The nuclear battlefield, the expensive and sterile barren lands that are between India and Pakistan, are littered with words rather than irradiated casualties. It is much to be hoped that equilibrium is maintained, but the war of words and the jockeying for position never ceases, rises and falls in cadence, and drains the resources of both countries. The current issue at the top of the nuclear agenda in Pakistan is the maintenance of proportionality rather than parity, and Pakistan is looking for survivable second-strike capability.
Conferences to discuss this delicate balancing act tend to have ponderous names that are indecipherable other than to the cognoscenti, thus the ‘South Asian Nuclear Doctrines: Deterrence Equilibrium and Strategic Stability’ seminar at the United Nations Strategic Visions Institute (SVI) in Geneva has been hearing from a former Pakistani ambassador to the UN, Zamir Akram. He has advanced the argument that true workable deterrence only comes with second-strike capability which is currently being developed by Pakistan. He also expressed fears that India could be developing the capacity to make a disarming strike against Pakistan which would completely destroy all our nuclear assets in one fell swoop and render second-strike survivability/capacity either impossible or irrelevant.
This is not nuclear academia musing to itself idly, there are real and dangerous possibilities within the argument and given the martial phase that India is currently in the nuclear equations bear re-examination. Hugely expensive as it may be Pakistan cannot afford to relax its nuclear guard, and destabilising doctrines such as ‘Cold Start’ undermine deterrence stability. There was a note of cautious optimism at the seminar, and Dr Zafar Nawaz Jafzal of Quaid-i-Azam University posited that both India and Pakistan currently lacked the ‘proficiency in decapitation’ ability and that both countries are aware of the appalling losses that would be suffered in the event of the failure of deterrence. Trust is at a low ebb, the tensions today very real and the academics in Geneva bear our close attention.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2017.
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