Opinion: Is Pakistan telling the truth about its nuclear weapons?

Pakistan displays military might but how much of this is for real. Photograph:( Others )

Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Jan 15, 2018, 09.29 AM (IST) Major Amit Bansal

India's two-nuclear powered neighbours are in news again. General Bipin Rawat, the Indian Army Chief, gave a statement that India is capable of calling Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. The statement was a generalised one but was taken very seriously by not only the political leadership of Pakistan but also their Army. 

 

Pakistan had been threatening India with its nukes all the time. Their leaders start giving statements that Pakistan is a nuclear-powered nation and India should not mess up with it. To understand the reality, we must know the truth and myths behind Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities.

 

A nation does not become nuclear empowered just by testing a few warheads under standard testing conditions. It needs a robust Nuclear doctrine and reliable mechanism for the delivery of these warheads to the right place in the enemy’s territory.  Any nuclear-powered country would need land, sea or aerial means to deliver these weapons. This translates into possession of land and sea-based missiles, including aircrafts modified with suitable missile systems to launch the weapons and locating them at a place which cannot be detected easily. 

 

It is well known that in any war, the locations of these strike capabilities are targeted first, creating decoys and preparing for contingencies is a critical factor. In the case of Pakistan, we can be sure that the country will take, at least, few days to assemble its nukes for an attack and that will be too late. 

 

At present, in addition to the ballistic missiles, the only second method of delivery Pakistan has is through its aircrafts, for instance, few F-16s and J-17 can deliver them through toss bombing. But for such daring operations, and that too in the absence of a nuclear-powered Air to Surface Missile, these aircrafts have to come closer to Indian targets. In the current scenario, that does not look possible. This is mainly due to the technical superiority of Indian Forces in terms of Radar surveillance and possible situation of air superiority in the initial phase of war itself.

 

Further, if we take the examples of its missiles, there are serious doubts about the so-called nuclear deliverables of Pakistan. While Pakistan tested its various missiles over the last two decades, the operational status of them is still not very clear. 

 

If we take the medium and long-range missiles, Ghauri series of missiles are liquid fuel-based and their readiness time is very high, while Ababeel and Shaheen series are not yet operational. Abdali and Ghaznavi are only capable of carrying conventional warheads. Nasr as well as Babur are operational but has a payload capacity of lesser than 500 Kgs and it can carry only tactical warheads of 10-30 kilotons. Out of these, operational versions of Babur have a range of about 400-450Kms while Nasr is just 60-80Kms. While Nasr can be used in the initial stages of war due to its limited range, the operational number of Babur Missile is very less due to import of some of its critical components from China. All of these are land-based missiles and there is no operational missile with Pakistan, which can be launched from the sea or air-based platforms, leaving the country with very few options. 

 

There are other things also which matter for a nuclear strike and these are pertaining to availability and readiness of nuclear warheads. These things include: safeguarding its triggers, devices and pits (Uranium or Plutonium fuel for the warhead) which any country keeps in partially dis-assembled storages at various locations across the country. How can they be made available in a ready form in minimum possible time is an important concern. 

 

So far, in case of Pakistan, important things are still in the hands of its scientists under Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA); very little is known about the operationalisation or availability with Defence forces in the form of ready to launch warheads. 

Not only this, the country needs a robust communication mechanism which works on a diverse mechanism of Radio, Satellite and other communication links. These are required to pass the concerned nuclear code and directions from the top leaders to the missile launch sites. In case of Pakistan, these instructions will come from NCA (National Command Authority) and Strategic Planning Division (SPD). 

 

In the absence of any communication satellite of Pakistan, the country relies only on radio and line communications for the passage of this information which will be the first to be jammed or destroyed in the scenario of a war. Pakistan can claim that they can take help of Chinese satellites or their communication tools but relying on these satellites is like handing over the control of Nukes to China itself. 

 

When we talk about the safeguarding the nuclear assets, Pakistan is a unique nation where the differentiation between the country’s loyal forces and terrorists is very negligible. This was evident from the active involvement of a large number of Pakistani Naval officers on PNS Zulfiqar in September 2014 which was later claimed by ISIS. Imagine any such vessel loaded with nuclear warheads comes under control of the terrorists, what would be the outcome?

 

The past terror incidents have been horrible when Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra was attacked not once but twice in 2007 and 2009. The General Headquarters at Rawalpindi was attacked in 2009 and was kept in seize for several hours. In May 2011, the Mehran Base at Karachi which is known to stock nuclear weapons in its vicinity was attacked too. In 2012, Peshawar airbase was attacked too.

 

In the wake of ISIS looking for alternative territories for its operations, Pakistan is an ideal location and the possibilities of its nukes going into the hands of terrorists very high. 

 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).

 

Major Amit Bansal

Major Amit Bansal is is a Defence Strategist with keen interests in International Relations and Internal Security. He is also an author, blogger and poet.