Pakistani jets perform over long-range ballistic Shaheen III missiles during the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2016. Pakistan National Day commemorates the passing of the Lahore Resolution, when a separate nation for the Muslims of The British Indian Empire was demanded on March 23, 1940. / AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI

Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

The enduring enmity, strategic competition, and arms race dynamics have gradually advanced India and Pakistan nuclear arsenals. The former’s sophisticated military hardware shopping spree from militarily technologically advanced nations, Ballistic Missile Defense program, and Cold Start Doctrine have increased the latter’s reliance on its indigenous nuclear weapons capability and forced it to modernize its nuclear-capable delivery vehicles. It also obliged Islamabad to transform its ‘Minimum Nuclear Deterrence Posture’ into ‘Full Spectrum Deterrence Posture’ and the institutionalization of nuclear-triad to deter the coercive military strategy of New Delhi.

For the past two decades, the strategic balance between India and Pakistan has restrained belligerent neighbors from catastrophic total war. Though the strategic equilibrium prevented lethal interstate conflict, yet it has failed to mitigate differences between them. The confidence-building measures and frequent Track-II diplomacy ventures have not culminated in the constitution of arms control agreement between India and Pakistan. Moreover, the apathetic approach of New Delhi towards Islamabad’s nuclear restraint regime proposal and its prospective Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) program has propelled the modernization of Pakistan’s nuclear capable-delivery vehicles.

Pakistan’s struggle to solidify its defensive fence to prevent its arch-rival’s military aggression resulted in the evolution of Full Spectrum Deterrence and also the completion of the nuclear triad. Simultaneously, these developments have generated interest in the characteristics and nature of both posture and the nuclear triad of the country. Admittedly, the Strategic Plans Division, the Secretariat of Pakistan’s National Command Authority maintains strict secrecy about its nuclear weapons potential, yet spelling out the likely nature of its nuclear posture and addition of new weaponry in the nuclear arsenal is discernible.

Indian strategic pundits conclude that India’s modernized military machine would enable New Delhi to successfully pursue its political objectives through a limited conventional war doctrine – Cold Start – without permitting it to escalate to a total war with Pakistan. They are skeptical about the efficacy of Pakistan’s minimum nuclear deterrence posture aimed at deterring Indian aggression through the employment of deterrence by punishment. Given that this minimum nuclear deterrence posture has limitations, Pakistan has modified its nuclear posture based on the transformations in Pakistan’s strategic environment. On September 5, 2013, Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA), announced: “Pakistan would continue to adhere to the policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence, without entering into an arms race with any other country. Pakistan, however, would not remain oblivious to the evolving security dynamics in South Asia and would maintain a ‘full spectrum deterrence’ capability to deter all forms of aggression.” The Full Spectrum Deterrence simply put relies on the interplay of conventional, strategic and tactical/battlefield forces.


Pakistan’s full spectrum deterrence policy was further enunciated by the former DG SPD Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai (Retd) on December 6, 2017 when he pointed out that full spectrum deterrence policy guides the development of Pakistan’s nuclear capability, which brings every Indian target in Pakistan’s striking range. Consequently, Pakistan is developing a “full spectrum of nuclear weapons in all three categories – strategic, operational and tactical – with full range coverage of the large Indian land mass and its outlying territories” including Nicobar and Andaman Islands. Importantly, India has been raising a command at these Islands, which immensely affect the strategic environment of the Indian Ocean. Secondly, Pakistan is manufacturing “appropriate weapons yield coverage and the numbers to deter the adversary’s pronounced policy of massive retaliation.” Third, Islamabad wants to have the “liberty of choosing from a full spectrum of targets, notwithstanding the Ballistic Missile Defence, to include counter-value, counter-force, and battlefield” targets. Importantly, despite the development of battlefield weapons, there is no pre-delegation of command that is in place. Thus, the operational control of the deployed battlefield weapons remains centralized.

New Delhi’s Cold Start doctrine and the possibility of a re-think on the NFU policy obliges Islamabad to move towards credible second strike capability. Nuclear deterrence can only have teeth if the state has a fully operational nuclear triad that includes the ability to deliver nuclear warheads to the target from ground, aerial and submarine-based platforms. Pakistan completed the last leg of its nuclear triad with the development of Babur-III cruise missile. It is a submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) having a range of 450 kilometers and the ability to deliver various types of payloads including nuclear warheads. On March 29, 2018, Babur-III was tested from a submerged platform off Pakistan’s coast in the Arabian Sea. It used underwater controlled propulsion. According to the ISPR: “The missile incorporates advanced aerodynamics and avionics that can strike targets both at land and sea with high accuracy.” Pakistan Navy currently does not own nuclear-powered submarine. It, however, has five French-built Agosta 90B-class submarines that are powered by diesel-electric engines. Pakistan Navy is likely to place nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on these submarines. In the nuclear parley, submarine-launched nuclear weapon is viewed as the most survivable second strike capability in the event of adversary’s devastating first strike.

Pakistani nuclear establishment is mindful of India’s Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) program despite its unreliability and are determined to advance their ballistic and cruise missiles inventory. On January 24, 2017, Pakistan conducted successfully the test of its new medium-range, surface-to-surface, ballistic missile Ababeel employing Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) technology to deliver multiple conventional and nuclear warheads. Ababeel’s range is 2,200 kilometers – three times the distance between Islamabad and New Delhi – having the capacity to engage multiple targets and thereby it would be very lethal for the Indian BMD shield. MIRVs enable Pakistani strategic forces to engage multiple targets with high level of precision. In that respect, Michael Krepon and Travis Wheeler rightly suggest that “if New Delhi decides to absorb the costs of ballistic missile defenses for high-value targets, along with the radars to accompany BMD deployments, these expenses will be in vain.” Ankit Panda similarly asserts that “a MIRVed Pakistani strategic capability may stand as a powerful deterrent to India’s retaliatory capabilities, freeing Pakistan up to use battlefield nuclear weapons as a war-terminating strategy without concerning itself with escalation to the strategic level.”

Pakistan’s military doctrine predicates on the synchronization of its conventional and nuclear weapons capability. Thus, Pakistan’s emerging nuclear posture is aimed at deterring both conventional and nuclear aggression as well as nuclear blackmail from the East without getting embroiled in a costly arms race with India by modestly modernizing its nuclear arsenal.

Full spectrum deterrence posture verifies dynamism and adaptability of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine to the emerging trends in its strategic environment to deter India’s limited war doctrine (read Cold Start) by augmenting both deterrence by punishment and denial.

Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Associate Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.