ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s military leadership has advised president Asif Ali Zardari to take back his statement made last month that his country would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict with India.
A source in the government said the political leadership was briefed in detail by the military on the need for and use of the nuclear option. The president and the prime minister were reportedly told by the all-powerful men in khaki that Pakistan should not wait for India to strike first with nuclear weapons. Instead, Pakistan should decide when to use the weapons of mass destruction in a conflict with India.
The generals reportedly told the political top brass that it makes sense for a country like Pakistan, with limited nuclear resources and limited ability to fight a conventional war against a much larger adversary, to retain the nuclear option. An ambiguous posture, they said, would keep the adversary in check.
The generals said Pakistan’s first-use option would offset India’s superiority in conventional weapons.
On November 22, Zardari had surprised Indian observers and shocked the political establishment in Pakistan with his bold declaration abjuring the first use of nuclear weapons and calling upon India to work with his country on a region-specific treaty on nuclear use.
Four days later, terrorists from Pakistan attacked Mumbai, negating all the progress made at improving ties.
It remains a matter of conjecture when, if at all, Pakistani strategists would decide to pull the nuclear trigger. The army’s best bet is to deter India from a conventional war with the threat of possible first use of nuclear weapons.
Since the edifice of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence rests on this option, the strategists believe Islamabad’s nuclear weapons credibility had become suspect because of Zardari’s commitment that it would be used only in response to a nuclear attack.
The strategists are of the view that using nuclear weapons after losing a conventional war would be suicidal. So they have asked the political leadership to allow using the nuclear option in the following eventualities: a) India attacks Pakistan and conquers a large part of its territory (space threshold). b) India destroys a large part of Pakistan’s land or air forces (military threshold). c) India proceeds with the economic strangulation of Pakistan (economic threshold). d) India pushes Pakistan into political destabilisation or creates large-scale internal subversion (domestic threshold).