News Pakistan turns to nukes in response to superior Indian armed forces

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by Mohsin Saleem Ullah

India’s upcoming purchase of the state-of-the-art S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia has raised the hackles in Pakistan, with the Imran Khan government expressing confidence in its ability to address “threats from any kind of destabilising weapon system.”

“We reiterate our commitment towards ensuring national defence in line with the policy of maintaining credible minimum deterrence and maintaining strategic balance in the future as well,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement last week. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a ruling party senator, said that it was his “firm conviction that this deal cannot deter Pakistan anyway.”

“I am well informed about Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, which are the latest and can surpass Indian technology,” Vankwani, a minority senator from the Sindh province, told National Herald.

According to Sweden-based nuclear watchdog Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Pakistan possessed more nuclear warheads than India as of June 2018. While India’s nuclear stockpile stood between 130-140, Islamabad had between 140-150 nuclear warheads, as per latest available figures.

Vankwani’s view on Pakistan’s “nuclear deterrence capability” is shared in the country’s powerful military and intelligence community.

Brigadier Dr Naeem Salik (Retired), who is currently a senior fellow at Islamabad-based Centre for International Strategic Studies (CISS) think tank suggests that, besides increasing the number of warheads, Islamabad must contemplate sourcing more missiles.

“The simplest response could be a quantitative increase in the number of missiles and nuclear warheads,” Dr Salik told National Herald. “Getting a similar system from Russia or elsewhere will not be appropriate because Pakistan will still need to make sure that its missiles reach their intended targets,” adds the Pakistan Army veteran.

The defence expert further disputes the argument that S-400 anti-air and anti-missile missile systems would be a “panacea” for India’s strategic insecurities, stating,

“Its (S-400) interception capabilities are being advertised as 50-77%. Even if it is 80%, it means that two out of every ten missiles fired will get through and in case of nuclear tipped missiles, that is enough to cause unacceptable damage. And then, there are a variety of counter measures available to beat such systems.”

Spelling out a more objective view of the prevailing mood in Islamabad over the ₹40,000-crore purchase of five S-400 missile systems, Umair Jamal, the correspondent for Diplomat magazine says, “India’s purchase is being seen in Islamabad as a threat to Pakistan’s security which should be countered.”

Despite calls in the Pakistan’s political and military establishment of ramping up country’s nuclear arsenal in response, Jamal notes that Islamabad didn’t have diplomatic or economic capital to match India’s purchase of the Russian systems.

“Pakistan neither has the resources nor the required diplomacy to match India’s induction of S-400 into its arsenal,” he says. Jamal believes that with the induction of S-400s, India would be able to “neutralise” any threat posed by Pakistan or China. “The region is expected to enter a new era of weapons race which doesn’t bode well for regional security in the long run,” he predicts.

Adds Jamal, “That said, one can argue that this major purchase may become a motivation that brings together Pakistan’s civil-military leadership when it comes to working on the country’s economy which is surely essential to match any emerging military threats, particularly from India.”

US Won’t Sanction India

Dr Salik, who has experience of collaborating with American forces from his military days, bills American threats of sanctioning India over the S-400 deal as “mere rhetoric.”

“The US won’t pursue any sanctions against India because it would not like to push India back into the Russian orbit and lose a lucrative market. There will be nothing beyond some statements and the Pentagon and Secretary of Defence have already favoured a waiver for India,” he notes.

He further predicts that the overall “strategic direction” of India-US relations would be “unaffected” by the S-400 deal.

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