By Talat Masood

Pakistan and India are once again in news for testing their advanced missile capabilities. Pakistan made a qualitative jump in defence technology by testing its first prototype mediumĖrange, surface-to-surface ballistic missile. What was unique about it was that it carries multiple warheads and has a maximum range of 2,200 km. This will strengthen our nuclear capability, as it will qualitatively improve prospects of survivability- a crucial element in nuclear deterrence. This is no mean achievement considering that it does make the adversaryís defence more problematic and is a forward step in the race to keep pace with India. Especially considering that only US, Russia, China, Britain, France and India posses this technology. But this is an unending race because India tries to match Chinaís nuclear build-up and Beijing has its eyes primarily focused on the US and on Russia. If we go by President Trumpís statements during the election campaign that he has an ambitious plan to modernise the nuclear arsenal. And who knows with such uncertainty surrounding President Trumpís policies he may well revoke some of the nuclear bedrock treaties and agreements with Russia.

We also cannot ignore the reality that when it comes to Indiaís nuclear prowess the world powers turn a blind eye. India recently tested the 5,000-km range ballistic missile and the US had no problem with it as it is supposed to counter Chinaís missile development. In contrast, the US governmentís and mediaís response to Pakistanís testing of the submarine launched cruise missile Babar-3 was very negative. Although the rationale for Pakistan is to develop a second strike capability. It would, however, take a decade before Pakistanís triad capability would be operationalised. The main objective of Pakistan developing Babar-3 is to possess a credible second-strike capability (and fortify its first strike capability) that is sea based, somewhat similar what other major nuclear powers have done in the past. Of course, it is an expensive affair to maintain a triad but Pakistan as in the past has sacrificed a lot to maintain a credible defence against India and likely to do so in the foreseeable future.

Whilst India is being encouraged to develop and operationalise its triad for Pakistan there is clearly a different yardstick. For the US it is primarily a part of its global strategy to build Indiaís nuclear and conventional capability to partially offset Chinaís growing strategic power. It is with full blessing and support of the US that India last year was able to join the Missile Technology Control Regime. The same motivation to build India against China is also true for Japan, Britain and most of the Western countries. In sharp contrast, Pakistanís request for joining the MTCR continues to be denied on one pretext or the other. India by being a member of the MTCR enjoys the benefit of having access to high-end technology and will be able to buy components for its missile programme. The fact that China is not a member of the MTCR there was no opposition to Indiaís membership. Indiaís defence minister last year stated that it would be in the countryís interest to abandon the policy of No First Use. By developing a fairly comprehensive Ballistic Missile Defence system in which it had considerable help from Israel and tacit support of Washington it feels confident that it need not pursue the doctrine of NFU. In any case Pakistan has never taken Indiaís stance on NFU seriously, as it was liable to be altered any time by those in power.

China by design is discreet and keeps silent about Indiaís nuclear programme. The pressure by the US and the West in general is directed essentially on Pakistan. The line of argument advanced is that Pakistan is not internally stable and the militant outfits like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Tayaba and TTP pose a danger to the safety and security of its nuclear arsenal. Pakistan has taken very stringent measures to ensure the safety of its arsenal and is taking very positive steps to neutralise these forces. However, if India continues to brutally crush the genuine indigenous Kashmir resistance movement then despite Pakistanís best of intentions incidents could occur. Several incidents in the recent past have taken place in India-held Kashmir that were totally indigenous in nature and Indian security forces failed to prevent them. The answer clearly lies in a political dialogue between India and Pakistan and between the Kashmiris and the Indian government.

It was a long awaited but a right decision to ban the organisations that have militant wings and promote insurgency in Kashmir particularly the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and arrest its top leadership. After these actions there is no justification on the part of India to refuse dialogue. Failing to engage enhances the danger of a conflict between the two nuclear neighbours. Moreover, by not talking to Pakistan, India raises the profile of the radical forces in and outside Kashmir. What is most worrying that another terrorist attack irrespective of its origin could lead to a dangerous confrontation and forceful retaliation with its attendant hazards. The US strategic community and the West deliberately or otherwise overlook this aspect.

We have to wait and see what policy does the new Trump administration takes on Pakistanís nuclear issues. In all likelihood it would be more a continuation of the past policies with minor changes in emphasis. In any case India will not accept any role of the US in the Kashmir dispute. South Asia currently does not seem to be high on the priority list of President Trump.

But President Trump is keen on engaging in a nuclear arms race and had suggested during his election campaign that he would like Japan and other allies develop their own nuclear capability.

On the one hand President Trump wants to improve relations with Russia and does not consider it a threat and on the other plans to keep strengthening US nuclear capability. May be it is directed towards China and also to please the defence establishment that supported him during elections.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2017