Yaum-e-Takbeer: Day of Deterrence

Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia played a significant role to avert full-scale wars

Zubaida Abbasi May 27, 2024
The writer is an independent research and policy analyst with keen interest in strategic dimension of nuclear and space technologies. She can be reached out via LinkedIn


Pakistan commemorates the 26th anniversary of Yaum-e-Takbeer on 28 May 2024. On this day, Pakistan became a nuclear weapon state by conducting nuclear tests as a Quid Pro Quo Strategy in response to Indian nuclear brinkmanship and saber-rattling post Pokhran-II. It was a watershed event in history that strengthened Pakistan’s defence and reinstated strategic stability in South Asia.

Since independence, India had been consistently exploiting the asymmetry in conventional forces against Pakistan to its advantage. Dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 and Indian nuclear tests of 1974 further exacerbated our insecurity which catalysed pursuance of our nuclear programme. In the same regard, former Ambassador Zamir Akram has also mentioned Indian ambitions and reflections of its officials in pre- and post Pokhran-I events in his book, The Security Imperative; Pakistan’s Nuclear Deterrence and Diplomacy, published in 2023.

Brig (retd) Feroz Hassan Khan in his book, Eating Grass, published in 2012, quoted the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, “We are fighting a thousand-year war with India, and we will make an atomic bomb even if we have to eat grass.” The statement reflected the resolve of Pakistan’s leadership to pursue a nuclear programme and shield the nation from any external aggression. The declassified CIA documents substantiated Pakistan’s threat spectrum by revealing that following the pattern of undermining Pakistan’s sovereignty, Indira Gandhi, the then Indian PM, planned a military confrontation primarily to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in 1981.

On 11 May 1998, India once again conducted a series of tests at the Pokhran range. Pakistan was particularly alarmed by the tests as Indian government had been making increasingly bellicose statements about Pakistan. The Washington Post of 19 May 1998 quoted then Indian Home Minister LK Advani as saying that “Islamabad should realize the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world, [and] roll back its anti-India policy, especially with regard to Kashmir.” He added that “India’s nuclear weapons status had brought about a qualitative new stage in Indo-Pakistan relations and that India would deal with Pakistan firmly.” Realising the increased aggressive posture, Pakistan was compelled to opt for Chaghi-I to display its capability and resolve and restore strategic stability in South Asia.

Despite Pakistan’s declaration of credible minimum nuclear deterrence, India continued to explore the possibility of waging a limited war against Pakistan. New Delhi devised Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) later refined into Pro-active Operational Strategy (PAOS) and designed to: (i) find space for limited war under the nuclear overhang; (ii) cripple Pakistan’s economy; (iii) damage Pakistan’s war machinery; (iv) embarrass Pakistan’s defence forces; and (v) isolate Pakistan diplomatically.

In response, Pakistan introduced New Concept of War Fighting (NCWF) in the conventional domain. While it followed the development of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) that were translated into Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) in the non-conventional domain. Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the then Foreign Secretary, addressed a press conference in Washington DC in Oct 2015 and warned India: “Pakistan is fully capable of answering any aggression from India as it has developed short-range tactical nuclear weapons.” He added that “Pakistan knew how to show India the right path as it has developed small tactical nukes to convert any adventure into misadventure.”

India, under the ploy of false-flag operations, orchestrated Pulwama attack in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force soldiers were killed in a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device suicide attack. On this pretext, Indian Air Force undertook a failed airstrike inside Pakistan from across the Line of Control on 26 February 2019. In retaliation, the PAF responded with a Quid Pro Quo Plus strategy the following day and shot down two IAF aircraft during Operation Swift Retort while capturing Indian Pilot Wing Cdr Abhinandan. Nonetheless, showing great restraint, Islamabad returned the Indian pilot as a peace gesture. The Quid Pro Quo Plus response sent a clear message to New Delhi that Islamabad’s defence should not be meddled with. In March 2022, Pakistan again showed strategic restraint by not retaliating militarily when India fired the BrahMos missile that landed inside Pakistani territory. Similarly, Pakistan detected Indian submarines which were trying to sneak into Pakistan waters and cautioned them to return to Indian waters, unharmed. These actions by Pakistan established its commitment to peace and stability as a responsible nuclear weapons state.

Events unfolding during the last 26 years reveal that India has been consistently acting as net security spoiler of the region. The statement of former US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, at the University of Oklahoma in 2011, as reported by BBC News confirmed India’s irresponsible and provocative attitude towards Pakistan as he said “India has been using Afghanistan as a ‘second front’ against its old rival Pakistan. India has over the years, financed problems for Pakistan in Afghanistan.”

Taking the aforementioned accounts into consideration, it is evident that India continued to create crises in the region while responsibility to maintain strategic stability in South Asia fell to Pakistan. Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, former DG SPD, also mentioned in his keynote address at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) London in 2020 that “in the strategic stability-instability paradigm of South Asia, it has become Pakistan’s responsibility to ensure that strategic stability will not be disturbed to Pakistan’s disadvantage at any stage despite India’s consistent efforts to swing the pendulum towards instability.”

Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia played a significant role to avert full-scale wars. Time has proven that Pakistan’s decision to conduct nuclear tests was inevitable to safeguard the country and preserve national interests. The Pakistani nation reflects upon the efforts made by countless individuals, scientists, engineers and brave soldiers who worked tirelessly to make this momentous achievement a reality. Their dedication and commitment transformed Pakistan into a country capable of ensuring its freedom and maintaining a peaceful environment for its citizens.

May 28th – a Day of Deterrence is a reminder that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is the result of persistent and unwavering resolve of the Pakistani nation and its leadership. It serves as a day to acknowledge that freedom has no price and must be guarded. While commemorating Yaum-e-Takbeer, the people of Pakistan also pledge that all forms of threat against the country will be dealt with befittingly, be it conventional or non-conventional, and under no circumstances the sovereignty of Pakistan will be compromised.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2024.

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