|Nuclear Use Consequences For
India’s then Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes, speaking in the context of Pakistani nuclear rhetoric during the stand-off between the two states in 2001-02 said, "[India] could take a [nuclear] strike, survive and then hit back. Pakistan would be finished." His statement conveyed the Indian leadership’s resolve to bolster credibility of India’s nuclear deterrent, as also reassure its military that it would never fight from a position of disadvantage. The use of the term ‘finished’ is interesting in that it is unambiguous. It brings out clearly what would occur should Pakistan resort to nuclear ‘first use’. This paper dwells on the meaning of ‘finished’ in the context of an India-Pakistan nuclear encounter. At a minimum, discussion on the shape of post nuclear conflict Pakistan would strengthen deterrence. While military reflection has attended nuclear war, political possibilities that open up have not found mention. Doing so is necessary to have a road map available were the admittedly unlikely event to come to pass.
Nuclear optimists would have it that India’s nuclear deterrence would hold, particularly as the Pakistani Army is a rational organisation and has much to lose by resorting to nuclear weapons. It would stand to lose not only the war but also its place in Pakistani polity post war. Therefore, even the ‘last-resort’ Samson option is not entirely credible, for at that late stage nuclear weapons could only have a vengeance value. Thus, while nuclear scenarios cannot be ruled out in future conflict, there is a strong possibility that the possibility of being ‘finished’ may see the nuclear taboo intact at the end of any such war. However, the initiative being with Pakistan and war dynamics being an uncertain realm, the outcome of nuclear exchange(s) are worth a pause.
India’s doctrine is one of ‘massive’ punitive retaliation to ‘first strike’, with first strike generally equated to ‘first use’ in the Indian nuclear lexicon. Even if Pakistan was to employ nuclear weapons in the most circumspect and non-provocative manner, India has promised to exact ‘unacceptable damage’ in return. Whether this would be through a ‘massive’ attack is debatable, since doctrine is meant to inform strategy and not substitute for it. A doctrine of Assured Retaliation does not necessarily imply Assured Destruction. Nevertheless, retaliation would inflict ‘unacceptable damage’.
A favoured example of non-provocative nuclear use is a nuclear strike on a tactical target in a defensive mode on its own territory, perhaps a sector with least amount of collateral damage. This does not however imply ‘tactical use’, in that nuclear use would not be to influence a battle situation as much as to influence war termination efforts of the international community, energised by the break in the nuclear taboo. In such a circumstance, whatever the quantum of India’s response in terms of numbers and tonnage, cumulatively the effect would be on Pakistani territory. Thus even in this lowest level of nuclear use scenario, Pakistan and its people stand to suffer as a result. In case the strikes are on non-Punjabi territory, then the minority populations would be justifiably aggrieved as to call for a change in the political order centred on Punjab and its Army. Since the military controls the National Command Authority, the military would bear the onus. Post-conflict there would be a reckoning that would assuredly displace the military from its perch atop the state apparatus. In a scenario of Indian nuclear restraint, Pakistan would not be quite ‘finished’, but the guardian status of its Army would certainly be so. This would be to Pakistan’s long term benefit.
In case Pakistani nuclear first use is higher on the scale of ‘opprobrium quotient’ – a term devised by former Chief of Army Staff General Sundarji – then the violence of India’s response would almost certainly be higher. This would not only be so because it would be justifiable, but also because of the anger such a strike would evoke and the need to deter and end further Pakistani misadventure. Clearly, in such a situation, balance of the conflict would witness expansion in the aim of the conflict to at the minimum regime change and at a maximum the temporary eclipse of Pakistan as a state. Since it would be unwise for India to permit a state that has violated its security in such a manner to continue, political and constitutional innovation in expanding India to include Pakistani territories cannot be ruled out. While the effect of a higher order nuclear exchange on India would be considerable, Pakistan would be in worse shape. Being smaller, the damage would be proportionately greater. An international effort would be necessary to mitigate the calamity. Being the occupying power India would require leading such an effort, even as it addresses the damage it has itself suffered.
Thus there are two connotations to the term ‘finished’. In the first involving lower order nuclear use, post-conflict Pakistan would be very different with its Army cut to size by its own people, angered in the manner it had chosen to defend them. In the second instance, in case of higher order nuclear use, India should contemplate ending the independent existence of Pakistan. That the latter would involve expansion in Indian aims to reorder Pakistan is obvious.
However, the former – lower order use – would require a more nuanced response. The recommendation here is that in such a case – that is the more likely manner of nuclear use by Pakistan – India should ensure regime change and an irreversible end to Pakistan’s status as an ‘NWS’. This does not necessarily require the Indian military to continue the fight in nuclear conditions since running the nuclear risk may not be warranted. Ending the risk finally for the future should instead be attempted. Concerted internal and external pressures need to be mounted to deliver the NCA to international justice. This would strengthen the international legal order, end the hegemony of Pakistan’s Army in Pakistan and place India unambiguously as the sole regional power.