The short-range ballistic missile Hatf-IX (Nasr) was termed a “weapon of peace” by the Director General of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, Lt-Gen (retd) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, after its successful flight test. This year, Pakistan has conducted several tests of ballistic and cruise missiles that can deliver nuclear and conventional payloads at short and medium ranges.
Over the years, India had developed a doctrine to fight limited wars without crossing Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. India christened this policy as the Cold Start Doctrine. New Delhi has now started distancing itself from this doctrine and has replaced the moniker with the seemingly benign term, Proactive Defence Strategy. Some believe that India’s limited war thinking has been influenced by two phenomena. One, Pakistan’s 1999 attempt to retake territory in Kargil and internationalise the Kashmir issue. Two, conduct surgical operations to punish Pakistan for Mumbai-2008 type attacks, which it believes were not the deeds of non-state actors. Pakistan’s short-range ballistic and cruise missiles seek to deter India from contemplating war even if it has limited territorial and political aims.
The Western experience with short-range missiles brings up two concerns. One, these missiles pose challenges in command and control. Two, there is always a possibility that the use of short-range missiles would quickly escalate into a nuclear war. In Pakistan’s case, the control for these short-range weapons would presumably remain centralised and the orders to use them would emanate from the National Command Authority (NCA) that is chaired by the PM. The test of Hatf-VIII (Ra’ad) provided evidence that decision-makers at the NCA have the capability to effectively control all strategic assets with round-the-clock situational awareness in a digitised network centric environment. Indeed, short-range missiles increase the risk of nuclear war and this works as deterrent between rational adversaries.
If the reports about the successes in the flight tests of the short-range missiles were correct, Pakistan would logically follow up with simulated tests of different types of warheads these could carry. With technological prowess to build smaller warheads, Pakistan would inch towards making delivery systems for submarine platforms and multiple, manoeuvrable re-entry vehicles that could beat anti-missile defences. India is already experimenting with nuclear submarines and developing missiles for these. If Pakistan follows suit, both states would be deterred from a full-blown nuclear war.
It is ironic that Pakistan has to resort to developing weapons of peace. A Russian proverb captures the irony, doveryai, no proveryai, which roughly translates “trust, but verify”. While Pakistan would continue its efforts to build trust, it would not blink in keeping an eye on its adversary and reciprocate in developing weapons of peace.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2012.