By Yossef Bodansky(1) The growing tension along the Indo-Pakistani border bodes the possibility of a major regional crisis and even war. Starting mid February 1996, there has been an escalation in cross border shelling and other clashes directly involving the armed forces of both Pakistan and India. Artillery and small-arms duels are becoming increasingly intense, lasting a few hours at a time. More over, the border sectors where clashes take place are expanding southwards, now including both the hot and contentious northern border sectors such as Kashmir and the glaciers as well as the usually quiet border zones in Punjab.
The potential danger lies in the Pakistani strategic context of these clashes. Islamabad manages the escalation of the current crisis in accordance with a strategy in which issuing a nuclear ultimatum constitutes the key to Pakistan's ability to unilaterally contain the crisis at the desirable level. Islamabad is convinced that the mere threat of approaching the nuclear threshold will prevent India from seizing the strategic initiative and military dominance of events, permitting Pakistan to escalate the crisis at will without the fear of meaningful Indian retribution. Given the penchant of Mrs. Bhutto's Islamabad for brinkmanship and crisis generation as a deviation from domestic collapse, the escalatory potential of the present cross border clashes is already a most dangerous situation.
Significantly, this Pakistani nuclear doctrine -- the use of a nuclear ultimatum as an instrument of unilaterally containing Indian retribution -- has been pursued by all governments in Islamabad since the early 1990s. Already on August 23, 1994, during a visit to Kashmir, Nawaz Sharief, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, declared that Pakistan was a nuclear power. "I confirm Pakistan possesses the atomic bomb," he stated. He then warned India that an attack on Pakistan could trigger a nuclear war. Further more, Nawaz Sharief anticipated an escalation of the crisis over Kashmir because of India's refusal to surrender Kashmir to Pakistan.
Nawaz Sharief is perhaps the most authoritative Pakistani to confirm the nuclear power status of Pakistan, but he is not the first. The importance in Nawaz Sharief's statement is that it compels Mrs. Bhutto's Islamabad to be more forthcoming and honest about Pakistan's evolving nuclear build-up and national strategy. Indeed, most important is the recent evolution of the Pakistani nuclear strategy as its arsenal kept growing.
The current world view of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto's Islamabad is a direct continuation of the vision of her father -- Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The political vision of Mr. Bhutto was crystallized as a historical legacy of the 1971 dismemberment of Pakistan. The new Pakistan must base its policy on Islamic character and look westwards -- to the Hub of Islam -- for identity and belonging. He considered Central Asia an extension of the non-Arab Muslim World that Pakistan would bring with it to the Hub in order to expand its non-Arab component. The active support for the armed liberation struggle in Kashmir was defined by Mr. Bhutto as a major way of proving and demonstrating Pakistan's commitment to Islamic solidarity and values. Extremely close strategic relations with the PRC, including Beijing's strategic guarantees and assistance in the development of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, were considered the foundations of Islamabad's ability to deter an inevitable clash with the US and a possible war with India. Mr. Bhutto stressed that the US is inherently hostile to Islam because it refused to accept the drastic changes in world order advocated by the Muslims. Indeed, Mr. Bhutto's military nuclear effort was motivated as much by the determination to deliver the Islamic Bomb that would make Pakistan a Muslim World leader, as by the need to counter-balance India's military nuclear program. The validity of these principles has been stressed repeatedly by Mrs. Benazir Bhutto as of the fall of 1993.
Pakistan was looking into the acquisition of nuclear weapons since the early-1960s. After Pakistan's defeat in the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto vowed to retain a strategic balance with India, including the development of nuclear weapons, at any cost. "If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. We have no alternative," he said in 1965.
But it took the humiliating defeat of 1971, when Indian forces occupied Eastern Pakistan and transformed it into an independent Bangladesh, to truly commit Pakistan to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Mr. Bhutto assembled Pakistan's leading scientists in a tent in Multan in January 1972 where he delivered a passionate speech about the shame of defeat and how imperative it was for Pakistan to have nuclear weapons. Bringing up what seemed a note of caution, Mr. Bhutto pointed to a higher objective when he explained that "this is a very serious political decision, which Pakistan must take, and perhaps all Third World countries must take one day, because it is coming." Pakistan was thus committed to a national crash program to have an Islamic Bomb.
The Pakistani nuclear weapons program really took off in 1974 when Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan returned to Pakistan from Europe and convinced Mr. Bhutto that he could build him a bomb within 6-7 years and a logical budget. Moreover, in 1976, Mr. Bhutto secured the PRC's agreement to support the Pakistani military nuclear program with expertise, ranging from scientific and technological assistance all the way to actual weapon-design know-how. Using Chinese weapons' technology, Dr. Khan laid the solid foundations of the Pakistani nuclear weapons.
General Zia ul-Haq rose to power in the 1977 military coup. It was during his 11-year tenure that Pakistan became a nuclear power and defined a coherent nuclear strategy. The military that seized power in 1977 was opposed to the nuclear weapons program, fearing the impact of the drainage of resources. However, there was a widespread recognition that nuclear weapons were Pakistan's only viable deterrence against an Indian conventional onslaught. Some strategists even urged the recapture of Kashmir under a nuclear umbrella. Zia became committed to the nuclear option as a last resort instrument to save Pakistan "with whole world against him," an argument made by Agha Shahi, then the Foreign Minister.
Moreover, Zia saw in the acquisition of nuclear weapons a key instrument to break Pakistan's isolation and transform it into the leader of the rejuvenating Muslim World. In July 1978 he outlined his perception: "China, India, the USSR, and Israel in the Middle East posses the atomic arm. No Muslim country has any. If Pakistan had such a weapon, it would reinforce the power of the Muslim World."
Unfolding events, and especially the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, brought Pakistan's fledgling nuclear doctrine back down to earth. In early-1980, President Zia ul-Haq learned from Dr. Brzezinski that the US had no intention to commit forces to defend Pakistan in case of a Soviet invasion. As Pakistan's involvement in the war in Afghanistan was growing, Islamabad's doubts as to the validity of an alliance with the US were also mounting. The primary strategic role of the Pakistani nuclear weapon became a measure of last resort, a symbolic trip wire against massive assaults by the USSR and India. It was therefore imperative for Pakistan to quickly establish nuclear deterrence.
Pakistan had nuclear weapons potential in 1987, and operational nuclear weapons since 1988. At first, Pakistan stuck with Zia's doctrine of relying on nuclear weapons as the last resort key to Pakistan's survival against India and the USSR. However, at the same time, Zia ul-Haq's pan-Islamic world view was expressed in the willingness to facilitate and expedite other Islamic, primarily Iran's, nuclear weapons program, but not at the expense of, or as part of, Pakistan's own strategic weapons programs. It was through its close cooperation with Iran, that Pakistan also assisted other radical states including Libya and North Korea.
However, in the early-1990s the Pakistani national strategy was integrated into the Trans-Asia Axis dominated by Beijing and the Islamist Bloc dominated by Tehran. This was a result of a major strategic decision in Mrs. Bhutto's Islamabad. The Pakistani negotiations with India on mutual reduction of tension, held between January 1989 and January 1990, were conducted against a strongly held assessment of the Pakistani military and intelligence elite that a major clash with India was inevitable and imminent. In February 1990, General Mirza Aslam Beg, then the Pakistani Chief of the Army Staff, went to Tehran to discuss Iran's becoming Pakistan's primary regional ally, at the expense of relations with the US, if not confrontation with Washington. Gen. Beg returned from Tehran "greatly reassured." "With the support from Iran promised me, we will win in case of war over Kashmir," he declared.
Soon afterwards, Pakistan began a game of brinkmanship through the escalation of border clashes in the Siachen Glacier area and in Kashmir. Pakistani active support for the Islamist insurgency in Kashmir increased markedly. The near-war appearance of a major Indian military exercise not far from the Pakistani border startled the Pakistani High Command, reminding them of the possibility of a massive Indian reaction to the Pakistani provocations. At the same time, the border clashes and the insertion of terrorists into Indian Kashmir continued to escalate.
Islamabad then decided to prevent an Indian retaliation by invoking the nuclear card. As tension grew and war seemed inevitable, Pakistan hastily assembled at least one nuclear weapon during the nose-to-nose confrontation with India in 1990. This led to a hasty intervention by the US and other Western powers, pressuring both New Delhi and Islamabad not to escalate their confrontation. The new Pakistani nuclear strategy proved successful. Thus, the crisis of 1990 was a watershed event in Pakistan's national strategy. Nuclear weapons were no longer considered merely a trip-wire of last resort in case of a major invasion of the country. Instead, nuclear weapons now became a key to Islamabad's assertive strategy of escalation of the struggle in Kashmir under a nuclear umbrella restraining Indian retaliation.
In 1991, Islamabad considered the New World Order advocated by the US, and especially in the call for non-proliferation, a strategic threat to its independence. "The New World Order does not allow any country in the Third World except the American surrogates to posses nuclear weapons." Fully aware that no single country can confront the US on its own, Islamabad stressed the growing significance of nuclear and military cooperation with other radicals as a profound issue of confrontation with the US. Islamabad acknowledged that "the People's Republic of China and North Korea have been ... supplying Iran, Pakistan, and other Muslim countries with medium-range missiles and nuclear technology for peaceful purpose." This cooperation now served as the source of strength for Islamabad defiance against US pressures, for any alternative would be detrimental to the future of Islam. "If Pakistan surrenders before the Americans now with respect to the nuclear programme, there will be no limit for such a surrender; because the Americans endeavor to demolish Pakistan's military power and make her a banana republic so that the Muslim World should be enslaved by the US-imposed world order."
It was in the context of this strategic perception that the Pakistani military nuclear capabilities were finally admitted officially. On 21 October 1991, Pakistan, for long a known yet not acknowledged nuclear power, crossed the line and created a precedent. In a Karachi meeting, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, officially acknowledged that Pakistan was a nuclear power. "It is a fact that Pakistan has become a nuclear power and is at present concentrating on manufacturing sophisticated arms to fulfil its requirements," Dr. Khan stated. Subsequently, the nuclear factor has become a clear and critical factor in the Pakistani national strategy, especially vis-a-vis India and the US.
By the early 1990s, Islamabad was convinced that a major show down with India, ostensibly over Kashmir, constitutes the key to Pakistan's new position as the linchpin of the PRC-dominated Trans-Asian Axis and the Tehran-led Islamic Bloc both within that Axis and world wide. Pakistan and its allies are convinced that any setback for India, no matter how symbolic, will result in New Delhi becoming isolationist. This, in turn, will expedite the consolidation of the Trans-Asian Axis. The decisive crisis aimed at transforming India will be instigated in the form of an escalation of the Islamist terrorist struggle in Kashmir. Mrs. Bhutto is confident that Pakistan's growing nuclear capabilities will shield these assertive policies.
Moreover, according to Beijing's strategic assessment in 1993, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) was considering India as "the greatest potential threat" for the PRC itself, because the implementation of the PRC's Trans-Asian Axis strategy and the then planned surge toward the eastern Indian Ocean endanger India's vital interests and thus might very well lead to a military clash. The PLA stresses that they "see India as a potential adversary mainly because India's strategic focus remains on the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia." Therefore, it is imperative for Beijing to divert India's strategic attention away from the Chinese strategic surge from the east, both on land and in the ocean.
Since the formulation of this Chinese strategy in the early 1990s, this strategic diversion has been the role of Islamabad. Pakistan is thus instigating a major defense challenge to India from the west, ranging from subversion and terrorism, to a major military build-up. The aggregate effect of the Pakistani strategy should be a growing tension along the Indo-Pak border that would compel New Delhi to neglect blocking the PRC's regional surge until it is too late to reverse the new geo-strategic realities in Asia. Starting 1995, the PRC has already embarked on a strategic surge aimed at consolidating control over the Strait of Malacca and the eastern Indian Ocean. Under such conditions, the importance of the Pakistani strategic diversion from the west is mounting, as reflected in Islamabad's growing militancy and self-confidence.
Meanwhile, the overall Pakistani strategic confidence was already expressed in brinkmanship statements coming out of Islamabad since the fall of 1993. For example, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the Jamaat I-Islami Chief Senator, urged the Bhutto government "to declare Jihad on India to save Kashmir Muslims from total annihilation." There is no other way to resolve the crisis, he declared. "Let us wage Jihad for Kashmir. A nuclear-armed Pakistan would deter India from a wider conflict," he stressed. In early November 1993, Pakistani media began publishing leaks from Government officials and Kashmiri Muslim leaders about active preparations by the Indian military to invade Pakistan. Such an attack will be carried out with the blessing of the US, the officials stressed. The nuclear card is presented as the key to Pakistan's security.
Mrs. Bhutto is fully aware of her country's nuclear potential because she serves as the chairperson of the National Nuclear Command Authority [NNCA]. The NNCA "determines the state of readiness" of the Pakistani nuclear weapons, and, with Mrs. Bhutto's "hand on the button," authorizes their launch through the Army's Joint Operations Centre. Gen. Beg disclosed in April 1994 that Pakistan already has "the F-16s, Mirages and the M-11s [ballistic missiles] which we are now getting from China that can carry [nuclear weapons]." Moreover, Pakistan's own "missile programme" is developing "a delivery system with a very effective, accurate guiding system provided on the missiles."
Called the Anza-11, this ballistic missile is a Pakistani derivative of the Chinese M-11. In mid July 1994, Pakistani officials confirmed that the development of the Anza-11 is being accelerated "with Chinese assistance." Visiting Pakistan's nuclear enrichment facility in Multan, Mrs. Bhutto warned of accelerating "missile race" in the region, and assured that the PRC would provide Pakistan with all the necessary technology and know-how to cope with the new strategic challenge. Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to deploy and install M-11 SSMs in the vicinity of its border with India.
During 1994, several loyalists of Mrs. Bhutto from the ranks of the military and intelligence intensified their demands for a more assertive stance on nuclear issues. In June, Gen. Hamid Gul, the former Chief of ISI, publicly urged Islamabad to conduct a nuclear test in order to clearly demonstrate the quality and might of the Pakistani nuclear weapons. He believes that such a test will galvanize the Pakistanis to support Islamabad in its pursuit of several national goals and challenges, the liberation of Kashmir being the most important, and will restrain the US from interfering in this endeavor. Gul points out that it is imperative for Pakistan to make a clear choice between its continued association with the US, and the pursuit of its vital interests along with Iran and the PRC, whom he identifies as "the closest friends of Pakistan."
Gul stresses that the establishment of a declared nuclear posture will determine this transformation. "By exploding the bomb, we will not only destroy the impression of our being submissive to the United States, but will be able to pull back our friends." Islamabad's failure to take a sterner public stand on the pursuit of its joint strategy with Iran and the PRC already threatens the security of Pakistan. Islamabad now gives a false impression of a Pakistan restrained by the US, which, in turn, can encourage India to retaliate for the Pakistani involvement in Kashmir. "Our military feels that its defense needs are in danger because of the failure of our foreign policy." Only the establishment of an unambiguous nuclear deterrence can reverse this trend, Gul concluded.
Mrs. Bhutto's Islamabad reacts to the challenge. In early August, N.D. Khan, the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and other Pakistani senior officials stressed repeatedly that Pakistan will not curtail its nuclear program irrespective of mounting US pressure. Instead, the High Command announced that Pakistan has embarked on a major build-up of sophisticated weapons, including missiles, in order "to deal with any emergency in the context of India's aggressive designs." Mrs. Bhutto was briefed on this emergency massive program and "agreed in principle to meet the requirements of the Pakistani Army on an urgent basis." Indeed, Pakistani officials later confirmed that Islamabad has resolved "to manufacture [ballistic] missiles and strengthen its defense."
In mid August 1994, the President of Pakistan, Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari visited the Pakistani Air Force [PAF] base in Sargodha, home of the F-16s, to inspect the major exercise called Saffron Bandit - 94. In a speech to the PAF officers, he tied together the current military build-up and the crisis in Kashmir. Leghari assured his audience that "the government is fully aware of the defense needs of the country and will equip its Armed Forces with sophisticated weapons for the defense of the motherland." Leghari reiterated Islamabad's "full support to the Kashmiri people despite Indian threats" and stressed his "confidence that Pakistan can meet any threat" resulting from this strategy.
Despite several halfhearted and not convincing denials by senior Pakistani officials that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, in early 1995 the extent of the Pakistani military nuclear effort and capabilities were being clarified. By now, 1994-95, Pakistan had between 15 and 25 nuclear weapons, each about 20kt strong. Some of these weapons are fully operational and the rest stored in parts. Some of these disassembled nuclear weapons would require only several hours of assembly to become fully operational.
These weapons are small enough for delivery by Pakistan's known platforms -- F-16 fighter-bombers and M-11 ballistic missiles. The main storage and maintenance site of the Pakistani nuclear weapons, particularly the weapons at a 'screwdriver level', is located at the 'ordnance complex' in Wah -- a top secret and exceptionally guarded facility. Pakistan's final assembly and arming, forward operational storage, and weapons loading installations are located in the Chagai Air Base. The Pakistanis also maintain a forward weapons' storage site at Sargodha Air Base for air deliverable weapons. However, it is not clear whether operational weapons are being kept there permanently.
Further more, the Pakistani weapons production infrastructure reached maturity. In early 1995, the annual production capacity was estimated at between six and twelve nuclear weapons, each about 20kt strong.
In the summer of 1995, despite the adverse publicity and Western political pressure, the Pakistani military nuclear program was accelerating. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan reaffirmed that Islamabad was not slowing down, let alone halting, his various nuclear programs and projects. On the contrary, he anticipated "further developments" in the Pakistani nuclear effort. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan was so upbeat because the PRC began the delivery of 5,000 ring magnetrons -- a crucial component in large-scale Uranium enrichment process and key to the refinement of bomb-grade Uranium -- to the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta -- the center of the Pakistani military nuclear research effort. Deliveries were completed by the end of 1995. Once the new enrichment system is fully operational, Pakistan will be able to markedly increase its annual refinement of enriched Uranium, and hence the number of annual weapons production and/or the strength of its new nuclear weapons. Even though Islamabad insists that the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta is an academic/civilian institution, in early 1996 Islamabad formally and publicly renewed Dr. Khan's public service contract for three more years in order "to utilize his talent for programmes designed to thwart threats to national security due to recent developments across the border."
Pakistan has also intensified its work on a new generation of Plutonium-based weapons, using know-how provided by the PRC, Iran and North Korea. Such close cooperation in nuclear development is not surprising. The PRC was the primary source of technology and now-how for Pakistan's first generation of Uranium-based nuclear weapons in the 1980s. Since the late 1980s, Iran also closely cooperated with the Pakistani nuclear effort. As of the early 1990s, Iran shared with Pakistan Iraqi data Tehran acquired directly, and from Hussayn al-Sharistani who resurfaced in Iran in 1991, after the Gulf War, and has since visited Pakistan. Iran and the DPRK run several strategic weapons joint programs, including the development of Plutonium-based nuclear warheads, using clandestinely delivered Chinese technology and sub-systems. Plutonium-based warheads of the type used by the PRC and its allies are about 50kt strong, and can fit on M-11-type ballistic missiles. Considering the current technological level and weapons operability among Pakistan's allies, a Pakistani Plutonium weapons should be expected soon.
Further more, Pakistan is running an elaborate program of acquisition of nuclear materials and technologies via the Russian, especially Chechen, Mafiya. Presently, these widespread acquisition efforts from western and eastern Europe, as well as the former Soviet Union, already contribute to shortcuts, acceleration, and expediting of the emergence of a second generation of Pakistani nuclear weapons. Their main contribution, however, is in the development of a solid production capacity for the Pakistani advanced nuclear weapons in the next decade.
Meanwhile, the nuclear strategy of Mrs. Bhutto's Pakistan was being refined and better defined. Islamabad was now convinced that only nuclear deterrence can prevent an Indian offensive from defeating the Pakistani Army. In June 1995, sources close to Mrs. Bhutto stressed the centrality of the nuclear component to Pakistan's overall war-fighting capabilities: "Only in the presence of a nuclear deterrent can the Pakistani Army feel strong and stable. Confronting India with conventional weapons, especially when these weapons have been provided by a superpower like the United States, would not only be difficult, but would be tantamount to inviting danger as well."
In the fall of 1995, Islamabad interpreted the partial lifting of the Pressler Amendment by passing the Brown Amendment in the US Senate as Washington's affirmation of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. In the aftermath of the US Senate vote, sources close to Mrs. Bhutto explained: "America now understands that our nuclear programme is not negotiable."
Soon afterwards, numerous Pakistani leaders repeatedly reinforced the new tenet -- that nuclear weapons were the sole guarantor of Pakistan's security as threatened by the specter of Indian aggression and military attacks. In early October 1995, the Pakistani Senate called in several retired but highly respected senior officers and officials -- former foreign ministers Agha Shahi and Abdul Sattat, Gen. (ret.) Iftikhar Ahmad Sarodi, Air Marshal (ret) Zulfiqar Ali Khan, Gen. (ret.) K.M. Arif, Lt.Gen. (ret.) Hamid Gul, Air Marshal (ret.) Ayaz Ahmad Khan, and Shireen Mazari (foreign policy expert) -- to express their opinions about Pakistani nuclear strategy. Their unanimous statement stressed that "nuclear deterrent is essential for national security." "Pakistan cannot match India in strength of armed forces and the best solution is the nuclear deterrent which Pakistan must maintain to keep India away," elaborated one speaker (not further identified by the Senate). Another speaker also stated that "nuclear weapons are essential for the country" and that "a conventional military is not enough to fight a war against India." In mid December 1995, former Army Chief, Gen. Aslam Beg, urged Mrs. Bhutto to "activate and accelerate" Pakistan's military nuclear program in order to maintain nuclear "deterrence at high pitch."
Meanwhile, during 1995, particularly once the Brown and Pressler Amendments issue was resolved, Pakistan increased its preoccupation with the acquisition of long-range delivery systems. Significantly, special attention has been paid to developing first strike capabilities against strategic objectives at the deep rear of India.
Presently, Pakistan's highest priority is the acquisition of the latest aircraft the PRC can offer. The first program is the swift acquisition of FC-1fighters as replacement not only for the ageing F-6s and F-7s, but also for the F-16s in fighter missions. A joint Chinese-Pakistani program, the FC-1 is primarily a high performance fighter. Islamabad believes that having large numbers of FC-1s in service will free the remaining F-16s to deep strike missions, including with nuclear weapons should the need arise. The FC-1 is expected to become operational before 2000.
However, the F-16/FC-1 option is only an expedient short-term arrangement. Islamabad is determined to acquire dedicated high performance deep strike aircraft. The first priority of the Pakistani Air Force is the B-7 -- the PRC's long range high performance strike aircraft -- equipped with air to surface missiles. However, the PLA is facing problems with the B-7, particularly a slow production rate of only two aircraft per month. Considered the backbone of the PLA long-range anti-shipping strike force, it is unlikely that Beijing will authorize the B-7 for export for as long as the most basic operational requirements of the PLA are not met.
In the meantime, both the PLA and the Pakistani Air Force are looking at variants of the Russian Su-27 as a substitute. Having closely examined the Russian Su-27, Pakistan decided against direct purchase because of fear of competition with India -- a veteran client of Soviet/Russian weapons -- and because Moscow insisted on the sale of defensive interceptors only. Therefore, Pakistan is most interested in the acquisition of PRC-built Su-27s which are supposed to have multi-mission capabilities, including deep strikes or fighter escort for deep penetrations by B-7s. Russia sold the PRC production licence for the Su-27 only in early 1996, and it will take about a year before the first aircraft comes off the production line. Further more, since Moscow requires advance notification and approval of exports to third parties, a speedy delivery of Su-27s to Pakistan is not likely.
Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to pursue long-range ballistic missiles. Pakistan's own Hatif programs are progressing slowly. Looking for longer ranges, Islamabad is most interested in the Iranian Tondar-68 since it is on the verge of operational service.
The Iranian Tondar-68 is based on Chinese and North Korean technology, including samples for testing and reverse engineering. Tehran's ultimate objective are two versions of the Tondar-68, the first with a range of 1,200-1,500 km, thus capable of reaching Israel from launchers inside Iran, and a second with a range of some 2,000 km to establish regional hegemony. The Tondar-68 is a two-stage missile -- a Zalzal-300 (an Iranian derivative of the Chinese M-11) installed on top of the Iran-700 (itself a derivative of the North Korean NoDong-1). In March 1991, Iran test fired the basic Tondar-68 SSM over the Semnan desert. In the first test launch the missile flew more than 700 km, and in the second more than 1,000 km. These test launches are believed to have been of prototypes of the basic system (Iran-700) and a complete multiple-stage (Tondar-68 made of Iran-700 and Zalzal-300) respectively. Subsequently, in 1992, the PRC provided Iran additional advanced technology for expediting the development and production of these intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Isfahan.
Islamabad is convinced that it can field an improved version of the Tondar-68 once the basic Iranian missile becomes fully operational. Islamabad has already been assured that the PRC is willing to provide Pakistan with advanced guidance for the upper-stage -- which is a modification of the M-11, or, in Pakistan's case, of the Anza-11.
However, the most important recent development in the Pakistani nuclear posture is the vibrant debate about nuclear strategy and capabilities, particularly the articulation of a very basic issue -- the reason for the sudden fear of an impending Indian attack. Most recent reports of Indian strategic developments -- from new test launches of ballistic missiles to reported preparations for a nuclear test originally leaked by the Clinton Administration -- while worrisome for Islamabad, have nothing to do with the now openly dreaded Indian conventional offensive. What Islamabad really fears is an uncontrolled, perhaps even unplanned, escalation of a confrontation in Kashmir into a major Indo-Pakistani war. Considering the growing direct involvement of the Pakistani intelligence and military in the escalating Islamist subversion and terrorism in Indian Kashmir, it stands to reason that New Delhi might resort to counter-escalation -- such as cross-border strikes against terrorist safe-havens -- that, in turn, will lead to an escalatory cycle all the way to a major Indo-Pakistani war.
Indeed, in January 1996, Mrs. Bhutto's Islamabad considered such a scenario the most viable threat to Pakistani national security. At the same time, Islamabad continued to raise the overall tension along the border with India. The newly appointed Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Jehangir Karamat, visited his forces in Kashmir. He emphasized the deteriorating military situation in the area. "Such a situation demands a high state of preparedness to face any eventuality," he told local officers. The Pakistani growing anticipation and apprehension are real. Toward the end of January, a special commission chaired by Gen. Jehangir Karamat submitted a special report on the future needs of the Pakistani Armed Forces, stressing strategic and regional aspects as the key to future weapons' procurement and long-term planning.
Meanwhile, Islamabad ordered "extraordinary" response to reports of India's preparations for a nuclear test, as well as missile test-launching and possible deployment. Pakistan's High Commissioner (Ambassador) to India, Riaz Khokhar, was recalled for consultations on "the situation emerging from India's stockpiling of dangerous weapons and the threat of Indian aggression."
This apprehension, while genuine, does not prevent Islamabad from markedly intensifying its active participation in Islamist subversion and terrorism in Kashmir, as well as in a terrorism campaign at the heart of India. The reason is that Islamabad has higher priorities. Some of these very close to Mrs. Bhutto, as well as several circles within the Pakistani leadership, primarily Islamist senior officials in the national defense and intelligence services, consider such an escalation a major asset in domestic politics. Reviving tensions with India provides them with an external threat and an excuse to mobilize the Pakistani masses around the government. Pakistan is facing a major domestic crisis -- rampart corruption, crime and terrorism, as well as the virtual collapse of government services.
Therefore, Mrs. Bhutto's Islamabad is convinced that the policy of brinkmanship -- reaching a near-crisis posture with India -- will suffice to achieve their political objectives in Pakistan. These advisers of Mrs. Bhutto who advocate brinkmanship are convinced that even in the case of unplanned escalation, the Clinton Administration will intervene to prevent a real war from breaking out. However, the Islamist senior officials in the national defense and intelligence services insist on improving Pakistan's nuclear deterrence as the key to restraining India. They are convinced that only a Pakistani first strike capacity will be able to deter India from a military reaction to the Pakistani provocations and ostensible preparations for war.
These officials are most apprehensive about a scenario whereupon New Delhi will interpret Pakistani mobilization -- intended as a "signal" in the brinkmanship policy for Pakistani domestic purposes -- as actual preparations for war. India may than launch a conventional preemption against Pakistani forces concentrated and forward deployed during the brinkmanship and near-war phases. Pakistani Islamist senior officials are convinced that the Pakistani Armed Forces will collapse if such an Indian offensive is allowed to develop fully. Given the mounting internal pressures inside Pakistan, the first signs of defeat might very well cause a popular eruption and the self-destruction of Pakistan. Therefore, it is imperative for Pakistan to acquire long-range nuclear strike capabilities in order to contain and deter any potential Indian reaction to the mounting provocations, escalating terrorism, and overall policy of brinkmanship.
Taken together, Islamabad is pushing South Asia into a most unstable situation fraught with great dangers. Presently, in early 1996, the Islamist circles of power in Islamabad continue to increase their sponsorship of terrorism and subversion in India, while hyping the fears of an Indian offensive for domestic political needs inside Islamabad. Anticipating and sponsoring a major escalation of Islamist terrorism and subversion in Kashmir in the spring, once the weather improves, Islamabad is increasingly apprehensive about the potential Indian reaction to the escalatory spiral.
Consequently, by late January 1996, the much dreaded and anticipated Indian offensive has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Reports of Indian rocket attacks on a mosque in Forward Kahuta led to cross border clashes initiated by locally-based Pakistani Army units. These clashes now provided Islamabad with another confirmation of its warnings of a possible Indian aggression and war. The Pakistani Foreign Minister warned that India would pay "heavy price" for the alleged rocket attack. He further threatened New Delhi with dire ramifications for the anticipated Indian "attacks" on Pakistan. Several retired senior officers echoed this sentiment, anticipating a war with India.
However, in early February, Islamabad sought to dampen the calls to arms. Pakistani Defense Minister, Aftab Shaban Mirani, ruled out a Pakistani initiation of war with India over the rocket incident. He nevertheless stressed the overall growing threat of a war with India, and alluded to "countermeasures" Pakistan can employ in reaction to further Indian aggression.
Meanwhile, there has been a major evolution in Islamabad's articulation of the Indian threat facing Pakistan. In accordance with Pakistan's growing role in the Tehran-led Islamic bloc, Islamabad now presents Pakistan as being at the forefront of the defense of the entire Muslim World against Indian conspiracies, machinations, and aggression. Pakistani diplomats and senior officers throughout the Muslim World warn host governments that India has developed "big power obsession" that constitutes danger to all -- particularly Iran and the states of the Arabian Peninsula.
Mrs. Bhutto's Islamabad is urging an all-Muslim response to the growing regional threat from India. The Indian oppression of Muslims in Kashmir, Islamabad stresses, is only the beginning of a Hindu onslaught on Islam. "Since India is against the World of Islam," explained a Pakistani official, "it is the duty of the Muslim Ummah [nation/community] to forge unity among its ranks, to pool its resources, and to turn itself into an impregnable fortress to counter the threat of Hindu imperialism." The mere adoption of this strategy clearly reflects the growing power and influence of the Islamist circles in Islamabad. These circles are committed to enhancing Pakistan's active participation in the regional surges of both the Beijing-led Trans-Asian Axis and particularly the Tehran-led Islamic bloc.
Indeed, there has been a concurrent change in the Pakistani strategy. In the second half of February 1996, there was an escalation in cross border shelling and other clashes directly involving the armed forces of both Pakistan and India. Duels of artillery and small arms fire have since expanded and become increasingly intense, some lasting a few hours at a time. In late February, Islamabad accused the Indian armed forces of sporadic and intentional attacks on Pakistani military and paramilitary patrols in several spots along their long border. Islamabad put special emphasis on the clashes in Punjab, away from the regularly hot spots in Kashmir and the glaciers. Islamabad now warns about the dire strategic-political ramifications of these clashes as well as the inevitable escalation in cross border violence.
The escalation of the cross-border clashes has echoed in heated rhetoric coming from Islamabad. On February 18, Mrs. Bhutto warned that "Pakistan today is standing at the crossroads endangered with chauvinistic designs of our neighbor, India, which poses a threat to all the countries in this region. Pakistan cannot remain idle in this situation." Mrs. Bhutto is determined to stay the present course despite the growing Indian threat, stressing that Pakistan is "fully capable of overcoming internal as well as external threats being faced by Pakistan today." Alarmed by the popular ramifications of the mounting tension, Islamabad tried to dampen the notion of crisis. On February 25, Defense Minister Aftab Shaban Mirani claimed that Islamabad did not anticipate "immediate threat of war from India." However, Islamabad is most worried about the escalatory potential of the continued escalation along the Indo-Pakistani border. Still, Mr. Mirani stressed that Pakistan will continue its current strategic and political course despite the potential dangers.
Islamabad's present strategy of crisis inducing and brinkmanship is well calculated. Seeking to divert the attention of the population away from the internal near collapse of the country, Mrs. Bhutto's Islamabad sees a window of opportunity for an external crisis in the period surrounding the Indian elections. Islamabad believes that the compounding effect of the current corruption scandal that is shaking the entire Indian establishment will prevent New Delhi from competent crisis management as well as making correct and bold decision in case of major escalation. Moreover, Mrs. Bhutto's close confidants are convinced that given US President Clinton's support and sympathies, Pakistan now has better conditions for inducing a crisis with a likelihood of an American intervention on their behalf in case of a negative conflagration.
Further more, the timing of the Pakistani escalation seems to be affected by larger strategic considerations, far beyond the concurrent dynamics in Indo-Pakistani relations. Given its all out commitment to the role of a linchpin in the consolidation of the Beijing-led Trans-Asian Axis, Islamabad cannot but conduct its own strategic dynamics within the confines of, and in reference to, Beijing's grand strategic considerations.
Since 1993, Pakistan has had a crucial role in the PRC's strategic contingency plans. The PLA considers India as "the greatest potential threat" for the PRC itself, because the implementation of the PRC's Trans-Asian Axis strategy endangers India's vital interests and thus might very well lead to a military clash. The PLA stresses that they "see India as a potential adversary mainly because India's strategic focus remains on the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia." Therefore, for the PRC to further its strategic surge westward both in the heart of Asia and on the spaces of the Indian Ocean, it is imperative for the PRC to divert India's strategic attention away from the Chinese strategic surge.
The role of Pakistan in the Chinese grand design is instigating this strategic diversion. Pakistan should create a major defense challenge to India from the west -- using a myriad of instruments ranging from subversion to a major military build up. According to the PRC's strategic designs, the aggregate effect of this Pakistani strategy should be a growing tension along the Indo-Pakistani border that would compel New Delhi to concentrate on meeting the Pakistani challenge as a national priority, and thus neglect blocking the PRC's westward surge until it is too late to reverse the new geo-strategic realities in Asia.
Given the latest developments in East Asia -- the PRC's policy of military brinkmanship regarding Taiwan and the Spratly Islands -- the Chinese aspect of Islamabad's strategic decision making cannot be ignored. Both the on going escalation along the Indo-Pakistani border and the rhetoric about a regional war should thus be examined in the context of Beijing's grand strategy. Pakistan is one of the PRC's closest allies that has special strategic relations to the point of the PRC's expediting, if not facilitating, the Pakistani acquisition of nuclear weapons. Therefore, it is inconceivable that as Beijing is increasingly immersed in such a milestone strategic surge and crisis, Islamabad remains not involved, not even marginally, in the unfolding global dynamics.
On the contrary, as the PRC's surge keeps accelerating, and the regional crisis surrounding Taiwan and the Spratly Islands growing to the point of a possible war, it is imperative for Beijing to both divert attention from its preparations for war as well as actively prevent intervention by US forces arriving from the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. An Indo-Pakistani crisis, let alone a war, is a key component in such a strategic diversion. In view of Islamabad's own interest in an external crisis as a key for the survival of the Bhutto government, Pakistan is an eager and willing participant in instigating and escalating this regional crisis. Moreover, Islamabad's belief in the magic powers of a Pakistani nuclear ultimatum to stop any Indian conventional counter-escalation, makes assertive nuclear brinkmanship the dominant factor in the approach to, and concept of, crisis management in Mrs. Bhutto's Islamabad.
Ultimately, Mrs. Bhutto's policies are clearly presented as the continuation of her father's message, especially Pakistan's claim for a role in the leadership of the Third World, and the crucial importance of close alliance with the Muslim World for Pakistan's national security. Both Bhuttos have considered anti-American populism as a very important political asset. Pakistani officials point out that by and large, the tenets of Islamabad's national policy and strategy are inherently anti-American -- be it the strategic alliance with the PRC, or the close special relations with Iran, Iraq, Libya, and the Muslim World as a whole. "The Pakistani people are Muslims with a firm faith in their religion. They cannot break up their traditional friendship with these countries for US happiness and aid," the officials stressed in the summer of 1994.
Thus, Mrs. Benazir Bhutto continues to personally lead Pakistan into becoming a key and active component in a major global axis aimed at confronting the US and reducing its influence. It is under Mrs. Bhutto that Pakistan increases its participation in the strategic alliance with the PRC and Iran, as well as raises the profile of the confrontation with the US and India. Nuclear deterrence is considered Islamabad's primary shield against an Indian reaction to, let alone retaliation for, the escalation of provocations in Kashmir and increasingly along the Indo-Pakistani border. It is through this growing tension with India that Islamabad's commitment to the role of linchpin of the Beijing-led Trans-Asian Axis is presently manifested. Moreover, Islamabad increasingly considers brinkmanship to the point of a growing threat of war with India a primary instrument of ensuring Arab and Muslim support for Pakistan. Under such crisis conditions, Mrs. Bhutto's Islamabad is convinced, only the specter of Pakistani strategic nuclear strikes can ensure the containment of India, compelling New Delhi into self-restraint in the face of mounting provocations and subversion. Therefore, rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, Mrs. Bhutto will only accelerate and expand the Pakistani military nuclear program.
1. Yossef Bodansky is the World Terrorism Analyst with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies (Houston TX), as well as the Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a contributing editor of Defense and Foreign Affairs: Strategic Policy, the author of Freeman Center Research Papers (Pakistan, Kashmir & The Trans-Asian Axis, and Beijing's Surge for the Strait of Malacca), four books (Target America, Terror, Crisis in Korea, and Offensive in the Balkans), several book chapters, entries for the International Military and Defense Encyclopedia, and numerous articles in several periodicals including Global Affairs, JANE's Defence Weekly, Defense and Foreign Affairs: Strategic Policy, Business Week. In the 1980s, he acted as a senior consultant for the Department of Defense and the Department of State.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, U.S. Congress, or any other branch of the U.S. Government.