By: Aasi Ansari, Research Analyst, GSDN
India-Pakistan border is one of the most vulnerable places in the world because of the nuclear capabilities in South Asia. India entered the nuclear arms race when first did the peaceful nuclear test in 1974, after the establishment of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968. India didn’t sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty because India claimed it was discriminatory towards them. Pakistan, on the other hand, tested nuclear weapon much later in May 1998, just days after India tested for the second time, and became a nuclear armed state. India did its second nuclear weapon testing after India adopted No First Use (NFU) policy, which declared that India would use weapon of mass destruction only if the state was attacked by nuclear weapon first by other nuclear armed country.
India has not signed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but it has Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD) and No First Use Policy (NFU), which has helped India to keep the nuclear weapon without any consequence. Pakistan has also not signed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and they don’t have No First Use Policy, infect they have First Use Policy in order to deter from India or any other nuclear threats. However, Pakistan keep nuclear warheads separately from the missiles and only assemble them if they are considered to be used.
India-Pakistan Border Conflicts
India and Pakistan had been at war multiple times since India got independence from the British empire in 1947 and Pakistan was created as a new nation. Thousands of people were killed in the separation in communal violence, resulting hostile environment between both sides for decades. India and Pakistan conflict was considered as the possible nuclear threats for the first time in the Kargil war in 1999, which happened nearly a year after both India and Pakistan had become nuclear armed states.
The possibility of the use of nuclear weapon was the closest between India and Pakistan in February 2019, when a terrorist group ‘Jaish-e-Mohammed’ attacked by suicide bomb car in the Pulwama region of the Kashmir Valley in India, killing nearly 40 Indian military personnel. India retaliated with air strikes near the Line of Control twelve days after the terrorist attack happened. Pakistan claimed that India staged the Pulwama attack to make an excuse to attack Pakistan for the political benefit. Although, this accusation war never proven more than a conspiracy theory. Pakistan also shot down an Indian aircraft and captured the pilot. This escalated the tensions between the nations. But two days later, Pakistan released the pilot back to India. However, in February 2021, both the nuclear state declared ceasefire on the borders. This decreased the tensions between them.
In the Pulwama crisis, India had indicated that they might reconsider its No First Use policy when the Defence Minister of India, Rajnath Singh implied that India might need to use the nuclear weapon first in the future. China believes that India’s ‘No First Use Policy’ has evolved to ‘No first use against non-nuclear weapon states’. Pakistan became active as well. Although, there has not been any nuclear escalations since Pulwama crisis in neither of the nuclear countries. However, nothing can be confirmed for the future.
The Global Nuclear Flashpoint
In 2000, American President Bill Clinton considered that Kashmir could transform into a “nuclear flashpoint”. All these nuclear countries are developing their nuclear program and try to increase the nuclear arsenal in order to deter from the potential nuclear threat. For instance, Pakistan have nuclear weapon to deter from India, India have it to deter from China, China have it to deter United States, and United States have it deter from Russia.
India don’t only have to deter from Pakistan but from China as well. There have been multiple military conflicts at Sino-Indian and Indo-Pakistani border, but only conventional arms were used. Both India and China has never used its nuclear capabilities to threaten each other but Pakistan has, since it entered nuclear arms race in 1998. Every time the leading global nuclear power had to intervene to handle the conflict for establishing peace. America supported Pakistan during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan with the military aid. Although, America was not actually supporting Pakistan, they were just fighting against Russia. These crises have highlighted the third party influence to the nuclear escalation in the border of India and Pakistan.
India’s nuclear arsenal is lower than the Pakistan’s and China’s nuclear arsenal. India having nearly 165 nuclear warheads and have 700 Kg of weapon grad plutonium to make up to 213 warheads by 2033. Pakistan tries to keep just a little more than India, i.e. nearly 170 warheads and have enough material to make up to 200 warheads by 2025. Much more than India and Pakistan, China has about 500 nuclear warheads and they are developing the nuclear program much faster and it is estimated to be up to 1000 warheads by 2035. However, China has signed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and have maintained No First Use Policy.
China has supported Pakistan in the previous wars between India and Pakistan. China’s increasing nuclear arsenal has raised concerns about the global security, especially in South Asia. The Biden Administration has declared that US currently does not need to increase its nuclear arsenal, despite China’s nuclear developments and Russia’s aggressive behaviour. China has refused to talks for any peace building or to stop the nuclear arms race, infact China has 60 more warheads in January 2023 compared to previous year. This might raise concerns in India and Pakistan in the future and both India and Pakistan might increase the number of nuclear warheads to deter for China’s potential nuclear threats.
Pakistan is estimated to have 106 warheads in six deferent types land based ballistic missile capable of nuclear payload. All of them are short range ballistic missiles. Pakistan has also tried to miniaturised nuclear missiles to make Multiple Independently Targeted Re-Entry Vehicles (MIRVs). Pakistan also have naval nuclear capabilities. Babar-3, a Sea Launch Ballistic Missile (SLBM), has been tested twice under the water. However, the completion of the development of Babar-3 has not been confirmed yet. Pakistan approved the purchase of 8 submarines from China, considered to be capable of carrying Babar-3 missiles. The F-16, Mirage-3 and Mirage-5 aircrafts are considered to be capable of carrying nuclear missile. Pakistan is estimated to have nearly 12 Mirage aircrafts.
India has nearly 64 warheads in four deferent types land based ballistic missiles capable of nuclear payload, 2 of them are short range, 1 is medium range and 1 is intermediate range ballistic missile. India has 1 ship-launched and 1 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), capable to be equipped on submarine but the nuclear capable submarine development in India has not completed yet. Mirage 2000H/I, Jaguar IS/IB and Rafale aircraft are considered to be able to deliver nuclear missiles.
It is considered that Pakistan has the nuclear power to use its own nuclear weapon in its own country in case of an invasion to kill the enemy force in the state along with killing of their own force. If Pakistan ever choses to use Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) they are most likely to use a small scale nuclear warhead with minimum destruction. But both the bordering states have to deal with the fallout and radiation contamination in the air, if it is used on the borders. Furthermore, even if the small scale low yield nuclear weapon is used, it could wipe out approximately 20 million people, depending on the population of the destroyed area and nearly 2 billion people will die, if the nuclear winter is triggered.
Just like America supporting Israel right now have raised concern of possible support to Pakistan against China or even India. It is less likely to happen but not impossible. The history of Pakistan being against India is long but the probability of India responding against Pakistan is much higher in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership. All these possible scenarios have the potential to lead to nuclear flashpoint and start the nuclear war in the world or at least between the nuclear armed states.
India have to maintain its nuclear diplomacy throughout the world to deter from Pakistan or any other possible nuclear threats. The possible way to avoid nuclear conflict for India and Pakistan and all the nuclear armed countries is to engage in to a serious dialogue to establish peace and take confidence building measures. All the nuclear states should stop or slow down the nuclear missile development program in order to reduce the nuclear weapon grade material stockpile resulting the reduction of warheads. However, many scholars believe that India-Pakistan border as a nuclear flash point might be a myth, due to the Geopolitical and environmental consequences Pakistan and India have to face. Nevertheless, both India and Pakistan should consider signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty to pledge to use nuclear power for peaceful purpose only.