India could launch a pre-emptive first strike against Pakistan if it feared a nuclear attack was imminent, a leading nuclear strategist has suggested.
This first strike, however, will not be aimed at urban centres and conventional targets but against Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal. The strategic assessment is in clear contrast to New Delhi’s ‘no-first strike’ policy of 2003.
“There is increasing evidence that India will not allow Pakistan to go first,” Vipin Narang, a nuclear strategist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said at a conference on nuclear policy hosted by Carnegie, a think tank, on Monday, according to the Hindustan Times.
“India’s opening salvo may not be conventional strikes trying to pick off just Nasr batteries (launch vehicles for Pakistan’s tactical battlefield nuclear warheads) in the theatre, but a full ‘comprehensive counterforce strike’ that attempts to completely disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons so that India does not have to engage in iterative tit-for-tat exchanges and expose its own cities to nuclear destruction,” he said.
Relations between the neighbours are at the lowest ebb since the attack on Indian military base of Uri in occupied Kashmir last year. Following the attack, India claimed to have carried out ‘surgical strikes’ against militant launch pads in Kashmir, which were denied by the government, as well as the military.
However, in February, both countries extended a bilateral pact, dealing with reducing the risk of nuclear weapon-related accidents including a war, for a period of five years.
Narang cited recent remarks and policy prescriptions from leading Indian strategists and a book by Shivshankar Menon, who oversaw nuclear targeting for India as National Security Adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Narang also quoted Menon as telling Ajai Shukla, a defense analyst with Business Standard, that “India’s nuclear doctrine has far greater flexibility than it gets credit for”.
New Delhi declared the ‘no-first strike’ policy, undertaking not to start a nuclear war in a neighbourhood packed with nuclear actors such as China and Pakistan.