Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, a deterrent against India, but also United States ?

April 9, 2011


Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have been conceived and developed as a deterrent against mighty neighbour India, more so now when its traditional rival has added economic heft to its military muscle. But Islamabad may also be holding onto its nuclear arsenal  to deter an even more powerful challenge, which to its mind, comes  from the United States, according to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led President Barack Obama’s 2009 policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan and the United States are allies in the war against militancy, but ties have been so troubled in recent years that  some in Pakistan believe that the risk of a conflict cannot be dismissed altogether and that the bomb may well be the country’s  only hedge against an America that looks less a friend and more a hostile power.

Last year  the Obama administration said there could be consequences if the next attack in the West were to be traced backed to Pakistan, probably the North Waziristan hub of al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups.No nation can ignore a warning as chilling as that, and it is reasonable to expect the Pakistan military to do what it can to defend itself.

Riedel  in a piece in The Wall Street Journal says Pakistan’s army chief Ashfaq Kayani may well have concluded that the only way to hold off a possible American military action is the presence of nuclear weapons on its soil and hence the frenetic race to increase the size of the arsenal to the point that Pakistan is  on track to become the fourth largest nuclear power after the United States, Russia and China. 

Last month’s military action in Libya, the third Muslim nation attacked by the United States in the ten years since 9/11, can only  heighten anxieties in Pakistan. Indeed Libya holds an opposite lesson for Pakistan’s security planners. This is a country that gave up a nuclear weapons programme - ironically assisted by Pakistan’s disgraced nuclear scientist A.Q.Khan – under a deal with the West following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.   Suppose for a moment that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had held on its nuclear weapons, would there have been air strikes then ?

Indeed none of the three countries attacked by the United States had nuclear weapons including, as it turned out, Iraq although the whole idea of invading it was to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction.  You could further argue that this perhaps is the one reason why the United States hasn’t taken on North Korea because of its advanced nuclear programme with a bomb or two in the basement.

Kayani and the generals have therefore concluded the only reason the United States may hesitate to use force against Pakistan, should ties break down completely,  will be because of the 100-odd weapons it has. It only makes sense to expand it further to make the Americans think twice before launching an action.

But such nuclear brinkmanship  cannot come without consequences of its own, and one of them will be India reviewing its nuclear posture. A Pakistan battling a deadly Islamist militancy and beset with economic difficulties but on a fast track to expand its  nuclear weapons programme is a nightmare scenario. Riedel says India has exercised restraint on its weapons program me, but seeing an acceleration in the Pakistani efforts, it may well step up production of its own.

Some people, of course, argue nuclear weapons are really not a numbers game. How does it matter if you have 100 weapons when you can just as easily blow up your enemy with a quarter of those ? What is more critical is command and control of these weapons, as the Indian National Interest blog points out.

Pakistan. in addition, sees the window closing once the world moves on an agreement on fissile material cut-off treaty which it has been resisting all along. But once that agreement is in place and a lot depends on the United States, then theoretically it will have to cease fissile material production  needed for weapons.  

India, by contrast, can use its domestic reserves of nuclear material  should it require to expand its arsenal, now that it has been allowed import of nuclear fuel and technology under a landmark agreement with the United States. Pakistan sought a similar deal but was denied, because of among other issues its record of nuclear proliferation.

(File picture of Ghaznavi ballistic missile)


The Pakistani decisions to increase nuclear weapons make sense only from a military point of view. The military sees its threats, and makes plans accordingly. The legitimacy of those threats is up for debate.
However, the plan is flawed. I believe Pak has reached the critical number of 50-60 WMDs that is needed to ensure its safety against India or someone else. Furthermore, Pak has reasonable delievery systems.
The question that is not being asked is, what is the return for every new weapon built. I believe that as you increase the # of nuclear weapons, the rate of return of benefits they provide decreases. Nuclear weapons provide safety. Pak has got it, however, what will suffer because of the increase is economy, social structure, and political stability. The nightmare the author talks about will hit the Pak people first and not the percieved enemies first. This just shows that decisions are being made from the Army’s POV but the results are being felt by the whole nation.

Posted by rainydays | Report as abusive

Hmm, the USG issues a threat to retaliate against Islamist militants and PAKMIL vows to defend “itself”? How telling …

Posted by AlaninDC | Report as abusive

Pakistani military fighting a war on terror is the biggest joke here. This is like a huge drug cartel controlling an entire South American country becoming a fore front organization to fight a war on drugs.

It is the United States that helped Pakistan acquire the nukes by blocking all means to prevent it. Pakistan could have been contained from getting to this stage if the American policy makers had any principle.

It is all going to result in massive death and destruction before an end is seen.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive


We regard reuters as one of the most respected sources of news and journalism. But this article disappoints me through and through. It is just a waste of space but no news. Is it a secret that Pakistan is holding onto its nukes. Improve your standards of journalism and please not waste our time.

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive

Actually, the numbers of the weapons is a hedge against the possibility of a successful preemptive strike against them. Any competent general will want more reserves of anything than what is “adequate” in the estimation of amateurs.

Posted by Adam_Smith | Report as abusive

There is no doubt that nuclear weapons are a deterrent against attack, specially against those who have conventional military superiority otherwise. Pakistan is certainly making full use of the nuclear option to safeguard itself from an attack from any source. Indian, US, NATO, China, Israel – whoever.

Certainly too, the US or anybody else for that matter is going to be specially wary if it ever launches a full scale attack against a nuclear armed adversary, no matter how small the inventory.

That is the worrying part, it is an added inducement to become a nuclear power. Finally some trigger happy lunatic will surface somewhere, sometime and then there is going to be mayhem.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

It is very difficult to understand the underlying reason of the author to paste this article on this prestigious blog. The author has definitely not sad anything which can be contridicted. Pakistan leaders have all along been wrong to form a sound judgement about the American administrations of the past, however, it would be a fatal mistake to trust the current USA administration with too many clintonians and whose head is sitting in the State dept. No wonder Bob Gate is no longer needed.Pakistan alliance with China and and familiarity with the nuclear armed missiles is more reliable than any ficticious friendship with the USA current administration. Now that the bad guys have left Afghanistan terrain and gone back to the Arabian and Maghreb lands, the USA is likely to advance their departure from south east asia sooner than planned.
The epicentre of the armed conflicts has moved to the middle east. It is time that leaders and people of south east asia return to normality which they have not witnessed in the past half a century and more.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Once a wise man was asked, “why aren’t you as successful in government as your predecessors”. He replied,”Because, I was their adviser and you are my adviser”.

In this time of information technology (as a whole and not just computers), dis-information is also a great weapon. Fifty or two hundred nukes, I am sure, “the only good nuke that Pakistan has is the one like Cuban had in 1962″.

I tend to disagree that Pakistan and USA will ever go against each other. However, their relationship may not be ideal during certain times. Some arrogant US-officials have compromised a good relationship between the two countries due to their ignorance. Not mentioning China, I am sure, as long as Muslims exist on this globe, US and rest of the West will need Pakistan for one or the other reason.

Where India is needed for China, there Pakistan is needed for India and vice versa. Why would US weaken any of the players who will do their dirty laundry later on?

Posted by NBokhari | Report as abusive

Pakistan is an islamic republic. Not an islamic fundamentalist/anti india/anti U.S nation.
It is plagued by these fundamentalists recently as they were caused to move across the border after the afghan invasion which the U.S “DID”…
Pakistan has way less than even a hundred nukes. Let alone ” hundreds of nukes…” as you suggest. As if that matters…
The U.S is not Pakistans father or fairy god mother…far from it actually. The most ridiculous idea anyone can give to the U.S after what they have ‘done’ since and including 9/11… is to ‘do something’…
If they want all the crap in the world to stop and for their own good…they really need to stop doing everything they r doing… stop invading n masterminding unrest in islamic nations worldwide… they will give u cheaper oil if u ask nicely… ;)
Nukes r not the only reason the U.S doesnt dare attack pakistan.
Around a 150,000 u.s soldiers’ supplies for survival, food, and 86% of fuel for all their needs in Afhganistan is coming from Pakistan. If Pakistan holds those few routes for even 2days…the entire allied force will be out like a candle.
Kindly get ur facts right before you go on posting them ona global platform.
Other people like yourself who ignore facts and rely on their limited and inaccurate info might get even further misled.
Stop believing only what u see on the news or ona website. Do ur research independently, ull b surprised what extra details start surfacing for everything which u were never told by the “authorities” and on the news.
Peace bro…

Posted by Sabeeh739 | Report as abusive

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