As if the list of trials for Pakistan was already not long enough, another challenge has popped up. On May 15, India successfully test fired its acclaimed, indigenous supersonic interceptor missile as Advance Air Defence, which is a product of the missile interception technology, to destroy an incoming hostile inter-continental ballistic missile in mid-air in an endo-atmospheric (short range) altitude (i.e. below 100 kilometres, within the earth’s atmosphere). After 11 failures, this was the 12th test that finally yielded fruit for India. With that, in South Asia, India heralded the era of constructing an anti-ballistic missile defence shield to protect its air from the entry of any nuclear-armed ballistic missile.
It was the Kargil war of 1999 that afforded India with an opportunity to make the US rethink its policies towards South Asia, the region where two nuclear giants, India and Pakistan, had locked horns with each other over the issue of Kashmir. Reportedly, during the war, both India and Pakistan deployed their nuclear-armed ballistic missiles (titled under various local names) against each other in case a full-fledged war erupted. India became able to convince the world, and especially the US that this time India was not only the victim but also it was exposed to a military nuclear foray from Pakistan into its controlled area. At that time, the preference of the world was to obviate a nuclear war between the two embattled neighbours. The US asked India to exercise restraint from launching any counter-offensive on Pakistan across the Line of Control (LoC) or the international border, as India’s retaliation could have spiralled the situation into a nuclear conflict with Pakistan not desired by the US. India submitted to the request. In the post-war phase, when Pakistan was celebrating its perceived victory over India, the US had been offering India a 10-year defence pact called the New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship (NFDR). The pact was concluded between India and the US in July 2005. The pact offered India the facility to acquire an anti-ballistic missile defence system. The pact was not only an expression of strong US-India bilateral ties — which were already in the process of consolidation in the post-Cold War era — but it was also a signal for ending the practice of offering Pakistan parity with India. With that, in South Asia, the balance of power tilted in favour of India. Similarly, through taking the first step towards developing the defence shield, India has enhanced its self-defence ability. With that the balance in South Asia is disturbed.
The history of South Asia depicts that here peace is enforced through the fear of nuclear strike. Pakistan used nuclear deterrence to strike a balance with its nuclear neighbour in South Asia. Nevertheless, for the time being — and though this method is pregnant with self-destruction — Pakistan can value its doctrine of using tactical nuclear weapons to be used on its own land (for a limited nuclear strike) in case Pakistan’s any area is invaded by Indian army under the Cold-Start Doctrine, which India adopted in 2004 to counter Pakistan’s asymmetric wars through non-state actors from across the border. Reportedly, F-16 fighter planes bought and flown by Pakistan are incapable of carrying a nuclear weapon to drop in case war breaks out with India. The ballistic missiles Pakistan developed somehow over the years are no doubt capable of carrying nuclear warheads, but these missiles have now become useless against India, which is on the itinerary of developing an anti-ballistic missile defence shield along its border.
In this way, there are certain implications for Pakistan regarding India’s anti-ballistic missile defence shield. First, the defence shield has rendered the concept of minimum credible nuclear deterrence — which Pakistan imposed on South Asia through developing and testing its strategic nuclear weapons — insignificant. Secondly, the defence shield has undermined Pakistan’s first nuclear strike competency or option and instead, the defence shield has boosted or even restored India’s second nuclear strike capability. Thirdly, the defence shield has relegated Pakistan to taking refuge once again in its near-abandoned idea of looking for strategic depth in Afghanistan. Fourth, the defence shield gives India some space to maneouvre whenever Pakistan launches its alleged asymmetric war against India. Fifth, the defence shield reinforces the numerical strength of the Indian army and affects the future of Kashmir.
India’s anti-ballistic missile defence shield poses another dimension of implications for Pakistan. It is that Pakistan has to look for buying its own anti-ballistic missile defence shield from the countries ready to sell it. The two nearest options to buy any such technology could be China and Russia, though their quality of missile interception technology may not be a match for that of the US. The third option could be the US itself; however, prospects for this option are bleak because the same US-India pact, the NFDR, allowed India to enter into a nuclear energy deal with the US. The energy deal later matured in 2008 as the 123 Agreement. Pakistan kept on agitating against the nuclear energy deal and requesting the US to have one such deal with it too but to no avail. When the US has not paid any heed to Pakistan’s requests on nuclear energy deal, it is obvious that the US will not listen to Pakistan’s entreaties for providing it with the anti-ballistic missile technology. Lately, the US has refused to subsidise eight F-16 planes that Pakistan wanted to buy. Collectively, these points show that Pakistan is currently not on the preference radar of the US.
In short, the anti-ballistic missile defence shield has not only shifted the initiative of launching a nuclear strike into India’s hand but it has also brought the initiative of introducing a conventional war into India’s hand. Similarly, the defence shield has not only reduced the options with Pakistan to launch an asymmetric war with India but it has also brought Pakistan back to square one where Pakistan has to fortify its defence afresh.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org