Both India and Pakistan started their nuclear weapons quest in earnest in the early 1970s, both reached weapon capability around 1990 and both became overt nuclear powers in May 1998. But the parallelism largely ends there. There are major differences in the objectives pursued and the strategies adopted by the two countries to develop their weapon capabilities and to exploit them. India had developed its capabilities partly to counter inimical countries posing nuclear threats to it and partly to resist the second-class connotation that the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was seeking to impose on it. Pakistan wanted nuclear weapons primarily to neutralize India’s superior conventional capabilities. Unlike India, Pakistan had also sought and secured clandestine help from foreign sources. These and resultant downstream differences in strategies, organizations and postures have led governments, opinion moulders and publics at large to view the other side’s nuclear programme with greater than warranted suspicion and anxiety. The two countries’ record of unremitting hostility dotted with open and clandestine wars has added to this. So has, in India’s case, the effective control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal by the Pakistan Army. These, in turn, have inhibited the kind of creative thinking needed to improve nuclear confidence building and political relations.
Since it has been published only from India, the book being reviewed is aimed mainly at Indian readers. Authored by a retired Pakistan Air Force officer with good professional and writing credentials, it has covered the nuclear thinking of the two sides in an unbiased manner. The issues highlighted and the positions taken are generally logical and balanced. He points to the fact that while Pakistan has made known its nuclear command and control system in greater detail than India, it has not unlike India revealed its nuclear doctrine and suggests that it do. He has drawn attention to the fact that Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA) is dominated by the military although it is headed by the head of government.This is certainly true of the Development Control Committee (DCC) of the NCA whose members are all military. The Employment Control Committee (ECC) which is chaired by the Foreign Minister has a better balance between civilian and military members. But this is of little consequence because all its inputs come from the country’s powerful Strategic Plans Division (SPD) which also controls the nuclear forces. He points out that the SPD is not just all-military but it is also all Army with no representation from the Navy and the Air Force. He has suggested that the civilian representation in the NCA should be increased and that civilians as well as air force and navy should be substantively represented in the SPD.
These suggestions—publishing Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine and making the SPD more broad-based—are ones that will be strongly endorsed in India. But the chances of their adoption in Pakistan even under a civilian government is virtually zero for both historical and security reasons. This is an important reality that the author has not chosen to delve into. The reason Pakistan has not revealed its doctrine is its wish to retain maximum flexibility with regard to both development and employment of nuclear weapons. In this respect Pakistan’s logic and position are not different from that of other nuclear powers except India and China which have abjured First Use of nuclear weapons. Being a disadvantaged nuclear power in terms of both conventional forces and geography Pakistan’s wish not to foreclose First Use is understandable. As for the dominance of the Army in nuclear decision-making through the NCA and SPD one needs to examine how it has come about, which the author has not done.
Although it was Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who initiated the nuclear programme in 1972, it has been dominated by the Army since Bhutto was ousted in 1977. In the following years there have been two decades of effective military rule—1977–88 under General Zia-ul-Haq and 1999–2008 under General Musharraf. During the 11 years between the two military rulers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had two spells each as Prime Minister but they had no control over or even full awareness of nuclear matters. Apart from the scientists, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, a veteran in nuclear affairs and trusted by the Army, was the only civilian (till he left in 1993) who had a say in nuclear matters. During the post-2008 civilian rule too the civilian leadership has played no noteworthy role in nuclear matters. It was under Zia’s rule that Pakistan effectively acquired both nuclear and long range missile capabilities and the Pakistan Army acquired control over them. And it was during Musharraf’s time that the current organizational structures of NCA and SPD were set up.
The organizational arrangements in both developmental and employment areas were loose when Musharraf took over. A.Q. Khan’s black market operations were in full swing with undoubted support from the ISI and other elements in the Army. Musharraf had to clean this up for the security and safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal which had become a global concern. The creation of the SPD was the key step in addressing this problem. The SPD, entirely Army-staffed but outside the army’s professional chain of command, has total control over all Pakistan’s nuclear activities. It has no parallel elsewhere. It controls all strategic development programmes, all nuclear plans and operations, all strategic forces commands, nuclear security arrangements at all levels, strategic communications, and international interactions in nuclear matters.The SPD’s performance under Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai (Director General 1999–2013) has been impressive, and Kidwai and the SPD are largely credited with allaying once rampant global fears about Pakistan’s arsenal.
The Army’s domination of the NCA is a different matter and there is danger in it. But it should be recognized that the danger of nuclear war emanates from levels much deeper than that of the NCA. It essentially starts from the Army’s domination of the country’s foreign, defence and intelligence policies. The Pakistan Army has rarely demonstrated political sagacity. The wars of 1965, 1971 and Kargil all started from the Army’s misconceived actions. Now that Pakistan has become a nuclear power and is determinedly engaged in upgrading and expanding its warhead and missile arsenals, the danger from the Army’s narrow worldview has become even more serious.
The book’s main weakness is that it has brought out no information or discernment beyond what are already well known. There are several good books on this and related subjects published in the US. There are many well researched books from India too. In Pakistan’s case there are two quality books containing a great deal of information. Brigadier Feroze Hassan Khan’s Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb (2013) is the gold standard book on the subject, with Brigadier Naeem Salik’s The Genesis of South Asian Nuclear Deterrence: Pakistan’s Perspective (2009) a close second. Both these books, helped no doubt by their authors’ long tenures in the SPD, have been able to present information and perspectives that are not readily accessible. The present book falls short in this area. The book’s other (lesser) weakness is that with its five sections, 29 chapters and a profusion of headings, it reads somewhat like a military manual.
Verghese Koithara is the author of Managing India’s Nuclear Forces, co-published in 2012 by Brookings Press, Washington DC and Routledge India, New Delhi.