Mansoor Ahmed & Maimuna Ashraf
India and Pakistan completed 20 years of overt nuclearization last year. During these two decades, Pakistan achieved several milestones required to qualify as a modern nuclear weapon state. These include establishment of an elaborate command and control structure; enforcement of export control regulations and a robust nuclear security architecture; development of a strategic triad, expansion of fissile material stockpiles, modernization of weapon designs and missile capabilities, and unprecedented expansion in the nuclear energy program. These accomplishments can be attributed to a centralized command and control structure which allowed an efficient synergy of resources, expertise and innovation amongst the different strategic and research organizations. Prior to the formation of the National Command Authority, nuclear decision-making was largely fragmented and suffered from bureaucratic politics resulting in inefficient and sometimes undesirable outcomes. Nevertheless, the external security challenges have continued to propel the development and modernization of Pakistan’s strategic program, before and after the nuclear tests.
Nuclear weapons have dominated the international system since 1945 and now the world is on the verge of the Third Nuclear Age. These weapons have served to prevent the outbreak of large-scale world conflict since the end of the Second World War. Their possession has also proven to be an insurance against external aggression for those states who chose not to be deterred from the pursuit of nuclear capabilities, while others who either failed to acquire or gave up their quest for the bomb had to pay dearly, as was the case with Iraq and Libya. Major Nuclear Weapon States continue to invest heavily in modernizing their existing conventional and strategic arsenals and capabilities.
But given the emergence of advanced conventional weapons and emerging technologies, nuclear weapons on their own cannot offer a fool-proof means of assured deterrence. While the world is on the verge of the Fifth Industrial Revolution, South Asia is witnessing the onset of the Third Nuclear Age with a new Revolution in Military Affairs on the horizon, thanks to India being the largest net importer of conventional arms during the past decade, accounting for 12 % of world’s total imports. India has earned the unique distinction of securing arms imports worth tens of billions of dollars from all the major high tech weapon suppliers including Russia, the United States, France, South Korea, and Israel. It has managed to achieve this largely due to its sustained economic growth, huge market potential and strategic realignment with the United States and European allies in their shared vision of containing China’s rise as a world power.
Pakistan is directly affected by these rapidly shifting international alliances and finds itself at crossroads of the end of the so-called New World Order, characterized by multipolarity and great power competition. The country’s strategic program therefore retains its centrality to maintaining an effective and credible deterrent against a wide array of Indian origin external threats. While the concept of deterrence itself is becoming multifaceted and dynamic, it is assuming new connotations such as Complex and Cross Domain Deterrence which are dependent on several interdependent variables, of which the acquisition of high technological base and a strong technology-driven economy is the key. China and India have embraced the new technological revolution and economic reform as a pathway to growth and success.
Pakistan is unlikely to receive the kind of waivers and exceptional concessions offered to India. Given its limited resource and economic base, limited indigenous R&D base, and technological apartheid, Pakistan will have to meet its requirements through joint ventures, collaborative research projects,and co-production of military hardware with friendly states, coupled with technology transfers as a prerequisite for big ticket military items. China, Italy, South Africa, and Turkey have come forward as reliable partners in this regard. These partnerships have the potential to offset technology denials and possible sanctions. Nevertheless, other untapped suppliers include Russia which offers huge potential for defense and economic collaboration.
Pakistan’s strategic program has primarily succeeded due to indigenous efforts spanning several decades of a dedicated national effort. It is now largely insulated from the effects of technology denials and its scope and direction will be determined by the need to maintain a credible deterrence against the Full Spectrum of Threats against an adversary that is seeking capabilities for achieving Full Spectrum Dominance during Full Spectrum Conflict. India is likely to gain access to every available non-nuclear weapon system that the United States and its allies have to offer, including emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Cyber, Space, electronic warfare, fifth generation fighter aircraft, lasers, and the latest iteration of mature conventional platforms and force-multipliers. This is likely to completely unravel the already exacerbating arms race instability in South Asia which will directly affect crisis stability. It will also contribute to pre-emptive and first-strike temptations against Pakistan. It is obvious that Pakistan on its own cannot meet the unprecedented challenges of Cross Domain Deterrence, flowing from sharp and accentuating asymmetries of national power with an India that is being propped up as a world power by all major Western countries.
Fortunately for Pakistan, it has on its side China with which it has had an enduring and unfettered strategic partnership that is now being buttressed through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. However, Pakistan will have to diversify its economy and exports, harness its untapped youth bulge and demographic advantage, address its chronic misgovernance, fragile economy, and domestic stability challenges to fully exploit the opportunities offered by China’s Marshall Plan. It will also have to devise and deploy innovative, proactive and far-sighted foreign, defense and domestic governance policies that take into account the lessons and mistakes of the past.
This is only possible through reforms in governance structures and institutions such as the civil bureaucracy and bridging the gap between the intelligentsia, academia and civil society with the country’s ruling elite. The existing decision-making structures will require reforms for arriving at wellinformed decisions that strengthen national integration and contribute to the strengthening of national power. Military capability or foreign assistance, or bandwagoning with a regional ally alone cannot compensate for the lack of a national direction. Resolve is required to meet the rapidly evolving challenges of a technology driven twenty first century. It is essentially a race against time and Pakistan cannot afford to lose either time or resources to meet a plethora of economic, military, diplomatic challenges. Many other nation states faced with much greater adversity have managed to accomplish economic and technological revolution. Pakistan too can do it if its people and leadership wish to see themselves as a modern and prosperous nation that is integrated in the world economy with all the attendant political, geostrategic leverages commensurate with the country’s real potential and destiny.
Dr. Mansoor Ahmed is a Senior Research Fellow, and Maimuna Ashraf is a Research Officer at the Center for Strategic International Studies, Islamabad.