As the world remains focused on preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, South Asia’s dangerous nuclear rivalry—between India and Pakistan—grows ever more deadly. General Khalid Kidwai, a top advisor to the Pakistani government, said this week that Pakistan needed short-range tactical nuclear weapons, also known as “battlefield nukes” to deter nuclear archrival India.
Kidwai said that “having tactical weapons would make war less likely,” at a conference on nuclear security organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Kidwai administered Pakistan’s nuclear and missile weapons program for fifteen years.
Pakistan’s tactical weapon development includes the Nasr Missile, which has a range of around 37 miles (60 kilometers) and reflects concerns in Pakistan that “India’s larger military could still wage a conventional war against the country, thinking Pakistan would not risk retaliation with a bigger nuclear weapon.”
Pakistan especially fears and aims to neutralize India’s “Cold Start” doctrine, a type of blitzkrieg that aims to advance fast enough into Pakistan to seize key installations before a retaliatory nuclear strike.
Unlike India, which has a no first use nuclear doctrine, Pakistan has repeatedly said that it would retaliate against India with nuclear weapons if enough of its territory were lost. Tactical nuclear weapons would also neutralize Indian forces on the battlefield, even in Pakistan itself, and would seriously disrupt India’s tactical maneuverability.
India has criticized Pakistan’s stance on battlefield nukes. Rakesh Sood, former Indian special envoy for disarmament and nonproliferation, said it was "extremely destabilizing for any country to develop tactical nuclear weapons" and that India had no plans to do so. He also argued that Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is “cloaked in ambiguity,” undermining confidence between the two countries.
Despite Kidwai’s assertion that such weapons would make war unlikely, Peter Lavoy, a former U.S. defense official questioned if “whether such intermingling of conventional forces and nuclear weapons in a battlefield could increase the risk of nuclear war.”
Kidwai’s statement is in line with Pakistan’s recent aggressive expansion of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is a major cause for concern for the rest of the world, amid fears that its weapons can fall into the wrong hands.
Kidwai, however, rejected this and insisted that adequate safeguards were in place. However, Pakistan’s aggressive expansion of its nuclear capacity could continue to make South Asia a much more dangerous place, escalating tensions with India. Earlier in March, Pakistan tested a Shaheen-III missile, which has a range of about 1,700 miles. This would enable Pakistan to hit any part of India with a nuclear warhead, while also placing Israel within range.
Shahid Latif, a retired commander in the Pakistani Air Force, said that “now, India doesn’t have its safe havens anymore.” According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Pakistan actually has more nuclear weapons—120—than India (110). This is despite its more meager resource and economic base, and in line with the famous statement made by former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972, that “even if we have to eat grass, we will make nuclear bombs.”