Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai, head of Strategic Plans Division, briefs Pakistan's NCA on "full spectrum deterrence"
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Sept 13
On Monday, leaders of major Pakistani opposition parties will join Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at his residence, for an all-party meeting on national security threats to that country.
According to Pakistani media reports, the military will brief the political leaders on the national security situation, after which they would discuss solutions to Pakistan’s external and internal security threats.
It remains unclear whether the meeting aims to generate a political consensus for tackling domestic terrorism in Pakistan; or to obtain political endorsement of the early use of nuclear weapons in any war with India; or both issues.
That Pakistan’s military has lowered its nuclear threshold --- i.e. the point at which nuclear weapons would be actually used --- was confirmed on Sep 6, when Mr Sharif was briefed at a meeting of the National Command Authority (NCA), Pakistan’s apex politico-military body, on the need for “full spectrum” nuclear deterrence against a more powerful Indian military.
A statement after the meeting said: “Pakistan would not remain oblivious to evolving security dynamics in South Asia and would maintain a full-spectrum deterrence capability to deter all forms of aggression.”
Nuclear strategists worldwide have interpreted this to mean that the Pakistan Army would use tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) --- specifically the Nasr missile, with a range of just 60 km --- against any attack by India’s quick-reaction battle groups under the so-called “Cold Start” doctrine.
Under this doctrine, which has been publicly downplayed by New Delhi, India’s military is getting equipped, structured and trained to punish any future 26/11-style terrorist outrage that originates in Pakistan with lightening strikes by Indian mechanized battle groups. Pakistan’s “full spectrum deterrence” involves halting these battle groups with strikes by TNWs (counter-force targeting), in addition to the traditional deterrence provided by longer-range missiles that would strike Indian cities with nuclear weapons (counter-value targeting).
The use of TNWs involves additional risks, since this involves pre-positioning these short range nuclear weapons with army field formations, risking their use without central authorisation, or their falling into the hands of jihadi groups.
Nawaz Sharif’s briefing by the National Command Authority last Thursday was triggered by a Sep 3 report in The Washington Post that highlighted ramped up surveillance by US intelligence of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and bases. US spies were especially worried about TNWs like the Nasr being taken over by jihadis.
But that meeting, called by Mr Sharif to ascertain whether Pakistan’s nukes were safe from US prying, ended up endorsing the use of TNWs, a dramatic policy shift that has never been fully debated in Pakistan.
At least one respected Pakistan commentator, Cyril Almeida of Dawn, publicly wondered whether Mr Sharif has understood that his outreach to India has been severely undermined by his (perhaps unwitting) endorsement of TNWs.
On whether India would take Mr Sharif at face value any longer, Almeida notes: “A clueless prime minister or a complicit prime minister — neither look any good.”
The all-party meeting will also need to reconcile the politicians’ wish for dialogue with militant groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP); with the military’s decision to continue operations against them.
Before Mr Sharif became prime minister, he vigorously supported dialogue with jihadi groups. On Feb 28, at a major opposition meeting in Islamabad called by Fazl-ur-Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Mr Sharif promised talks with the militants through a grand tribal Jirga.
Last week, a meeting of corps commanders on Sep 4 reportedly decided to continue with operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), regardless of any dialogue process with the militants.
The most vocal advocate of talks with the jihadis, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, will reportedly meet with Mr Sharif, the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa’s Chief Minister Parvez Khattak before the all-party meeting.
Also on the discussion agenda would be Baluchistan, which has been roiled by an intermittent insurgency that peaked in 1948; 1958-59; 1973-77; and since 2004. Last week, General Kayani stated that no military operations were taking place anywhere in Baluchistan. He also said that work had stopped on the construction of three army cantonments in Baluchistan.
Amongst the leaders invited for the meeting are the National Assembly opposition leader Syed Khurshid Shah, Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Dr Farooq Sattar, JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and Jamaat-i-Islami Chief Munawar Hassan.