuality. China and Pakistan threat can not be taken lightly as far as India is concerned. After 1962 Indians don’t trust China either on security matters. Unless there is genuine change inside Pakistan, things will continue this way.


  • Fighter
    May 1, 2012 - 4:00AM

    We are the the nucleus of Muslim Umah of the world and India is a Hindu majority counrty, therefore, the Advantage is with us. Secondly, We have set the precident of maintaining a very sucessful and peaceful relationship with the neighbours(Pak-China relationship), while on the otherhand India has the record of worst maintained relationship with rest of the world and so again advantage with us. Third, We are technologically way way advanced than India. It would take India atleast a decade to catch up to us in terms of Airforce Tecnology or Missile Techonology (Again, am talking purely about technology,not numbers), so the advantage again with us. The only advantage India has is the numbers, but I guess we can counter that with courage.

    Pakistan has to learn to get over India and need to look upto countires in Europe or like Japan.
    To reach higher we have to aim higher and better and not look down.

    I know, now Indian trolsl would start attaking me.


  • Khurram
    May 1, 2012 - 4:40AM

    The most disappointing decision in the PPP government is to abandon the launch of Satelite Launch Vehicle Program. It was a decade old program of SPARCO and Nescom and thanks to PPP they successfully ordered to close down the project. SLV was very vital as after SLV Pakistan could have the ability to launch any satellite in orbit with ease and without depending on others for the rockets at all. I hope next government after PPP will restart this project as PPP gov have no intention to start this project and Pakistan is now years behind and if PPP goverment will remain then Pakistan’s SLVs dream could never be fulfillled. While India fulfill this dream in 1980s and still no SLV is in sight for Pakistan.

    @Meekal Ahmed: He also mentioned launching of satellite and competition in satellites is always a better thing. Rather than the misslie race Pakistan can focus on Satellite and they will be beneficial to economy.


  • Arijit Sharma
    May 1, 2012 - 4:48AM

    @Meekal Ahmed: ” … India has 440 million people in poverty; while our poverty figures, while contested, … “

    To put the recent Agni V launch in perspective – current Indian Military budget is 40B USD. Amount spent on developing Agni V is 0.5B USD over 4 years – which is 0.125B USD / year.

    Given that technologies developed for Agni V will be re-cycled by the civilian space program, the 0.5B USD is sound investment for the future.

    Even the Communists in the Indian Parliament agree.


  • Roperia
    May 1, 2012 - 4:49AM

    General sir,

    A few quick points -

    1) You said in an interview to al jazeera that this missile had a range of 2500km to 3000km and its a tit for tat for India’s 5500km Agni 5 missile. It turned out the range was somewhere between 750km to 1000km.

    2) India is going to launch the Arihant (nuclear submarine with SLMBs) by the end of this year.

    3) India will have a two tier Ballistic Missile Defence tech by the end of 2013 for New Delhi and this will be followed by shielding other major cities.

    Where does Pakistan stand?

    1) Pakistan doesn’t have a space program.

    2) Pakistan’s ballistic missile technology closely resembles many old Chinese missiles, viz., M-9 and M-11 and it has been said that these are actually proliferated missiles.

    The next question to ponder for Pakistan is will China allow Pakistan access to nuclear submarines or SLBM technology. If Yes, there is some need for India to talk to China.

    Pakistan is not an technological country per-se. It has been propped first by US for its war on Communism and now by China to keep India bogged down in South Asia.

    US seems to have fed up with Pakistan. How long will China support Pak with these vital technologies remains to be seen? China has a balancing act of keeping India in check but not spoiling its $80 billion bilateral trade annually.


  • Hasan Awan
    May 1, 2012 - 4:57AM

    Pakistan is in a desperate need of Launch vehicles for satellites. The missile platforms for long range missiles could be used for Satellite launching. I hope Pakistan will modify their missile launchers for satellite launching capability.Pakistan should seriously start working on expendable launch system ( ELVs) and Reusable Launch vehicles (RLVs) as it could pave the way for Indigenous Satellite technology for Pakistan. The platform for ICBMs type systems should be evolved for Satellite launching. We don’t more missiles but we want Satellites for economic benefit right now.


  • Arindom
    May 1, 2012 - 5:37AM

    Typical Establishment view – as nicely put by Hillary Clinton – “Obsession with India”


  • You Said It
    May 1, 2012 - 5:49AM

    @Meekal Ahmed:

    India has 440 million people in poverty; while our poverty figures, while contested, as a percentage of our population, are probably not much better.

    What’s the point in objecting to missile development, when we don’t seem to mind our institutional support to terrorists like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani network. We have thousands of our citizens dying to support this state policy of using terror as a policy option, and we all get in the streets to support Difa-e-Pakistan and Hafiz Saeed. What’s the point in talking about poverty, when the poor are only used as a source of radicalized masses from which to recruit terrorists.


  • C. Nandkishore
    May 1, 2012 - 5:58AM

    Since North Korea’s missiles do not go beyond 750 km Pakistan’s missile range is 750km.


  • Naeem khan Manhattan,Kansas.
    May 1, 2012 - 6:12AM

    I wish the rest of Rawalpindi brass think like you do, As far as Americans are concerned, it is the height of hypocrisy to berate North Koreans and Iran but whimpers when it come to India. They should be reminded that it was India which started this nuclear race in the first place in the sub-continent. Now the strength of Pakistan lies in the progressive economy and education,education and education.well, unfortunately Pakistanis can’t really expect this kind of progress from this outfit in Islamabad.Please bring in the new blood to Islamabad and discard these worn out and spent rouges for a long long time to come.Thank you for your services to the nation.


  • Sonam Shyam
    May 1, 2012 - 7:38AM

    The author says,” If India were to develop a submarine launched version of the missile, it will also have a second-strike capability against Pakistan”. So does the author believe that India does not have the second strike capability against Pakistan now? India does not have a nuclear first use policy precisely because it is confident of a successful nuclear retaliation against the aggressor. Therefore India already has the second strike capability; the future submarine launched nuclear missile will only make India’s second strike capability totally foolproof.


  • Rationalist
    May 1, 2012 - 8:51AM

    @Meekal Ahmed:

    “When will this phoney bravado end so that we can turn to issues that really matter? “

    It will end the minute Pakistan stops being an aggressive revisionist militaristic power and stops its policy of using terrorism as a foreign policy tool against its neighbors.


  • Indian
    May 1, 2012 - 9:46AM

    To counter that, it is necessary to take certain stabilisation measures, both bilaterally and among the three countries. A case in point is a potential threat of militant attack in India and New Delhi reacting to it and all this leading to greater reliance on nuclear arms. For this reason it is important that India and Pakistan engage seriously in working towards improving crisis stability to help ensure that these missiles are never actually needed.
    Control the extremists in Pakistan and you will have no problem whatsoever in South Asia. To expect that India will not react to another attack in the same way as with the Indian Parliament attack and Mumbai attacks is stupid to say the least…..


  • Feroz
    May 1, 2012 - 9:50AM

    For any country to get into an arms race with another is an exercise in futility. Today Economic Power has greater value than Military Power so after building a credible deterrence resources should be allocated for development purposes.


  • Shahzad
    May 1, 2012 - 11:17AM

    I don’t know about Indians but I am quite embarrassed by your comment and as my name suggests I am from Pakistan. As Roosevelt said And he was one of the better US Presidents, USA should speak softly but carry a big stick, you my friend clearly belong to the other school of thought.


  • huzaifa
    May 1, 2012 - 12:07PM

    Dear General! I am really disappointed by lack of vision and by towing international thinking savvy line. The coming times will see the few nations entering into the space travel arena. Within a hundred years when all the fast depleting resources will vanish on earth, the race to harvest minerals at moon, mars and beyond will began. Only those nations will benefit who had sound and advanced space exploration programs. SIR ! any idea why India has launched a program to visit moon by 2012? i think tourism is not the answer. So, if we do not make a SLV then the first step towards the space exploration will remain elusive. To make an SLV, if you remember that every nation first made an ICBM. You want us to limit our options and by this your words will be remembered 100 years later once we will be sitting on our haunches looking at other’s rockets and space ships harvesting the planets.


  • Ak
    May 1, 2012 - 12:58PM

    Not really. India’s space program is decades old with SLV capability from 80s onwards. ICBM launch is only a recent phenomena.

    I think the author is right in his analysis.


  • abdulazeez
    May 1, 2012 - 1:39PM

    Pakistani defence scientists and engineers are best in the world ,even American ,Russian, French ,Israeli ,Chinese and Indian missile tests have some failures but each and every missile test in Pakistan was a great success. what a smart people………………………………………..(irony) its already tested in China and North Korea.


  • selina
    May 1, 2012 - 1:45PM

    I totally disagree with the author.
    Pakistan does need a mobile long range missile so that it also has second strike capability against India.
    And we need lots of them.
    This would also deter are potential enemies in the middle east (guess who that is? ).

    Only if we also have this second strike capability would India Pakistan resist going to war because of MAD(mutually assured destruction).

    And thus there would be peace in the subcontinent.


  • Hasan Awan
    May 1, 2012 - 1:48PM

    @Ak: Huzaifa is right in a sense that despite SLVs India is not able to succeed to launch totally Indian Made Launch vehicle for Geo Stationary Orbits. The Indian Program known as Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) has been failed many times in the past and still for geostationary orbits India dont have the adequate indigenous technology. ICBMs provide an important milestone in this regards to learn about important parameters. GSLV program of India is going to be tested this year only and then India will get the required results.
    I hope at least Our government will not stop the SLV project that is the initial step for launching satellites into Space.


  • Shoaib
    May 1, 2012 - 2:04PM

    It is very rightly pointed out by some people here that Pakistan should now focus on space technology now. Without orbital launch systems Pakistan is not going any where and we should start working on these projects.

    Also a requst to ET is to limit Indian trolls here as you are shunning many Pakistanis by this approach as these trolls simply overwhelmed with sarcastic remarks and they are here to poke fun at us and nothing else.


  • Swati
    May 1, 2012 - 2:15PM

    India became the biggest importer of Arms and has a defence budget that is twice the budget of entire Pakistan, so it is safe to say that the bankrupt Pakistan is FAAAAAAAAAAAR behind India in the arms race. India’s true target is of course China!


  • khalsa
    May 1, 2012 - 3:35PM

    technologically way way ahead? ok first manufacture even a rail locomotive on your own


  • Suresh
    May 1, 2012 - 3:40PM

    @Hasan Awan:
    Your knowledge of GSLV technology seems primitive..For your info, most important component of GSLVs are cryogenic engines and due to US blockage of that technology, India has been trying very hard to develop it locally and almost succeeded..Now as for ICBMs, India can use the now perfected PSLV (solid/liquid fuels) technology..Remember, India had 19th consecutive launch sucess of PSLV based satellite launch last week..I don’t anywhere in the world ICBMs uses cryogenic technology..


  • Hasan Awan
    May 1, 2012 - 6:53PM

    @Suresh: No my knowledge is not primitive at all and i stick to my point. Out of 7 tests of GSLVs 5 are a failure and you call it a success. It is expected that in 2013 GSAT-11 will be able to full fill some needs in April 2010 GSAT 4 was a failure and your cryogenic experiment failed. So go and study and then give me lectures about GSLVs. There is a difference in GSLV and PSLV and i dont have the time to give lectures in this regard.


  • us_roamer
    May 1, 2012 - 6:57PM

    Need of the day for India and Pakistan is to improve their people poverty level. Engaging in missile or any other war could leads to nothing but distraction.


  • observer
    May 1, 2012 - 8:53PM


    We are technologically way way advanced than India. It would take India atleast a decade to catch up to us in terms of Airforce Tecnology or Missile Techonology


    The world indeed was in the dark about all this. I am sure China and US must be learning Airforce Tecnology or Missile Techonology at your feet.

    No one else has TECNOLOGY and TECHONOLOGY of course.


  • V K Bajaj
    May 1, 2012 - 10:13PM

    @Mr Talat Masood

    You have PICKED (written) the PICK (topic) of SEASON (on time). Analysis has been done thoroughly in a neutral way – human life has been touched – even a goldsmith cannot weigh gold with such an accuracy level.

    You have said Pakistan cannot afford to be ready for WAR at the cost of economic growth. But I say even India is also economically not so strong but the threat from China enforces.

    USA and USSR have taken corrective measures to come out successfully from COLD WAR. Now this notorious COLD WAR is resting like a ‘shoulder monkey’ on China, India, Pak, Iran, Israel, South and North Korea.

    The present number of Atomic Bombs are sufficient to destroy the earth several times. The money spent and that would be spent has already dented social progress of all civilians.The arms developed to protect from a dreaded animals has itself become the most dreaded one.

    Still there is hope that the Govt.of China India and Pak would join hands to employ funds, allocated for arms, for social causes.


  • huzaifa
    May 1, 2012 - 10:23PM

    dear, the GSLV improved on the performance of the PSLV with the addition of liquid strap-on boosters and a cryogenic upper stage. It is a three-stage launch vehicle with the first stage being solid-propelled, the second liquid-propelled (with hypergolic fuels) and the final stage being liquid propelled as well (with cryogenic fuels). The solid first and liquid second stages are carried over from the PSLV. Early GSLV launches used cryogenic upper stages supplied by Russia. India originally tried to buy the technology to build a cryogenic upper stage from Russia, but under pressure from the United States, that technology was not provided. Therefore, ISRO developed the cryogenic engine used in the GSLV indigenously. Its repeated trials failed and till now the indigenous technology project has not proven reliable. Isn’t it a humbling experience for India. As for as Pakistan is concerned, our scientists believe in thorough computer simulation tests and never we have launched the missiles from the hip. That is the secret of success.


  • Shahzad
    May 1, 2012 - 11:04PM

    Indians are way ahead my question is so is USA with reference to Canada in armament s soRecommend

  • Cautious
    May 2, 2012 - 6:31AM

    A case in point is a potential threat
    of militant attack in India and New
    Delhi reacting to it and all this
    leading to greater reliance on nuclear

    If you allow militants de facto sanctuary then don’t be surprised if your held accountable for their actions — that my friend is the core issue that Pakistan somehow misses.


  • chattri
    May 2, 2012 - 12:51PM

    india launched a spy satellite ,http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/spy-satellite-risat-1-top-10-must-know-facts-202480 , surprisingly the pakistani sites didnt pick up this new’s.


  • Suresh
    May 2, 2012 - 7:17PM

    You talk more sense but the other gentleman confuses GSLV technology being used with ICBMs, so my reply targetted towards that..I know entire history becoz my father worked for ISRO in re-entry systems..When i say “almost” suceeded, they’ve built-up and tested several key sub systems required for cryogenic engines to be used in GSLV Mark-III..it’s only a couple of years away..Even China with their genious in reverse engineering couldn’t master this technology within 20 years..so it takes time..

    My point to the other guy is GSLV failures or partial sucess are part of mastering the cryogenic technology..this is NOT a pre-requisite for developing ICBMs which relies more on solid/liquid fuels which is perfected by ISRO via its PSLV program..

    @ Hasan Awan, you really need to develop some comprehension skills..neither you did understand nor you answered second part of my earlier reply..


  • Suresh
    May 2, 2012 - 7:26PM

    “As for as Pakistan is concerned, our scientists believe in thorough computer simulation tests and never we have launched the missiles from the hip”

    Please enlighten me how your civilian space program is improving by keep doing the computer simulations..Please read how other countries’ civilian space program evolved over test launches and repeated failures..Recommend

  • antanu
    May 29, 2012 - 8:05PM

    <p>@V K Bajaj:
    A very sensible approach to the issue….military might never make a country a sure power…take the sample of USSR.Its the people which make the difference.</p>Recommend

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