NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s refusal to rule out use of nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict with India and the military’s belief that a nuclear deterrent allows it to pursue terrorism against India sharply reduces the possibility of a civil nuclear deal with the US that imposes constraints on Islamabad’s atomic arsenal.
Pakistan’s ambiguous nuclear doctrine that does not make it clear just when the nuclear option could come into operation is rooted in a belief system that the weapons are the only means of countering India’s larger armed forces.
The threat to use “tactical” or battlefield nukes is supported by elaborate arguments based on conveniently edited history, a dire interpretation of Indian intent and far fetched comparisons with Nato strategies during the cold war.
Given the military’s belief, shared by elite opinion including strategic affairs experts, that nuclear weapons are part of a triad comprising regular military and anti-India jihadi groups, there is hardly any likelihood of Pakistan agreeing to reduce or contain its armoury to a size that answers to a strategic deterrent.
Pakistan’s reference to jargon like “full spectrum” deterrence amounts to a determination to use its nuclear weapons as a means to prevent India from using military options in response to terrorist attacks.
This interpretation of deterrence – of using nuclear weapons to prevent retaliation for terrorist attacks – is uniquely Pakistan’s and has nothing in common with cold war doctrines that the military frequently quotes.
India’s argument that any attempt to buy off Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is not only not likely to work but may be counter-productive is bolstered by the Nawaz Sharif government’s inability to chart a policy on its own.
Having buckled to the military’s insistence that Pakistan pitch Kashmir to the top of its engagement with India in order to take the focus away from terrorism, the Sharif regime has even less elbow room on any nuclear deal.
Though the Pakistan army has been, on the whole, spectacularly unsuccessful in achieving any of its objectives with regard to Jammu and Kashmir, the dispute remains a key rational for maintaining nuclear arms.
The Kashmir dispute serves to block any real progress with India even if it is quite evident that the most intractable aspect of bilateral ties isn’t the best starting point and that cooperation on terrorism might actually make the region safer.