Table of Contents

Racing Against its Fears and Ambitions

Ever since its birth in 1947, Pakistan has been consumed by a relentless quest for security. This preoccupation derived in the first instance from the contentious processes of Partition. Because Pakistan was imagined as the new homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, creating it required cleaving the erstwhile British Raj to separate those contiguous areas containing Muslim majorities from those that did not. This process of agglomeration produced a new state with an awkward geography: Pakistan was born composed of two parts, with its western and eastern wings separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory. To make things worse, the unfriendly separation that produced this topographic oddity was suffused by the threat of communal violence. It precipitated a massive exchange of populations—where some 15 million individuals crossed the new borders between India and Pakistan to reach territories where their co-religionists made up the majority—with anywhere between 200,000 and 2 million people losing their lives in the process.1

The creation of Pakistan was thus a bloody affair that left deep scars not only on its own psyche but also on that of its rival, India. The leaders of the Indian freedom movement then had reluctantly acquiesced to their country’s division as the price to be paid for rapid independence and Britain’s speedy exit from the subcontinent. They imagined at the time that an autonomous Pakistan would not survive for long and that a reunion of the two countries was inevitable, especially given that India inherited not only the bulk of the Raj’s administrative, economic, and military assets but also its international rights and standing. In contrast, Pakistan acquired the mantle of a secessionist state, possessing an unnatural and disunited geography, and securing only a meager share of the Raj’s resources. Its western wing had weak administrative institutions, and the local economy of West Pakistan suffered from being sundered from its natural markets which now lay inside India. Worst of all, the ideational, cultural, and linguistic ties between West and East Pakistan were so tenuous, if not downright antipathetic, that not even the common bond of religion would in time suffice to keep them together.2

Pakistan, therefore, came into being “maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten”3—as its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had famously worried it might—and, to make things worse, found itself disorganized, fearful, and at odds with its larger neighbor India. The poisoned atmosphere that surrounded Partition was most clearly vivified by the disputes that broke out immediately upon Pakistan’s founding as both India and Pakistan laid competitive claims to several princely states, including Hyderabad, Junagadh, and Jammu and Kashmir. The struggle over Jammu and Kashmir would, in fact, provoke the first Indo-Pakistani war: this conflict began within weeks of the two nations’ independence and was precipitated by Pakistan’s efforts to use militant proxies to annex the contested kingdom and incorporate it into Pakistani territory.4

The failure to so, however, highlighted the painful reality that Pakistan would begin life without one of the most elementary attributes of statehood, namely stable international borders. India’s refusal to cede Jammu and Kashmir to (West) Pakistan along its eastern frontiers at about the same time that the Afghan government reopened the dispute about the Durand Line serving as (West) Pakistan’s western frontier left the new state with fundamental uncertainties about its physical boundaries.5 As these crises evolved, Pakistan’s national leadership, which was dominated by émigrés arriving from India, was also challenged simultaneously by economic dislocation, administrative chaos, and the burdens of integrating both the recalcitrant provinces, which ended up being part of West Pakistan despite their disinterest in joining the new country, and a distant eastern wing, which was more populous and shared only thin political ties with the expatriate leadership that came to reside in the west.6

With such travails—many of which have left their residue to this day—it is not surprising that Pakistan remains obsessed with security. At key moments in its seventy-odd-year history, it has experienced convulsive internal disintegration as well as severe external threats. Consequently, whether civilian or military governments are in office, national preservation remains the perennial preoccupation.7 This concern is only obsessively magnified when the generals take power, as they have done for much of Pakistan’s history.8 But the fear about security, which is usually but not always exclusively driven by concerns relating to India, remains a permanent feature of Pakistan’s consciousness, especially for the Punjabi and Pathan elites who dominate Pakistani politics and who, having historically enjoyed disproportionate representation in the army, have become the standard bearers of its myriad grievances against India.9

While India’s larger size and its substantial economic and military advantages would have sufficed to make Pakistan nervous about national security in any case, Islamabad’s perception of Indian attitudes only exacerbates the problem. Believing that India has never been reconciled to the creation of Pakistan, state managers in Islamabad are convinced that India is, and has been, constantly seeking to “undo” the Partition that brought their country into being. The ongoing conflict over Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority province that most Pakistanis believe is rightfully theirs, confirms their deepest suspicions that India has never accepted Pakistan’s existence itself. This anxiety has intensified the animosity toward India and has pushed the Pakistan Army toward relentless conflicts—despite successive defeats—with its larger neighbor.10

The intensity of Pakistan’s fears about India made it a natural candidate for acquiring nuclear weapons from the very beginning. By the time Pakistan was created, the awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons had already been demonstrated and the international system was slowly coming to understand that this “absolute weapon” would have great—if not the greatest—utility for deterrence.11 For beleaguered states such as Pakistan, nuclear weapons offered hope for enduring security.12 Yet the early years of Pakistan’s independent life were marked by a conspicuous disinterest in nuclear weaponry, or, for that matter, any nuclear applications—quite in contrast to India, where both Jawaharlal Nehru and Homi Bhabha intuitively understood the significance of nuclear weapons both for international politics and as exemplars of modernity.13

Despite the pressures on Pakistan’s security, its early indifference to nuclear weapons had much to do with the pressing problems then facing the country. Managing refugee resettlement after the chaotic Partition, ensuring leadership succession after Jinnah’s early death, reconstituting the economy in a poor and geographically divided state, and laying the foundations for development in a population that was still largely agrarian and uneducated all prompted Pakistan to look in the direction of the United Kingdom, the erstwhile colonial power, for assistance in rebuilding its conventional military forces for defense against India rather than in the direction of nuclear weapons, which, whatever their potency, were still relatively exotic and required massive financial and industrial capabilities that were beyond Pakistan’s reach at the time.14

From 1947 to 1954, therefore, Pakistan did not exhibit any interest in nuclear matters whatsoever. That changed after U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower articulated his Atoms for Peace proposal in 1953. In an effort to resolve “the fearful atomic dilemma,” Eisenhower offered to share nuclear technology with the rest of the world for the collective benefit of humanity.15 To access this bequest, Pakistan set out in 1954 to create new institutions that would oversee atomic research for scientific and industrial uses. From then on, it also sent scientists abroad for training in nuclear sciences while setting up research centers at home to explore nuclear applications in agriculture, health, and industry. These initiatives proceeded at a languid pace for most of the 1950s, but by 1963, Pakistan had established both the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) to manage the development of nuclear energy within the country as well as a nuclear research center, the Pakistan Institute for Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) near Islamabad, to induce the scientists trained abroad to return to Pakistan rather than to remain in the West.16

While nuclear science was thus beginning to develop in Pakistan, the intentions at this juncture were entirely peaceful, with Pakistan remaining an advocate of nuclear disarmament just like India. To the degree that Pakistan was looking for novel solutions to its security predicament, these would not be found in nuclear weapons but in the Western security alliances that had become a prominent feature of the Cold War. From 1954 on, Pakistan looked outward for security. It first signed a mutual defense assistance agreement with the United States and later joined the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), which were U.S.-supported institutions intended to contain the spread of communism in Asia. Pakistan’s interest in these alliances, however, was driven entirely by its concerns about India rather than communism. Alliance membership provided Pakistan with advanced conventional weapons on favorable terms, and it was expected that the Western powers would rush to Pakistan’s defense in the event of conflicts with India.17

The Pakistani nuclear establishment slowly expanded between 1963 and 1971. Pakistan acquired its first research reactor, the Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor-1 (PARR-1), a small, 5-megawatt safeguarded facility under the Atoms for Peace program in 1965. That same year, it also signed an agreement with Canada for a larger safeguarded pressurized heavy water reactor, the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant-1 (KANUPP-1), which was a variant of the same design that Canada had sold to India and to this day remains the mainstay of both the Indian power and weapons programs. Pakistan also initiated plans to construct a plutonium reprocessing facility with British and French assistance around this time.18

While the scientific and power generation ambitions were thus steadily being realized, other geopolitical developments were stimulating change in the orientation of Pakistan’s nuclear program. The 1962 Sino-Indian border war, which resulted in India’s defeat, opened the door for new engagement between China and Pakistan as a result of their common animosity toward India. This rapprochement began despite Pakistan’s existing membership in the Western anti-communist alliances and would, in time, yield important gains for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The immediate consequence of India’s humiliation in 1962, however, was an intense debate in New Delhi about the need to shift the Indian nuclear program toward the production of nuclear weapons as a deterrent against China—a discussion that pushed Pakistan for the first time to contemplate the possibility of a weapons program of its own.19

This reconsideration only acquired impetus when the United States chose not to aid Pakistan during its 1965 war with India, responding instead with an arms embargo on both countries. This early failure of the Western alliances to come to Pakistan’s aid—as Pakistani leaders imagined they would—set the stage for Pakistan to reassess its reliance on outside powers for security.20 Not long after the 1965 war, Pakistan’s then foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, responding to the suspicion that India might seek the bomb even as the West was proving unreliable, publicly declared: “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.”21

Bhutto would soon get his opportunity. Fears about India’s nuclear direction had resulted in Pakistan refusing to sign the NPT in 1968. Although Pakistan, following India’s lead, had disavowed nuclear weapons, it nonetheless sought to preserve the option of developing them if required by necessity. The third Indo-Pakistani war in 1971 consummated this change in Islamabad’s intentions. Pakistan’s conclusive defeat in that conflict not only led to its vivisection—transforming the former East Pakistan into the new independent state of Bangladesh—but it proved once again, just as in 1965, that Pakistan’s alliance partners would not bail it out of crises that were of its own making and did not involve communist aggression. For Pakistan, these caveats were irrelevant: if its alliances failed to deliver security, Islamabad would have to look elsewhere. Consequently, soon after its defeat in the December 1971 war with India, Bhutto, who had by then become prime minister, would convene a secret meeting in Multan in January 1972 to direct the PAEC to begin developing nuclear weapons as the last durable safeguard of Pakistan’s security.22

This objective would only be reinforced by India’s demonstration of its own nuclear capabilities through its May 1974 test, which left Pakistan with no choice but to accelerate its efforts to produce a nuclear deterrent. Pakistan’s initial effort centered on plutonium separation, based on the assumption that it would construct its own unsafeguarded pressurized heavy water reactors eventually. Toward that end, Islamabad reached an agreement with France for the construction of a reprocessing plant, which would eventually be canceled under heavy U.S. pressure in 1977 but not before technical designs were transferred. Separately, Pakistan began negotiating with a Belgian company, Belgonucleaire, for reprocessing designs and training in the reprocessing of spent fuel. These activities would lay the foundations for the construction of the New Labs reprocessing facility, which Pakistan would later use to separate plutonium from its unsafeguarded heavy water reactors that were still some two decades away.23

In the meanwhile, however, A. Q. Khan arrived from the Netherlands in 1974 with stolen designs for uranium enrichment technology.24 Using a shady international network of suppliers with the full support of the Pakistan government, Khan made the Kahuta Research Laboratory (later renamed the Khan Research Laboratory, or KRL) the center for producing HEU, which served as Pakistan’s first fissile material for nuclear weapons. Even as Khan was beginning to build his infrastructure for producing HEU in Pakistan, Bhutto signed a secret agreement with Mao Zedong in June 1976 for Chinese assistance in developing nuclear weapons.25 Bhutto’s overthrow in a military coup in 1977 marked the moment when Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development program, hitherto a civilian venture, conclusively passed into the hands of the Pakistan military, where it has remained since.26 In any event, China finally made good on Mao’s commitment after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when, in exchange for previous access to Khan’s more advanced European centrifuge technology, Beijing transferred sometime in 1981 both a detailed nuclear weapons design and some 50 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium to aid Pakistan in developing the nuclear deterrent that could protect it against both Soviet intimidation and Indian threats.27 The effort to indigenously produce fissile materials for that purpose reached fruition by about 1986, when the KRL could finally deliver sufficient quantities of HEU to sustain the steady enlargement of a Pakistani nuclear weapons stockpile.28

Pakistan would obliquely reveal these new capabilities for the first time during the 1986–1987 “Brasstacks” military crisis with India, when Khan told a visiting Indian reporter in January 1987 that “What the CIA has been saying about our possessing the bomb is correct.”29 Despite the embarrassment this interview caused the United States, which had been aiding Pakistan militarily for its role in the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan on the fiction that Islamabad was not developing nuclear weapons, Pakistan persisted with its nuclear weapons program, continuing even after Washington began to levy renewed sanctions on Islamabad in 1991. In fact, even as Khan was declaring Pakistan’s capacity to field nuclear weapons employing HEU as fissile material, Islamabad was on the cusp of constructing—again with Chinese assistance—a dedicated unsafeguarded 40-megawatt plutonium production reactor, Khushab-1, which would be run by the PAEC and began operating in early 1998.30

The determination to pursue both the uranium and plutonium paths to nuclear weaponry highlighted the importance of these devices for Pakistan’s security after alliances were eschewed as instruments of political safety. China’s role only became more prominent in this regard; from 1988 onward, Beijing began to steadily transfer short-range ballistic missiles, such as the M-11, as well as various components and technical expertise for different elements of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program.31 By the time Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons openly for the first time, following India’s renewed nuclear tests in May 1998 and amid bizarre fears of a possible Israeli air attack on Pakistan (and perhaps its nuclear capabilities),32 Islamabad had accumulated enough indigenously produced HEU for perhaps two dozen weapons, brought online a new plutonium production reactor, acquired short- and medium-range ballistic missiles as complements to its aircraft for nuclear delivery, and was poised to enlarge its fissile material production through the expansion of its enrichment and reprocessing facilities. Following India’s claims of having successfully detonated a thermonuclear device, Pakistan also began to pursue even more sophisticated nuclear weapons in comparison to the devices that were directly derived from the Chinese design it had received in the early 1980s.33

While Pakistan’s declaration of its overt nuclear status was an inevitable byproduct of its May 1998 tests, the years immediately following were consumed by formalizing its command-and-control system, revamping its nuclear security protocols—especially after A. Q. Khan’s proliferation activities became public in 2003–2004—and expanding its nuclear arsenal to counter both the threats perceived from India and increasingly from the United States.34 Concerns about the United States first spiked in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, which, stimulated by western reporting, gave rise to new fears in Islamabad that Washington might feel compelled to neutralize the Pakistani nuclear arsenal if it were ever to be at risk of seizure by terrorist groups operating inside Pakistan.35 These worries pushed Pakistan to expand the number of its weapon storage facilities and to contemplate increasing the size of its nuclear inventory.

The dam burst on the latter count after the conclusion of the 2005 U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement. This “nuclear deal,” as it was popularly described, strengthened the Pakistani impression—one that was fostered by U.S. and international critics of the agreement—that India would now pursue a runaway expansion of its own nuclear weapons program because it would no longer be constrained by a shortage of natural uranium.36 On this assumption, Pakistan concluded in 2006 that a further expansion of its nuclear arsenal was necessary. The almost year-long Indo-Pakistani crisis in 2001–2002 had pushed New Delhi toward developing new plans for quick conventional retaliation in the event of Pakistani terrorist attacks against India. These evolving Indian plans, in turn, provoked the Pakistan military to consider new tactical nuclear weapons to deter such contingencies. Before long, Pakistan embarked on the simultaneous expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal coupled with the formalization of a revised conventional war doctrine dubbed a “new concept of warfighting” that was aimed at further shortening Pakistan’s force mobilization time and enhancing army and air force coordination.37

While these developments were focused primarily on India, other events in Pakistan’s west would also converge to take its nuclear weapons program in new directions. The September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States provoked Operation Enduring Freedom, which brought U.S. military power in strength into Afghanistan and, for the first time, to Pakistan’s doorstep. Although U.S.-Pakistan cooperation in the Afghan war was fraught from the very beginning, both sides maintained productive collaboration in the operations against al-Qaeda. Combating the Taliban, however, proved to be a more complicated matter as Islamabad’s interests in protecting these proxies collided with Washington’s objective of extirpating them.38 After 2006, when the Taliban, regrouping with Pakistan’s assistance, began prosecuting intensified attacks on the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Afghan forces inside of Afghanistan, tensions between the United States and Pakistan rose significantly as Washington pressed the Pakistan Army to prosecute counterinsurgency operations against Taliban safe havens in the volatile tribal regions adjacent to the Afghan border.39 Pakistan’s reluctance to conduct this mission, partly for fear of inflaming its restive domestic politics, would in time bring U.S. threats of conducting unilateral counterterrorism operations inside Pakistan, increase tensions between U.S. forces in Afghanistan and their Pakistan Army counterparts, and on several occasions even result in exchanges of fire along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that led to Pakistani military casualties.40

By 2008, many Pakistani national security commentators, civilian and military, were identifying the United States, usually under the euphemistic label of “extra-regional forces,” as a direct political and military threat to Pakistan—a danger that oftentimes was judged as materializing in collusion with other adversaries such as India and even Israel. Before long, Pakistani military journals carried numerous discussions about the need to develop strategic solutions to this emerging peril.41 Surveying the challenges, one Pakistan Army officer, for example, offered a wide range of solutions: these ranged from “deter[ing a] war by posing [the] threat of heavy casualties by guerrilla tactics and [the] employment of WMDs [weapons of mass destruction]” to “pos[ing a] continuous threat of launching nuclear warheads on ERF [extra-regional force] forces, [the] adversary’s ports, sensitive installations and vital economic targets” to prosecuting anti-access measures aimed at preventing the “enemy’s deployment . . . by posing [the] threat of use of WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] on [its] bases/carrier groups.”42

Although this particular analysis was exceptional because of its transparency, it only reflected the wider, intensifying concern in Pakistan that the United States now embodied a major threat to its security. This fear was finally brought home in the most vivid way by the successful covert U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in May 2011. Because Operation Neptune Spear was undertaken in complete secrecy vis-à-vis Pakistan, it accentuated Islamabad’s paranoia about “unilateral military actions by the United States in the future both in terms of taking out the so-called militant ‘safe havens’ and, when necessary, Pakistan’s nuclear assets,”43 thus reinforcing the belief among Pakistani military planners that Washington must now be treated as a nuclear threat in some contingencies as well.44 This conviction would bolster Pakistan’s ongoing investments in physical hardening as well as deception and denial where its nuclear weapons storage was concerned, while also leading to enhanced efforts at diversifying its naval nuclear systems and developing a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile.

The persistent quest for security that has marked Pakistan’s independent life has now resulted in a sturdy reliance on nuclear weapons.

Altogether, these developments in the first two decades of the twenty-first century deepened the importance of nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s strategic consciousness. The persistent quest for security that has marked Pakistan’s independent life, which took it for a long time in the direction of seeking external protection through alliances, has now resulted in a sturdy reliance on nuclear weapons. Because of Pakistan’s phobia of India and its more deeply disguised fears about the United States (and often Israel), Islamabad is unlikely to ever give up its nuclear weapons even if a global movement to abolish these devices were to one day prove successful. Unlike China and India, which have conventional military solutions to their security threats in principle, civilian and military decisionmakers in Pakistan are convinced that they have absolutely no alternatives to nuclear weaponry—if the survival of their historically bruised state is to be assured.

Given the deep internal cleavages within Pakistan, its nuclear weapons also remain one of the few issues that enjoy great support across the political spectrum. They are objects of national admiration, exemplifying perhaps Pakistan’s only technological achievement of global impact. It is, indeed, ironic that the nuclear weapons program, which was initiated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to immunize Pakistan against external threats while at the same time intended as an instrument for preserving civilian supremacy over the military, is now firmly—and almost exclusively—under military control.45 As long as the Pakistan Army remains the embodiment and motor of Pakistan’s resistance toward India, its nuclear program is destined to expand and diversify because the military has brought to this task significant resources, bureaucratic effectiveness, and scopious ambitions. The military’s belief that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have already deterred India from aggression on numerous occasions since the late 1980s only further entrenches their importance in the nation’s security calculus.46

Nuclear weapons in Pakistan have thus become versatile instruments of statecraft. They serve as deterrents to nuclear attack by other states, protect against conventional aggression at all but low levels of violence, and, as such, serve to ward off major military defeats that might result from Pakistan’s conventional force weaknesses against larger adversaries like India (and possibly the United States). They also function as useful “instruments that permit and facilitate low-intensity conflict against India,”47 while immunizing Pakistan against significant Indian retaliation in return. And they serve a host of political functions as well, such as symbolizing Pakistan’s technological prowess both within the Muslim world and in the larger international community, signaling its determination to preserve its national unity at all costs, ensuring the dominance of the military over its nominal civilian superiors, and underwriting the nation’s autonomy in the face of coercive pressures that may arise from abroad.48

Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrine

How Pakistan has sought to secure these goals is reflected in its nuclear doctrine and, more importantly, in the evolution of that doctrine from 1998 to the current day. Like China—but in contrast to India—Pakistan has been reticent to articulate its nuclear doctrine clearly. This reluctance is driven by the understandable fear that a transparent formulation could subject Pakistan to uncomfortable tests by its adversaries who might seek to probe its ambiguities and weaknesses to Islamabad’s disadvantage. Because Pakistan is always conscious of its relative weakness vis-à-vis India (and others such as the United States), it has sought to secure the benefits of deterrence flowing from its acknowledged ownership of nuclear weapons rather than by issuing any formal statements that describe the type of nuclear arsenal it seeks or how that might be employed.49 Pakistan has, indeed, gone to some lengths to clarify its nuclear command-and-control system, but this transparency is intended mainly to underscore that it takes its responsibilities as a nuclear power seriously and that it has the procedural systems in place to use its nuclear weapons, if required, to deter aggression effectively.

Senior Pakistani officials, however, have spoken on numerous occasions about nuclear weapons, their utility for Pakistan’s security, and the circumstances that might entail their use. It is in these pronouncements that the substance of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine at the declaratory and operational levels is conveyed, even if a public document remains absent. Any systematization of the ideas found in these remarks is necessarily a reconstruction, but it can contain enough verisimilitude given the totality of the information available about Islamabad’s nuclear weapons program. Pakistani policymakers, too, would not want it any other way: they desire to convey through their diverse, often elliptical, statements enough information to deter but without binding themselves to any specific course of action a priori.

The Declaratory Level

With these caveats, Pakistan’s declaratory policy after the 1998 tests could be conceived as consisting of three components.

The Commitment to Restraint

First, like India and China, Islamabad committed itself in 1999, in the words of then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, to seeking only “minimum credible deterrence,” meaning, deploying a force structure that would be marked by “nuclear restraint.”50 The emphasis on restraint was colored by the desire to communicate that Pakistan, being compelled to acquire nuclear weapons to protect its security in the face of geographic disadvantages, conventional force asymmetries, and the threat of strategic coercion from larger neighbors such as India, would aim to maintain the smallest possible arsenal consistent with its defensive aims. Recognizing that deploying a nuclear force would burden Pakistan and potentially undermine its development goals, both the civilian and the military leaderships around the time of the nuclear tests were convinced that a modest and finite deterrent would suffice to protect Pakistan against what was considered to be the most dangerous threat: an invasion by India’s superior military forces aimed at “destroying or otherwise overwhelming the country.”51 Maintaining a small but effective nuclear force held out the promise of deterring this worst-case eventuality and would obviate the need for “any nuclear competition or [an] arms race” with India.52

For understandable reasons, the size of Pakistan’s minimum deterrent could not be “quantified in static numbers” nor could it frozen permanently; rather, it would be determined by circumstances yet restrained by the desire to avoid any open-ended buildup of the kind that had occurred during the Cold War.53 Although Pakistani officials were tight lipped about the number of nuclear weapons Pakistan had in 1998, credible Western sources suggested that Islamabad then possessed enough fissile material for some sixteen to twenty weapons.54 In any event, Samar Mubarakmand, the leader of Pakistan’s nuclear test team and a member of the PAEC, revealingly stated in an interview soon after the nuclear tests that a force size of some sixty to seventy warheads would suffice to deter India.55 Brigadier Naeem Ahmad Salik, then with Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, in public remarks in 2006 after his retirement, also suggested that some sixty-eight to seventy weapons would be deemed consistent with a theoretical notion of minimum deterrence, although “the actual size of the arsenal would however depend on the number of targets actually identified as critical, the faith in the performance of one’s weapons and delivery systems, and whether the objective is just to deter and not to totally devastate the opposing country.”56 It is highly likely, therefore, that Pakistan’s internal judgments about the desired size of its minimum deterrent coalesced toward some sixty to seventy weapons in the aftermath of its nuclear tests. The expansion of its fissile material production base would have permitted it to achieve this target early in the following decade. While the precise architecture of its deterrent still remained publicly unspecified, these weapons would inevitably have armed a small number of aircraft (likely F-16s) with an increasing fraction allocated to the growing number of short- and medium-range missiles (the M-11 SRBMs and Ghauri MRBMs) that were in the national inventory at the time.

The Emphasis on Stabilization

Second, the declared objective of deploying a modest nuclear force was the “stabilization of strategic deterrence in the South Asian region.”57 Soon after Pakistan’s 1998 nuclear tests, Nawaz Sharif would emphasize that “stabilization,”58 along with nuclear restraint and minimum credible deterrence, was one of the three foundational elements of Pakistan’s nuclear policy. The emphasis on stabilization was meant to convey that Pakistan’s power weaknesses vis-à-vis India would no longer exacerbate the dangers of invasion and the threats of coercion potentially emanating from its larger and more powerful neighbor. Nuclear weapons had effectively erased the inherent inequality between India and Pakistan, freeing Islamabad from the need for external alliances while simultaneously guaranteeing the permanent security that Pakistan had sought since its inception.59

The “stabilization” that would immunize Pakistan “against all forms of external aggression” obviously required “an effective combination of conventional and strategic forces at adequate levels within the country’s resource constraints” as well as the requisite investments to prevent its “adversaries from attempting a counter-force strategy against its strategic assets.”60 If aggression occurred despite these preparations, Pakistan would be willing to threaten the use of, or actually use, nuclear weapons first, even if the adversary had not comparably done so. This threat to use nuclear weapons first to ward off adversity sharply distinguished Islamabad’s declaratory policy from New Delhi’s. Given India’s greater national capabilities, a no-first-use nuclear policy made eminent sense because it had other instruments capable of effectively protecting its security. Pakistan’s relative weaknesses, in contrast, compelled it to hold out the threat of possible nuclear first use, ideally to deter any military aggression to begin with but, if that were unsuccessful, to follow through by threatening to use, or by actually using, nuclear weapons first depending on the circumstances. The threat of nuclear first use, in contrast to both Chinese and Indian declaratory doctrine, thus functioned as Pakistan’s solution for ensuring the stabilization of regional deterrence. In this context, Islamabad, strictly speaking, did not commit to using nuclear weapons first; rather, it simply affirmed that its adversaries could not count on its forbearance if the first use of nuclear weapons was required to ensure national self-preservation.61

The Imperative of Deterring India

Third, Pakistan’s declaratory doctrine in 1998 continually emphasized that its emerging nuclear capabilities were intended to deter only India and India alone. When Pakistan first began to contemplate acquiring nuclear weapons during the 1960s, then foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto advanced the idea of an “Islamic bomb” in the hope of mobilizing political and financial resources from the Muslim world to support Pakistan’s quest for nuclear weaponry.62 Bhutto’s successor, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, a fervent Islamist, held on to the notion. Over time, this would lead the Pakistani state to turn a blind eye to some of A. Q. Khan’s efforts to proliferate nuclear weapons technologies to other Muslim countries in order to “redress the ‘international balance,’”63 as many Pakistani politicians thought desirable during the 1970s. (Khan’s proliferation activities involving non-Muslim states, such as North Korea, were motivated by the more straightforward desire for military technology—the medium-range No Dong-1 missile in particular, which would extend Pakistan’s delivery range at a time when Islamabad only possessed short-range ballistic missiles.64) Even though the public scandal over Khan’s activities was still a few years away, Pakistani leaders after Ghulam Ishaq Khan (1989–1992) had steadily given up on imagining that their nuclear weapons would serve anything but the objective of self-preservation. An opaque nuclear relationship with Saudi Arabia still persists despite denials by both states,65 but Islamabad clearly recognized at the time of the nuclear tests that its nuclear weapons program would be more easily tolerated internationally as long as it remains focused on protecting national security in contrast to any conceit about providing a nuclear umbrella for other Muslim states or arming the latter in their struggles against various foreign threats.66

The challenges posed by India sufficed to keep Pakistan preoccupied, and the 1987 and 1990 crises with New Delhi only confirmed India’s centrality in Pakistan’s calculations. Although Pakistan would continue to remain uncomfortable with Israel and was often fearful of the United States, its nuclear weapons then were not seriously conceived as deterring either of these more distant powers—India dominated Pakistan’s attention. After the 1998 nuclear tests, Islamabad—partly in order to secure international acceptability and wholly because it was true—emphasized that it was compelled to acquire nuclear weapons and even test them reluctantly only because of the dangers embodied by India. As Nawaz Sharif summarized in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1998, “Pakistan’s nuclear tests were conducted not to challenge the existing non-proliferation regime, nor to fulfil any great power ambition. They were designed to prevent the threat or use of force against Pakistan. Our tests in response to India thus served the cause of peace and stability in our region.”67 As Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, formerly Pakistan’s foreign minister, described the conviction that animated the nation’s program in 2003, “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are India-specific.”68

The Operational Level

The operational dimension of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, which steadily became visible in the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests, flowed directly from its declaratory policy.

Usable Military Instruments

To begin with, and in sharp contrast again with both China and India, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were explicitly conceived as military instruments that might have to be employed in extremis for purposes of ensuring national safety. Because India and China have large conventional forces that enjoy operational advantages over their adversaries, their nuclear weapons were viewed primarily as political instruments whose utility derived mainly from their presence per se and whose value lay largely in functioning as pure deterrents against possible blackmail and coercion. Both Indian and Chinese doctrine, accordingly, treat nuclear weapons as symbolic instruments to shape the calculations of an adversary in competitive international politics. Pakistan’s conventional military weaknesses vis-à-vis India, in contrast, compelled it to think of its nuclear weapons as usable military instruments whose utility derived not merely from their presence but from the real possibilities of their employment in the event of major conflicts. Consequently, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons at the operational level had to satisfy two antinomic demands satisfactorily: tight negative use control in peacetime (meaning protection against unauthorized use) and effective positive control (meaning they are readily available for effective operational use) in times of crisis and war.69 All nuclear states are confronted by these requirements, but Pakistan even more so because the value of its nuclear weapons derive fundamentally from its willingness to actually use them first in the face of conventional threats alone.

When Pakistan would actually use nuclear weapons thus became the subject of significant analytical interest. Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, then director general of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, offered his now well-known but deliberately imprecise criteria: Pakistani nuclear use was plausible “if the very existence of Pakistan as a state is at stake” either because India conquers a large part of Pakistani territory, or if it destroys a substantial portion of Pakistan’s land and air forces, or if it successfully strangles Pakistan economically through coercive means, or if it destabilizes Pakistan internally to the point of implosion.70 These criteria for Pakistani nuclear use have been parsed endlessly since they were first articulated in 2002. Their nuances are of lesser concern here, but from the viewpoint of understanding the first component of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine at an operational level—nuclear weapons as usable military devices—as it was conceived in the early years after the 1998 nuclear tests, three elements are worthy of note.

First, Pakistan treated its nuclear weapons seriously as military tools and planned for their deliberate use in various contingencies that its professional military believed to be credible. Second, any nuclear use would occur only if the very survival of the nation itself was judged to be at stake: as then president Pervez Musharraf emphasized in 2002, these were truly weapons of last resort to be contemplated only “if Pakistan is threatened with extinction,” which is when “the pressure of our countrymen would be so big that this option [of nuclear first use], too, would have to be considered.”71 Third, and finally, the expectation that these first-use-in-last-resort weapons might have to be employed in extremis also implied that nuclear forces and their conventional counterparts would be minimally integrated. The nuclear elements functioned as strategic reserves; they would not alter the character of conventional military operations, which would be fully employed to mount the best defense they could. Pakistani conventional military success was, in fact, highly desirable because it would preclude the use of nuclear employment altogether—with all its attendant risks. But if an effective conventional defense could not be mustered, nuclear weapons remained available for use as instruments of either signaling or punishment.

Threatening Unacceptable Damage

If the first component of Pakistan’s operational doctrine thus consisted of treating nuclear weapons as military instruments for possible use in war—but ideally to deter all conflict to begin with—the second component at the operational level focused on the ends to which Pakistan’s nuclear use would be directed. This element was shaped both by Pakistan’s larger strategy of deterrence and by the technology of the day. As previous discussion indicated, Pakistan conceived of its possible nuclear use only late in a major conflict—meaning only after its conventional forces proved incapable of resisting significant aggression by India or when the country was on the cusp of collapse because of Indian coercion. Assuming that Indian aggressiveness continued unabated despite Pakistani nuclear signaling and the threats of possible use, the only logical objective of Islamabad’s nuclear first use in these circumstances would be punishing Indian belligerence. This required inflicting “unacceptable damage to the enemy,”72 destruction that causes the adversary to pause and consider whether continuing the conflict is worth the costs of suffering further nuclear attacks or continued nuclear exchanges. If India were—in violation of its own no-first-use commitments—to have attacked Pakistan with nuclear weapons first either as part of a damage limiting strategy in the face of anticipated Pakistani first use or simply to destroy Pakistan conclusively, Islamabad’s incentives to retaliate with nuclear attacks that inflict “unacceptable damage” would be all the greater.

In any event, the capacity to inflict “unacceptable damage” was critical to the Pakistani calculus of deterring Indian aggression, averting conclusive defeat, and warding off strangulation or implosion. This requirement inevitably implied focusing on countervalue targets because the loss of major population and economic sites embodies the intolerable damage that would retard India’s national reconstitution most decisively. Because Pakistan’s largest nuclear weapons in 1998 and immediately thereafter could produce yields in the region of some 12 kilotons at most—the upper limit of the largest weapon demonstrated during the May tests73—retaliatory attacks on Indian population targets held the most promise for inflicting unbearable punishment. While these weapons could obviously be used in a countermilitary role as well—for example, against infantry and armored divisions or against capital ships—such damage would be proportionately less significant. Consequently, as Lieutenant General Kamal Matinuddin correctly argued, “It would be very difficult for India to strike first if it recognizes that a massive retaliation on its cities would be the response from Pakistan.”74 Both strategy and technology then converged to make countervalue targeting the best punitive strategy for Pakistan, given that it expected to use its nuclear weapons first, albeit late, in a conflict and only when pushed to the wall and fearful for its own survival. Since Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was also imagined as not exceeding sixty to seventy weapons at this time,75 inflicting maximum punishment through the smallest expenditure of relatively scarce nuclear weapons made countervalue targeting the most sensible strategy for an emerging nuclear power (without ruling out the possibility of token strikes on other targets as part of a graduated nuclear response).

Speedy War Termination

The third and final component of Pakistan’s operational doctrine around the time of its 1998 nuclear tests was one that did not receive extensive articulation but was implied by its first-use-in-last-resort nuclear strategy: the imperative of war termination. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were intended, first and foremost, to deter all kinds of conflict that threatened its political survival as a state. Yet policymakers in Islamabad could not presume that merely possessing nuclear weapons would give India pause if, in an acute crisis, New Delhi calculated that it could either overwhelm Pakistan rapidly before any nuclear use could be executed or because Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could be suppressed by Indian damage-limiting strategies of different kinds. Given these contingencies, Islamabad had to invest extensively in ensuring the survival of its nuclear weapons so that they would be available for use in the event of its threatened collapse, given that Pakistan had by now ruled out all reliance on foreign allies as a result of its painful history.76

Any Pakistani nuclear use in the event of an existential threat to its survival could have appeared in one of two manifestations: executing a so-called Samson option—meaning accepting the possibility of Pakistan’s own destruction if that were the only way to destroy an obdurately belligerent India—if India refused to desist from completing its campaign of aggression against Pakistan, or unleashing sufficient punishment to enforce speedy war termination so as to enable at least Islamabad (and possibly New Delhi as well) to pick up the pieces and learn new ways of coexisting after such a catastrophic conflict.77 Although Pakistan’s policymakers would hold out the threat of executing a Samson option in order to strengthen deterrence, they would nonetheless have preferred the second choice if these were the only two alternatives available.78 The desire to avoid using nuclear weapons at all—or, at worst, to use them only when they had no other alternatives—implied that any Pakistani nuclear first use would be directed not at correcting the military disadvantages in order to better prosecute the war but rather to terminate it conclusively so as to allow the nation to survive the aggression.

The arresting character of any nuclear weapons use, including the prospect of further escalation or the possibility of great power pressures on the antagonists, all combined to make speedy war termination the most sensible objective of any imagined Pakistani nuclear employment. Although this aspect did not receive widespread discussion in Pakistani writings—because their focus centered disproportionately on justifying the need for a nuclear force to preserve deterrence—senior Pakistani officials, both civilian and military, in the aftermath of the nuclear tests simply presumed that, given the catastrophic damage that could be inflicted even by a small number of nuclear weapons (not to mention the shock of exploding the nuclear taboo by actually using such weapons), war termination—not protracted nuclear war, and still less extended nuclear exchanges aimed at producing a “victory” of some sort—remained the most obvious end to which their weapons would be employed.79

New Doctrinal Shifts at the Declaratory Level

When these elements of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine at the declaratory and operational levels are reviewed some twenty-odd years after Islamabad tested nuclear weapons, the changes are significant, in some ways dramatically so. In fact, when the doctrinal changes in China, India, and Pakistan are considered synoptically, the transformations in Pakistan are not only the most extensive but also arguably the most consequential from the viewpoint of strategic stability.

From Minimum to Full-Spectrum Deterrence

The first and most obvious shift at the level of declaratory policy has been the change in emphasis from credible minimum deterrence to so-called full-spectrum deterrence. Although the notion of credible minimum deterrence has not been jettisoned formally, it has been eclipsed by the newer vision of full-spectrum deterrence, which was first announced in 2011.80 This shift presages both a larger arsenal than was envisaged around 1998 and a more diverse nuclear inventory that is intended to play multiple political and operational roles. The early conception of minimum deterrence centered on possessing a relatively small arsenal of between sixty and seventy weapons capable of producing broadly Hiroshima- and Nagasaki-type yields of some 12 kilotons (perhaps 15 kilotons at most) and was intended primarily for countervalue targeting as a last resort if Pakistan’s survival was judged to be at mortal risk. The notion of full-spectrum deterrence in contrast appears to be open ended in regard to arsenal size: although each nuclear planning cycle in Pakistan presumably sets specific numerical targets and as such implies “finite limits,”81 the expansive character of the missions now sought to be serviced by nuclear weapons suggests that the natural ceiling on arsenal size previously emplaced by the demands of interdicting Indian cities—targets that do not dramatically increase in number over short time spans—has broken down as Pakistan’s current declaratory goal of full-spectrum deterrence potentially requires targeting a large number of diverse military assets across the spectrum.82

As Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai elaborated, this new conception of deterrence involves possessing the “full spectrum of nuclear weapons in all three categories—strategic, operational and tactical, with full range coverage of the large Indian landmass and its outlying territories.” It aims to bring “every Indian target into Pakistan’s striking range” and as such requires “appropriate weapons yield coverage and the numbers to deter the adversary’s pronounced policy of massive retaliation.” This emphasis on being able to interdict a large number of “countervalue, counterforce, and battlefield” targets inevitably requires a much bigger nuclear force than was previously imagined, with the consequence that Pakistan’s potential “counter-massive retaliation punishment [against India] will be as severe if not more” violent than India’s own nuclear use.83

The doctrinal shift in emphasis from minimum deterrence to full-spectrum deterrence is thus portentous. In seeking to replicate a simulacrum of NATO’s nuclear strategy during the 1960s—the doctrine of flexible response, which required numerous and diverse nuclear weapons to allow graduated nuclear use across an unbroken spectrum starting at the tactical level, then escalating to the theater level, and finally eventuating in strategic nuclear exchanges—Pakistan has embarked on a course of action where the size of its arsenal will not be constrained by any limitations imposed by its previously modest target set.84 Unlike Indian cities, which are relatively few in number and thus curb the quantity of weapons required for their destruction, countermilitary targeting requires plentiful weapons because the typical targets—infantry and armored formations, ships and submarines, and air and missile bases—are hard and exist in larger numbers. In fact, the force requirements for countermilitary targeting are usually even more expansive than those required for counterforce targeting because, in general, the number of adversary nuclear weapons and their associated targets are fewer than the conventional force assets that nuclear countermilitary targeting aims to hold at risk.85

Although it is unlikely that Pakistan will deploy the thousands of weapons that will be required to interdict all such Indian military assets—among other reasons because it would run up against both fissile material and command-and-control constraints—the fact remains that it is now seeking to neutralize a much wider set of conventional targets, which deprives it of the customary brakes on force size that were imposed by its previous interest in mainly targeting Indian cities. This evolving Pakistani shift toward full-spectrum deterrence has been driven primarily by its conviction that India’s so-called Cold Start doctrine—New Delhi’s threat to mount limited conventional attacks in retaliation for terrorism originating in Pakistan against India—requires a nuclear response because of its fears that India’s military superiority could quickly overwhelm its conventional defenses and thereby pose a risk to the nation’s survival itself.86 Alternatively, the fears that India could execute Cold Start operations focused on securing “limited objectives”—either operational successes or territorial gains—below Pakistan’s nuclear use threshold and thereby potentially undermine its ability to use nuclear weapons to deter any Indian military action has taken Pakistan toward the same end: expanding and diversifying its contemporary nuclear arsenal. This ambition is intensified by the suspicion that India’s nuclear weapons stockpile is actually larger than is generally believed in the West, or could potentially be so because of India’s huge stock of unsafeguarded fissile materials and its vast unsafeguarded capacity to produce such materials (which has been formalized by the U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement).87

The diversity of nuclear weapon systems within each leg of the Pakistani triad, however, is striking and is consistent with the conviction that Islamabad must possess unique devices that are appropriate to countering different types of threats.

Whatever the reasoning, the result has been unambiguous. The shift to full-spectrum deterrence now legitimizes a substantial transformation of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon inventory, which, like China’s and India’s, also seems to be open-ended despite being characterized by incremental growth (at least in the case of the latter). Pakistan’s numerical expansion, again mimicking China’s and India’s, is now formally manifested through its desire to develop a triad of air-delivered as well as land- and sea-based nuclear weapons, all intended to hold at risk a variety of targets ranging from military forces all the way to the population centers of an adversary. The number of nuclear weapons that Pakistan could eventually deploy in support of full-spectrum deterrence would likely be larger than India’s (and could rival even China’s) inventory over time, although this expectation is fraught with considerable uncertainty because the precise targets of the current Indian and Chinese nuclear expansions are unknown.

The diversity of nuclear weapon systems within each leg of the Pakistani triad, however, is striking and is consistent with the conviction that Islamabad must possess unique devices that are appropriate to countering different types of threats in each of the three warfighting realms: land, air, and sea. The ambition to ensure that India has “no place to hide,”88 as well as Islamabad’s desire “to plug the gaps” in all potential escalation sequences,89 almost guarantees that Pakistan will field a highly variegated nuclear arsenal, with each unique weapon being designed for a specific operational role.

The Indian nuclear inventory does not come anywhere close. But the Chinese arsenal could mimic Pakistan’s in this regard over time, even though both China and India still conceive of their nuclear reserves as having largely a deterrent role intended to counter nuclear threats or punish any nuclear first use by an adversary if deterrence fails. Only India, however, has thus far eschewed developing differentiated nuclear systems that would enable it to target its adversaries’ national capabilities in a seamless way, with unique systems designed to interdict varying targets from battlefield formations to operational reserves to symbolic centers to economic concentrations and eventually population hubs. Pakistan’s quest for full-spectrum deterrence has already taken it in this direction—though China could follow—thus making Islamabad truly exceptional within the Indian subcontinent, at least right now.

New Tools for Stabilizing Deterrence

The distinctive aspect of full-spectrum deterrence beyond the mere expansion in force size—the development of various low-yield nuclear weapons for specific battlefield uses in addition to maintaining higher-yield weaponry for countervalue targeting—raises questions about its implications for the second element of Pakistan’s declaratory doctrine, namely the emphasis on stabilizing general deterrence within Southern Asia. The focus on stabilizing deterrence, it may be recalled, derived from Pakistan’s desire to immunize itself against the ill consequences of power inequality vis-à-vis India. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons held out the possibility of nullifying India’s conventional military advantages, thereby reducing its capacity to coerce or subjugate Pakistan. Islamabad’s implied willingness to use its nuclear weapons first only reinforced its capacity to neutralize India’s military superiority. But, in the traditional conception, this benefit was sought to be procured principally by using nuclear weapons against Indian countervalue targets in the last resort, thereby bringing the conflict to a halt.

The new conception of full-spectrum deterrence does not fundamentally change the previous objective of stabilization. It still remains oriented toward erasing India’s power advantages and, by implication, its capacity to coerce Pakistan. But instead of deriving this power solely from the ultimate threat of countervalue attacks, Islamabad now seeks to develop lower-yield weapons that could be used to interdict substrategic targets before progressively escalating to more valuable objects such as cities. The reason for developing the capacity to strike lower-end and intermediate targets first is to increase Pakistan’s options when faced with the prospect of imminent nuclear use. Since India’s nuclear doctrine threatens “massive retaliation”—an eventuality that appears more certain if all that Pakistan could strike were Indian cities even if only as a last resort—Islamabad’s full-spectrum deterrence attempts to avert this possibility by lengthening the nuclear fuse.90

It provides Pakistan the option to employ nuclear weapons in more limited ways and, although it cannot conclusively guarantee that India will eschew massive retaliation even if Pakistan’s initial nuclear employment is limited, it offers Pakistan a better chance of avoiding this outcome than the alternative of striking Indian cities first. In any event, even if Pakistan were compelled to use low-yield weapons demonstratively on Indian military targets perhaps on its own soil to begin with, the aim nonetheless remains the same: Islamabad seeks to stabilize strategic deterrence—that is, to prevent New Delhi from exploiting the extant power asymmetry by prosecuting various types of non-nuclear military operations where Pakistan may be at a disadvantage.

Targeting Beyond India

If the second element of Pakistan’s declaratory doctrine, stabilizing strategic deterrence, has not been fundamentally transformed by its new shift to full-spectrum deterrence, even though the instruments employed toward that end have changed dramatically, the third component—building a nuclear force directed only at India—has undergone more subtle changes. While most observers traditionally would agree with the judgment that “the Pakistani concept of nuclear deterrence is India-specific and aims, first and foremost, to deter Indian conventional as well as nuclear aggression,”91 Adil Sultan, a military officer working in Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, noted in 2012 that “the cardinal principle of Pakistan’s nuclear policy remains hinged to deter all forms of aggression, mainly from India” (emphasis added).92 Mainly, but no longer solely: this subtle shift in direction, which was slowly gathering steam because of growing fears about “extra-regional forces” during the first decade of this century, appeared increasingly visible after the U.S. raid on Abbottabad in 2011. This event signaled the new Pakistani turn toward thinking about nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis other adversaries beyond India. Pakistani civilian and military officials are quick to dismiss such possibilities in public conversations because it serves their interest to keep the international community’s focus fixed on India, but within Pakistan, the belief that its nuclear weapons should deter other adversaries as well is quite widespread.

Israel and the United States are the two countries often considered in this regard. Although Pakistan and Israel still do not have diplomatic relations because of their differing positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Islamabad has been very pragmatic about how it manages its unofficial ties with Jerusalem.93 For all the sub rosa engagement between the two countries, however, Pakistani leaders have been unable to entirely dismiss the idea that Israel constitutes a threat to their country and to their nuclear program in particular. These anxieties have been fueled by the numerous speculative news reports emerging since the early 1980s about Israeli planning for attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons infrastructure, sometimes in supposed collaboration with India.94 The development of Pakistan’s own nuclear deterrent, which was initially packaged as a so-called Islamic bomb, raised concerns that Israel, a Jewish state supposedly at war with the Muslim world, might come to view Islamabad’s nuclear capabilities as a latent threat. As one scholar summarizing these perceptions, which are held most strongly by Islamist political parties in Pakistan, noted:

While Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent is aimed at countering India, Pakistan as an Islamic state has responsibilities to the broader Muslim umma. No matter how much Pakistani officials disavow any military role in the continuing Palestinian-Israeli conflict . . . Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will inevitably be seen as a threat by Israel, and therefore Pakistan must include Israel in its defense planning.95

These sentiments rarely find echoes in official Pakistani statements, but the close Indian-Israeli relationship is unsettling to Pakistan; it is often commented about privately and sometimes publicly.96 In any event, and whether intended or not, Pakistan’s increasing missile range, exemplified most obviously by its Shaheen-III IRBM, brings Israel within reach for the first time, a fact that has not escaped the attention of Israeli security analysts.97 Given the residual fears about Israel still present in Pakistan, it is not surprising that Islamabad’s nuclear planners view their emerging capabilities as providing insurance against any possible threat, although for both rhetorical and real reasons they are unlikely to publicly identify dangers other than India.

This argument applies a fortiori to the United States, even though Islamabad’s concerns about Washington are more acute. Although both capitals were close security partners at different points in times past, the steady erosion in bilateral ties—produced by mutual grievances over alliance guarantees, nuclear proliferation, and, most recently, the global war of terror and U.S. stabilization efforts in Afghanistan—has pushed Pakistan to consider the United States as a new focus of its deterrence efforts amid persistent fears that Washington might one day feel compelled to neutralize Islamabad’s nuclear weapons. These worries have intensified since the U.S. raid at Abbottabad and still animate Pakistan’s security elites.98 In an attempt to counter this threat, Pakistan is expanding its naval planning to deter U.S. power projection from the sea, developing new nuclear weapons that can be flexibly used to target both U.S. and Indian naval forces, and, even more ambitiously, setting out to develop with Chinese assistance an intercontinental ballistic missile that could eventually hold at risk the U.S. homeland itself.99 Amid public criticisms from the U.S. Congress, the administration of president Barack Obama strongly pressed Pakistan to terminate its ICBM program. If past history is any indication, however, Islamabad is unlikely to have really done so given the depth of its anxieties about the United States and its growing fears about U.S.-Indian collusion in strategic matters.100 Thus, the last element of Pakistan’s declaratory doctrine has subtly mutated from an India-specific objective into an India-plus nuclear ambition.

New Doctrinal Shifts at the Operational Level

While Pakistan’s declaratory doctrine has changed in some clear ways since its 1998 tests, shifts in its operational dimensions are, for the moment at least, more ambiguous.

Deeper Conventional-Nuclear Integration?

In the first dimension, namely, Pakistan’s conception of nuclear weapons as military instruments, there is fundamental continuity but with important potential alterations on the horizon. The view that nuclear weapons are usable military antidotes to political coercion, conventional aggression, and nuclear attacks has not changed. This conviction previously led Pakistan to emphasize negative and positive control equally: nuclear weapons cannot be used without authorization but must be ready for employment when required by its leadership. The equal priority placed on these two potentially conflicting demands led Pakistan to sequester its nuclear weapons from conventional military operations.101 This separation made operational sense because it allowed field commanders to plan their conventional defense without having to worry about how nuclear weapons would impact their force organization and deployment on the battlefield. The challenges here are, in fact, significant; even the United States and NATO never satisfactorily resolved them during the Cold War.

The original Pakistani concept, therefore, revolved around its aircraft- and missile-delivered nuclear weapons playing no active operational role whatsoever during conventional operations. They were positioned far away from the expected battlefields and their employment would be contemplated only in last resort when operational reverses threatened the existence of the Pakistani state. This sequestration of nuclear and conventional forces was only aided by bureaucratic factors: the Strategic Plans Division, which oversaw the development and production of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, was highly autonomous and saw its role as producing the strategic weaponry that Pakistan’s leaders could employ for retaliatory missions against rearward Indian targets in the event of successful conventional aggression by New Delhi.

In recent years, however, as Pakistan’s minimum deterrent has steadily transmuted into full-spectrum deterrence, Islamabad has begun to think about how to integrate its nuclear forces into its conventional operations under the aegis of its “new concept of war fighting.”102 Not that it is actually required to do so because, as the next chapter indicates, Pakistan actually enjoys significant conventional force advantages along the border with India on a day-to-day basis, thereby averting the possibility of any dramatic defeat early in a conventional conflict.103 In fact, the Pakistan Army’s Azm-e-Nau series of military exercises during General Ashfaq Kayani’s tenure as chief of army staff repeatedly proved the viability of Pakistan’s conventional defenses against the feared Indian threat embodied by Cold Start.104 This led one prominent Indian military officer to conclude that the Pakistani claim that “it is in a position to deploy fast enough to the borders to give Indian attacks a bloody nose . . . challenges India’s expectation that Pakistan would choose to lose cheaply than resoundingly at the next higher level.”105 All the same, Pakistani military planners have begun to focus on the challenges of integrating conventional and nuclear operations more seriously. A series of Pakistani tabletop and field exercises during the last decade witnessed Strategic Plans Division personnel collaborating with their conventional force counterparts to explore the implications of synergistic conventional and nuclear force employment on Pakistan’s warfighting strategies. As part of this effort, battlefield nuclear weapons of various kinds have made an appearance in exercises, and experiments pertaining to command-and-control procedures in case nuclear weapons are to be dispersed in the field have also been undertaken.106

While these developments are still a work in progress—and it is uncertain whether Pakistan will succeed where the United States and NATO previously failed—it raises an as yet unanswerable question about whether Pakistan is moving toward a posture of “early nuclear use” in contrast to its previous emphasis on employing nuclear weapons only in “last resort.”107 If Pakistan is nudging forward in this direction, does it also imply that Islamabad has now prioritized positive control over negative control? And, if the former—which seems inherent in any decision to distribute tactical nuclear weapons in frontline formations early in, if not before, a conflict—is Pakistan now willing to accept the risk of weakening its conventional defenses (by either diverting forces for nuclear weapons security or dispersing its defensive formations for possible nuclear exchanges on the battlefield)? Or will it still seek to preserve a robust conventional defense (by either risking nuclear security or attempting to preserve it solely through opacity or deception on the assumption that India will not target its nuclear retaliation on Pakistan’s frontline formations)?108

None of these questions can be satisfactorily answered yet because, despite the explorations currently underway in the Pakistan Army, it is possible that the military leadership could end up concluding it has no better solutions to the problems of nuclear-conventional integration than the United States found during the Cold War. If that be the case, Pakistan could withhold its battlefield nuclear weapons from early dispersal to frontline formations, preserving them for last resort commitment, dispersal, and employment, and only when its conventional defenses appear to be fatally faltering. If Pakistan settles for the latter—safer—course, the integration of nuclear weapons with its conventional forces would take radically different forms than those required by the need for early dispersal and early nuclear use. Whether Pakistan can, therefore, develop the appropriate organizational routines to marry its new and diverse tactical nuclear weaponry with its traditional deterrence posture remains to be seen. For the moment, however, the previous commitment to sequestering nuclear weapons of every kind apart from the conventional forces remains in place.

From Unacceptable Damage to Nuclear Warfighting?

Yet the possibility of change pertaining to conventional-nuclear integration only highlights the question of whether the second component of Pakistan’s previous operational doctrine—the emphasis on inflicting unacceptable damage through countervalue targeting—might also be undergoing dramatic alteration. Taken at face value, the induction of tactical nuclear weapons symbolizes this transformation already because it suggests that Pakistan’s willingness to use such weapons first signals possibly graduated escalation where substrategic targets, such as Indian military formations, are interdicted initially—either discretely or on a large scale—but long before Islamabad begins to attack Indian cities, which would be the ultimate manifestation of all-out nuclear war if such strikes were extensive.

Clearly, Pakistan had the option of executing pseudo-tactical attacks even under its previous operational doctrine if it chose to employ its strategic weapons selectively on military targets and manipulated their lethal effects by altering their heights of burst. Pakistan’s new tactical nuclear weapons significantly expand the possibilities for attacking such targets because their smaller yields, which could range from less than a kiloton to single-digit kiloton(s), allow it to maintain a dedicated and possibly larger force. Thus, Pakistan’s shift to specialized low-yield weapons may not represent a fundamental discontinuity with its past strategies, but it does epitomize a qualitative refinement that lends itself to more dangerous possibilities for earlier (or limited) nuclear use. The critical issue then is whether the incorporation of tactical nuclear weapons in the Pakistani arsenal now indicates a new commitment to nuclear warfighting—in sharp contrast to the previous emphasis on attacking countervalue targets in the last resort for purposes of inflicting unacceptable damage.

One Pakistani scholar has argued that Islamabad’s desire to use its increasingly diversified nuclear arsenal to counter Indian capabilities at every rung of the military ladder effectively implies a strategy of “escalation dominance.”109 An American scholar, Peter Lavoy, who also served as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Defense, concurs: he too has argued that “the close connection of conventional military force and nuclear force in Pakistan’s deterrence strategy” is aimed at realizing “escalation dominance at all rungs of the military ladder—from low-intensity conflict to conventional war and all the way to nuclear war—[which] is deemed absolutely essential for the weaker power to survive.” In essence, Islamabad simply cannot “allow India to seize the advantage at any level of violence” because New Delhi would then exploit those gains and “all will be lost” to Pakistan.110 This assessment intuits Islamabad’s logic correctly, but its conceptualization as escalation dominance is misleading.

Escalation dominance in the classic sense refers to “the ability of a state to maintain such a markedly superior position over a rival, across a range of escalation rungs, that its rival will always see further escalation as a losing bet.”111 Pakistan’s emerging full-spectrum deterrence, to include the induction of tactical nuclear weapons, is not intended currently to secure escalation dominance in this sense. It is not designed to defeat India on the battlefield at every step of an evolving conflict through effective nuclear use at the operational level of war; nor is it intended to deter further Indian escalation by the threat of inflicting greater punishment on India than India could comparably impose on Pakistan.

Islamabad may pursue such objectives in the future, but achieving them would require many more nuclear weapons than Pakistan is likely to possess even at the end of its current expansion—at least on present trends—and it would require manifestly superior nuclear weapons in larger numbers than India’s as well. Because it is unclear whether these characteristics obtain now or will obtain in the future, the nuclear weapons use predicated by Pakistan’s full-spectrum deterrence doctrine—even if it produces steadily graduated nuclear employment—is oriented fundamentally not toward true escalation dominance but rather the manipulation of risk: holding out the threat that its initial nuclear responses could precipitate an escalatory sequence that really gets out of control fast and that Pakistan, despite its obvious weaknesses, could still inflict enough pain on India to make the continuation of its aggression not worth the cost.112 An American scholar, Christopher Clary, summarized this calculus correctly, when he noted, “Pakistan’s strategy appears designed to manipulate the risk of use so that it increases with the severity of the conflict.”113

A strategy of manipulating threats and risks can be successfully executed even by a weaker nuclear power.

A strategy of manipulating threats and risks can be successfully executed even by a weaker nuclear power; as such, it is not the threat of escalation dominance—which flows from nuclear superiority—that produces war termination but rather the dangers of a widening conflict that promise unacceptable pain even for the stronger power. Pakistan’s possible tactical nuclear weapons use, therefore, whether early or late in a conflict, is not intended to resolve operational quandaries on the battlefield, as NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons were for a while at the height of the Cold War; instead, it serves as political triggers—“warning shots”114—that presage further escalation and, thereby, hopefully freeze the conflict and prevent it from evolving further.115 Consequently, Pakistan’s full-spectrum deterrence strategy, although appearing as if it entertains nuclear warfighting, is at least for the moment still some ways away from that eventuality.

The Persistence of Speedy War Termination

As long as this condition holds, Pakistan’s shift toward full-spectrum deterrence does not change the third component of its operational doctrine, the desire for speedy war termination in the event of any significant deterrence breakdown. Pakistan’s threatened use of low-yield weapons initially—with implied dangers of further escalation leading up eventually to national suicide as an inherent possibility—is still fundamentally focused on deterring all Indian conventional attacks to begin with. The entire aim of Pakistan’s nuclear program and its now maddeningly diverse weapons inventory is centered on denying India any benefits from initiating a conventional (or nuclear) war. But if deterrence were to ever collapse, seeking speedy war termination would still subsist as Pakistan’s next best outcome.116

In and around 1998, Pakistan’s interests in war termination were driven largely by the imperatives of political survival, since it was assumed that Pakistan’s nuclear first use would occur only at the tail end of serious conventional defeat—and since it was plausible that Pakistan would not respond even in this situation with all out nuclear strikes if lesser nuclear use could arrest the aggression conclusively. Today, when Pakistan has the capacity for graduated escalation with lower-yield weapons, it has to be even more seriously attentive to the demands of physical survival as well. This is because many of its lower-yield, short-range nuclear weapons would find use on Pakistani soil, unlike the situation obtaining in 1998 when Pakistan had largely “strategic” weapons and long-range delivery systems intended to attack Indian targets in depth. Consequently, when Pakistan can suffer serious physical destruction and high human casualties as a result of its own nuclear first use—the inevitable consequence of employing short-range land-based low-yield weapons on its own territory—the operational goal of speedy war termination must include ensuring physical as well as political survival in ways that were not necessarily salient before.117

Pakistani policymakers, however, are still reticent about discussing speedy war termination as a critical objective in the event of their nuclear use. This cageyness, which was as visible two decades ago as it is today, is driven largely by their desire to avoid giving India the impression that any potential conventional aggression against Pakistan would entail only modest nuclear risks, which New Delhi might choose to absorb in its pursuit of ambitious political aims.118 Islamabad is well aware of its relative vulnerabilities vis-à-vis India: its current nuclear expansion is intended to develop the capabilities to punish India more extensively but, even if it were successful on this count, its greater relative vulnerability cannot be fundamentally erased. Pakistan’s asymmetric disadvantage here stems from its weaker capacity to reconstitute in the aftermath of any nuclear conflict as a result of its possessing both a smaller landmass and weaker economy.119

Given this fact, Pakistani strategists are compelled to hold out the prospect of widespread destruction in their effort to deter all aggression to begin with—even if, when faced with the moment of truth, such actions would be counterproductive to their own interests. Consistent with this approach, they are building up their nuclear capabilities to support a “victory denial” strategy against India,120 while remaining silent about all issues pertaining to war termination. It is, in fact, in their interest to insinuate that “any failure of deterrence would mean an all-out war, with little or no room for escalation control” precisely because such a declaratory posture best advances their aim of securing sturdy deterrence despite the existing power asymmetry with India.121

Islamabad’s new doctrinal innovation, full-spectrum deterrence, thus simply exploits the reality that any introductory nuclear use, so long as it is modest, always contains the inherent threat of further nuclear destruction, which will invariably be costlier than the iteration before, thus making speedy war termination the most sensible objective when conventional deterrence breakdown occurs in a nuclear environment. Whether this strategy requires the diverse nuclear inventory that Pakistan is now pursuing is debatable. But to the degree that it pursues any other end beyond conveying “the threat that leaves something to chance,”122 Pakistan’s initial, possibly limited, nuclear weapons use—or the threats thereof—would be directed at securing external intervention by foreign powers in restraining India from continuing the conflict.123

It is ironic that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, which were supposed to free it from dependence on external sources for security, have now brought foreign intervention back in again to serve as a critical restraint on Indian action in the context of any future subcontinental conflict.

In other words, Pakistan would seek war termination through a combination of implied threats of further expanded violence coupled with stimulating “catalytic” pressures for great power intervention.124 This latter calculation is shaped by the fact that Pakistan remains a subaltern power in the international system and is still weaker than India on many counts. Hence, relying on outside powers to protect its survival by ensnaring their intervention through even threats of limited nuclear use, let alone actual nuclear use, is a sensible strategy for Islamabad. If such external intervention were to occur, it would not materialize because Pakistan’s cause is necessarily just. Rather, it would arise because the dangers of the threatened (or actual) demise of the nuclear taboo and the high negative externalities of possibly extensive nuclear escalation in Southern Asia imperil the great powers’ own strategic interests.125 Given such expectations, it is ironic that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, which were supposed to free it from dependence on external sources for security, will have now brought foreign intervention back in again to serve as a critical restraint on Indian action in the context of any future subcontinental conflict.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal

The steady evolution of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine during the last two decades exemplifies the efforts of a weak, and even paranoid, power at producing security. The ambition to build a large and diversified nuclear arsenal, capable of stymieing aggression at varying levels, would obviously find its greatest utility against India because other potential nuclear threats, such as the United States and Israel, may not be deterred either by Pakistan’s graduated escalation strategy or its steadily expanding nuclear armory—though the latter would certainly give even major nuclear powers sufficient pause, which is just what Islamabad intends. The following discussion elaborates this proposition by assessing Pakistan’s fissile materials production capabilities, its nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and its command-and-control arrangements as they continue to evolve.

Fissile Material Production and Stockpiles

The quantity of fissile material that Pakistan possesses functions as a binding constraint on the number of nuclear weapons it can build. This is obviously true for all nuclear powers, but it has a special meaning in the case of Pakistan. In comparison to China and India, which have identified reserves of uranium ore of some 344,000 and 259,500 tons, respectively (as of 2019),126 Pakistan is believed to have much smaller reserves. Reliable data pertaining to Pakistan’s ore endowments, however, are hard to come by. In the 2020 edition of the standard reference work, the IAEA and Nuclear Energy Agency’s so-called Red Book, there is no information about Pakistan’s reserves. A rare public source dating back to 1980 reported that the country possessed in 1976 about 150,000 tons of uranium ore containing 0.1 percent of U3O8 (or yellowcake uranium) on the assumption that there was no past production.127 All information about Pakistan’s uranium reserves, both its endowments and its annual production, remain a national security secret.

The issue of Pakistan’s natural uranium endowments is important, however, because unlike China and India, which have access to the global market for uranium, Islamabad does not enjoy a similar privilege. As a recognized nuclear-weapon state under the NPT, China can purchase natural uranium from the international market without constraint and use the same, if it so wishes, to produce nuclear weapons. Under the terms of the 2005 U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement, India, while not enjoying the same freedom as China, nonetheless enjoys meaningful access to the international market: New Delhi can purchase natural uranium from abroad for use in its safeguarded nuclear reactors—which represent the largest proportion of its fuel consumption anyway—while utilizing domestically mined uranium for its weapons, research, and fast breeder programs lying outside international safeguards. Pakistan, in contrast, must use its smaller uranium ore reserves to fuel its research and power reactors without access to imported fuel, all its plutonium-producing weapons reactors, and its weapons-related HEU-producing enrichment program, thus encumbering it to a far greater degree than India.

Pakistan today has five operational power reactors: the Canadian-supplied KANUPP-1 and the four Chashma nuclear reactors (CHASNUPP 1–4) built with Chinese collaboration. Three other power reactors are under construction with Chinese assistance—two at Karachi and one more at Chashma. In addition, Pakistan has two small research reactors, PARR-1 and PARR-2, the latter of which was also built with Chinese assistance. All these facilities are under safeguards, but China provides the uranium fuel required to run only Chinese-origin reactors in Pakistan under a bilateral agreement.128 Consequently, Pakistan must fuel the small PARR-1 research reactor, the KANUPP-1 power reactor, the four plutonium-producing weapons reactors at Khushab, and the HEU production facilities at Kahuta, Gadwal, and possibly elsewhere entirely from its domestically mined ores.

The analytical question then is whether Pakistan’s annual production of uranium—believed to currently stand at some 45 tons—can support these diverse uranium-consuming activities simultaneously.129 This is a matter of interest given that Pakistan was described not too long ago as having “the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile,”130 and was supposed to be on track to possessing the third-largest nuclear force globally by 2025.131 Making sense of these claims requires understanding the quantities of domestic uranium consumed by Pakistan’s civilian and weapons-related programs. The KANUPP-1 reactor nominally requires 30 tons of natural uranium for its full operation annually.132 The four Khushab reactors, which are dedicated to producing weapons-grade plutonium, have different thermal capacities. Khushab-1 is rated at 40 megawatts thermal (MWt). Each of its successors, despite outward similarities, have progressively higher thermal ratings, though the precise differences between them are not known. Some scholars have innovatively attempted to quantify these differences, but whether their assessments are accurate is unclear.133 For simplicity’s sake, if the output of the four Khushab reactors is assumed to be 50 megawatts thermal uniformly, their average discharge burnup is assumed to be 1,000 megawatt-days per metric ton of uranium (MWD/MTU), and they are assumed to operate at a 70 percent capacity factor, they could require a little over 51 tons of natural uranium fuel annually. Between the KANUPP-1 power reactor and the Khushab weapons reactors alone, Pakistan’s annual domestic production of uranium is thus spoken for. The feeds required to run the two or more enrichment plants that produce HEU for the weapons program could add upwards of another 15–20 metric tons of natural uranium annually, thus making the uranium deficit even more pronounced.

Pakistan presumably has managed to overcome these constraints so far because it has been mining uranium ores since 1977 at Bagalchore and has expanded uranium mining since then to four other sites.134 It continues to feverishly search for new deposits, given its growing economic and strategic requirements, but without notable success thus far. In any case, thanks to the five mining sites, Pakistan has steadily accumulated a stockpile of natural uranium, which, starting at an annual production level of 23 tons in 1980, is now believed to have leveled off at about 45 tons. If the data in the Red Book series over the years is collated and extrapolated, Pakistan would have accumulated 1,709 tons of natural uranium by 2020.135 This figure is probably squishy given the secrecy surrounding Pakistan’s uranium mining activities, but it is a useful benchmark to explore the question of Pakistan’s uranium constraints. This stockpile has been gradually utilized over the years for fueling the KANUPP-1 power reactor, the four unsafeguarded reactors at Khushab that produce plutonium for Pakistan’s weapons program, and the uranium enrichment facilities that produce HEU for weapons purposes.

The fuel requirements of the small PARR-1 research reactor can be disregarded here, but even so, the drawdowns occurring as a result of the consumption by the other facilities raises questions about how long Pakistan will be able to enlarge its nuclear arsenal if it cannot add to its existing natural uranium stockpile. The following crude calculation suffices to underscore this point. If the KANUPP-1 reactor, which started using domestic fuel from 1980 until the end of its design life extension in 2012, had produced about 1,850,000 megawatt-days, assuming that the average fuel burnup during this time was 7,400 MWD/MTU, its total uranium consumption would have been about 250 metric tons. After 2012, the reactor was operated at lower levels for reasons of safety: assuming a fuel burnup of 6,000 MWD/MTU between the years 2013 and 2018, the reactor would have consumed about 9 metric tons of natural uranium annually for a total of 63 metric tons during this period. In 2019, the reactor’s capacity factor dropped drastically to 4.9 percent, thus requiring only 1 metric ton of fuel that year. It was effectively nonoperational in 2020 and was formally closed in August 2021,136 thus consuming some 314 metric tons of natural uranium over its lifetime from the 1,709 tons that Pakistan has cumulatively produced until 2020.

The four Khushab reactors, operating on the assumptions noted earlier and depending on their commencement dates, will have been in service for a total of fifty reactor-years by 2020: assuming that they consume 12.8 tons of fuel annually, they account for another 640 tons of natural uranium. Between the power and the weapons reactors, therefore, fully 954 tons of uranium will have been consumed from the notional Pakistani total of 1,709 tons by 2020. This leaves 755 tons of natural uranium available for producing the HEU required by Islamabad’s weapons program. The best academic judgments of Pakistan’s HEU production suggest that Islamabad had produced 3,500–4,300 kilograms as of the beginning of 2020.137 Using standard separative work calculations, it takes 218 kilograms of natural uranium to make 1 kilogram of 90 percent enriched uranium at 0.3 percent tails. (The “tails” here refer to the quantities of depleted uranium produced in the enrichment process, which appear as waste.) If 0.2 percent tails are assumed, it takes 176 kilograms of natural uranium to produce the same 1 kilogram of 90 percent enriched uranium. By these benchmarks, Pakistan’s 2020 stockpile of 3,500–4,300 kilograms of HEU would require somewhere between 616 and 757 metric tons of natural uranium (if 0.2 percent tails are assumed), or between 763 and 937 metric tons of natural uranium (if a greater wastage at 0.3 percent tails is assumed).

This simple calculation suggests that if Pakistan’s enrichment process produces lower levels of depleted uranium waste (i.e., 0.2 percent tails), it will barely have had the requisite stockpile of natural uranium—the residual 755 tons of natural uranium deduced above—to produce the 3,500–4,300 kilograms of HEU that it is postulated to have possessed in 2020. At 0.3 percent tails, Pakistan could not have produced even the lower end of the HEU stockpile range and certainly not the higher. While all these numbers should be treated with caution because they convey a precision that may not apply in reality, they do suggest, even as rough approximations, that Pakistan is operating very close to the margins of its uranium reserves and that its post-2020 production levels of HEU and weapons-grade plutonium would be curtailed if it cannot increase its annual production of natural uranium beyond the 45 tons attributed to it by the Red Book.

Obviously, Pakistan can supplement this feedstock by recovering uranium from the depleted tails for further enrichment or by recycling uranium recovered from spent Khushab reactor fuel for sustaining its weapons program. It is highly probable that Pakistan has experimented with one or both courses already, but neither of these solutions arguably can eliminate the constraints that Islamabad would likely face in practice if it cannot increase the quantities of natural uranium available.138 Clearly, recycling uranium recovered from the spent fuel at Khushab seems better than trying to use old tails because the latter are probably not enriched beyond 0.4% or at best are enriched to 0.5%. Moreover, they are a finite resource. Recycled uranium from spent reactor fuel in contrast offers better prospects since such uranium probably has an enrichment level of about 0.6% at a 1,000 MWD/MTU burnup and is a recurring resource. It appears that if Pakistan possesses depleted tails of some 0.3% and recycles all of the spent uranium from the four Khushab reactors, Pakistan’s natural uranium requirements actually fall to some 42 to 43 metric tons per year—well within the 45-ton constraint referred to earlier. The catch with increasing uranium supply through the recycling of spent reactor fuel, however, is that such uranium is never fully decontaminated, and its use will pollute the enrichment cascades employed for this purpose. Segregating contaminated from noncontaminated centrifuges is burdensome and expensive since the former will eventually have to be replaced. Consequently, uranium recycling from spent reactor fuel is unlikely to be Pakistan’s preferred solution to address its hypothesized constraints, thus leaving Islamabad with a serious problem if its annual natural uranium output is in fact capped at 45 tons.

Again, a back-of-the-envelope calculation suffices to establish the scale of the problem. If Pakistan is to produce about 45 kilograms of WGPu from its four Khushab reactors annually—probably the maximum level it can realistically produce at a 70 percent capacity factor assuming an average burnup of 1,000 MWD/MTU—it would require some 51 tons of natural uranium annually. Producing 130 kilograms of HEU annually—which academic analysis suggests has been the recent output139—would require another 23–28 tons of natural uranium (depending on the tails) for a total of some 74–79 tons of natural uranium every year. With an annual production level of 45 tons, Pakistan then faces a yearly deficit of about 29–34 tons of natural uranium. If Pakistan settles for producing a smaller quantity of weapons-grade plutonium annually from the four Khushab reactors—say, only 40 kilograms from reactors operating at a 70 percent capacity factor and with an average burnup of 1,000 MWD/MTU, as academic analysis suggested it may have recently140—it will require close to 46 tons of natural uranium annually. This implies that Pakistan would need about 69–74 tons of natural uranium each year to produce 130 kilograms of HEU plus 40 kilograms WGPu annually—the output it is supposed to have maintained in recent years.

In other words, Pakistan must either correct the deficit of some 24–29 tons of natural uranium annually (by some combination of recycling the tails, recovering uranium from spent Khushab fuel, or covert unsafeguarded natural uranium imports) if it is to maintain these production levels, or its annual output of HEU and WGPu is actually smaller than the academic assessments suggest, or it has actually been producing more than the 45 tons of natural uranium feedstock annually that have been attributed to it.141 At the HEU and WGPu production levels now attributed to Pakistan, it will also have more or less exhausted the residual 755 tons of natural uranium from its cumulative production.

Whether Pakistan has already hit a fissile material production constraint or will hit such a ceiling at some point depends entirely on what its overall uranium ore reserves and annual production levels actually are. Lacking information about these facts, the only conclusion that can be drawn for now, based largely on the steadily increasing number of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, is that Islamabad can extract a significant level of natural uranium for some time to come. Islamabad is already mining more than 45 tons of natural uranium annually and can extract these higher levels for some time to come. However, it may not have great room to endlessly expand its weapons-grade fissile material production and, by implication, to acquire the world’s “third-largest arsenal behind the United States and Russia” as was expected not too long ago.142 Obviously, this conclusion will have to be amended if new information comes to light: if Pakistan dramatically increases its natural uranium production because of the discovery of new viable deposits of uranium ore domestically or because it was able to procure natural uranium through clandestine means from either international sources or friendly suppliers, such as China, which have a vested interest in its continued production of nuclear weapons, the impact on the size of Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal could be substantial.

If Pakistan were to pursue foreign suppliers clandestinely, it would not face any meaningful financial constraints because the current costs of natural uranium on the international market are relatively low. The weighted-average price of uranium ore in 2019 was approximately $35.59 per pound.143 Pakistan, therefore, could purchase an extra 29–34 tons of natural uranium to more than cover its presumed annual deficit for somewhere between $2.3 to $2.7 million—a quite paltry sum even given Islamabad’s economic difficulties. Pakistan’s constraints, accordingly, are not pecuniary but legal: because of its continuing formal status as a non-nuclear-weapon state, it cannot purchase uranium on the international market. Hence, it must rely either on black market acquisitions or on covert transfers from its friends, although there is no evidence that Islamabad has pursued either of these two options to expand its fissile material production thus far.

If Pakistan does, in fact, continue to expand its fissile material inventory in the post-2020 era, and does so without covertly accessing foreign natural uranium supplies, it can only mean that Pakistan’s domestic production of natural uranium has increased beyond the 45 tons per annum that it was previously credited. It is almost certain that this has been the case for some time—thus also explaining why Pakistan has invested in markedly expanding its fissile material production facilities, at least in comparison to what existed in 1998. Around the time of the nuclear tests, Pakistan had one major uranium enrichment plant, the Khan Research Laboratory facility at Kahuta, and possibly two or three smaller pilot-scale facilities, through the latter are still speculative. Over the years, the original plant at Kahuta, which has a four-stage cascade with some 6,000 centrifuges, has been expanded considerably and is now joined by a second enrichment plant at Gadwal.144 These two facilities enrich uranium solely for the weapons program. Additional facilities may appear over time, with the planned National Fuel Enrichment Plant being intended to provide LEU for Pakistan’s Chinese-supplied civilian power reactors. Based on the large (and expanded) size of the Kahuta plant and the secondary facilities at Gadwal, it is certain that Pakistan has the number of P-2 gas centrifuges necessary to produce a much larger quantity of HEU than the 130 kilograms or so per annum with which it is currently credited.145 If Pakistan has not done so, however, it is probably because of some combination of inconsistent natural uranium mining output, technical inefficiencies at its enrichment facilities, and the steady shift toward emphasizing plutonium production after 2005.

The interest in producing plutonium for nuclear weapons predates the 1998 tests and was evident from the fact that Pakistan began constructing its first weapons reactor at Khushab with Chinese assistance sometime in 1987. Today, the Khushab complex consists of four heavy water reactors whose plutonium output is dedicated solely for weapons. While all four reactors are currently operational, they have rarely functioned at maximal or optimal capacity factors consistently, thus producing a smaller stockpile of plutonium than would be the case in theory. Again, operating inefficiencies and possibly erratic natural uranium supplies may have contributed to this outcome, though it is also possible that Pakistan has concentrated on tritium production at the expense of maximizing the output of WGPu.

The biggest chokepoint in Pakistan’s plutonium production program originally was its reprocessing capacity because its New Labs reprocessing facility, which was nominally completed in 1982, was hampered by technical problems for many years. It began operating consistently only after 2000, when spent fuel from the Khushab-1 reactor became available. Even so, it probably could not reprocess all the spent fuel produced by the reactor—a problem that would only intensify as the later Khushab reactors came online. The New Labs reprocessing facility has undergone periodic expansions, first in 1998 and again more recently, and its separation capacity has been estimated at anywhere between 8 and 20 kilograms of WGPu annually.146 Concurrently, a second and larger reprocessing plant at Chashma—the Kundian Nuclear Complex—was also constructed. If these two facilities together permit Pakistan to separate about 40 kilograms of WGPu annually, they would suffice to reprocess the current output of the Khushab reactors. If Pakistan’s plutonium production increased much beyond this level, however, additional reprocessing capacity would be required. Pakistan may, in any case, invest in new reprocessing plants simply as insurance against operational bottlenecks that may arise in its older facilities.

That Pakistan has invested in an expansive fissile materials production infrastructure suggests that its domestic mining operations have yielded greater fruit than is commonly believed.

In any event, today—and against the odds—Pakistan has developed a mature capacity to produce both highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium for its weapons program. If anything, it has the infrastructure in place to produce even larger quantities of HEU and more WGPu as well if technical inadequacies did not intervene and if larger quantities of natural uranium feedstock were available. That Pakistan has invested in an expansive fissile materials production infrastructure suggests that its domestic mining operations have yielded greater fruit than is commonly believed or that it has acquired natural uranium from abroad through clandestine means though this seems unlikely.147

While future evidence will clarify this appraisal, the current Pakistani stockpiles of HEU and WGPu provide some sense of what its current weaponry inventory might look like even if its potential growth appears unclear. If Pakistan is judged to possess between 3,500 and 4,300 kilograms of HEU as of the beginning of 2020, it would be credited with some 175–215 notional weapons, assuming that each fission weapon utilizes about 20 kilograms of HEU. If the 410 kilograms of WGPu attributed to the Pakistani stockpile in 2020 is added to the calculation, then Pakistan could be credited with another 68 weapons on the assumption that each plutonium-based device utilizes 6 kilograms of fissile material.148 On such premises, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in 2020 would consist of between 243 and 283 nuclear devices. If it is assumed that Pakistan can annually produce 130 kilograms of HEU and 45 kilograms of WGPu consistently for another ten years, its nuclear arsenal in 2030 would consist of 383–423 weapons; if it is assumed that Pakistan is instead annually producing 40 kilograms of WGPu over this period, as it has perhaps done in more recent years, its nuclear arsenal in 2030 would consist of 375–415 weapons. Such force levels underlay the expectations that Pakistan could become the world’s third-largest nuclear-weapons power sometime during this decade, although China’s more recent nuclear expansion threatens to eclipse these older predictions about Pakistan’s global standing.

The 2021 edition of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Notebook lists Pakistan’s nuclear inventory as consisting of some 165 weapons, but this figure is derived from judgments about the number of visible delivery systems rather than from calculations based on the fissile material stockpile.149 As such, the Nuclear Notebook’s numbers are likely to be biased downward because the number of discernable delivery systems are fewer than the number of weapons (and because the numbers of delivery systems identified may not be accurate in any case). In contrast, the number of weapons derived from fissile material stockpiles depend on crude estimates about the amount of fissile material needed to produce simple fission weapons by a country with relatively low design capabilities; as such, they could be biased in either direction depending on the amount of material judged to be necessary for a particular device design. It is, for example, highly probable that many of Pakistan’s uranium-based weapons use less than the 20 kilograms of fissile material that are notionally assumed above; its smaller plutonium-based weapons, especially those that arm its cruise missiles and tactical nuclear devices, in all probability also use less than the 6 kilograms conjectured earlier. If so, Pakistan’s current nuclear weapons inventory could be even larger than is commonly assumed. The uncertainties surrounding this issue are significant enough that all numbers about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal must be treated with great caution. But if the impressions of knowledgeable U.S. and European government officials are anything to go by, Islamabad’s current nuclear weapons inventory is probably larger than the estimates appearing in the most recent version of the Nuclear Notebook.150

Nuclear Weapon Designs

The little that is known about Pakistan’s device designs unfortunately does not offer much more clarity. At the time of the 1998 tests, Pakistan’s weapons were derived directly from the Chinese CHIC-4 uranium-based design that Islamabad received in the early 1980s.151 The CHIC-4 design turned out to be a gift that kept on giving: Pakistan’s nuclear scientists scaled its implosion system to create a few variants of different sizes and yields, which were packaged either as gravity weapons or as warheads mounted atop M-11 SRBMs and Ghauri MRBMs, the latter having just entered into service. Although there was great skepticism in India about Pakistan’s nuclear design capabilities during the 1998 tests, Pakistani scientists proved to be remarkably resourceful, cleverly adapting and improving the original Chinese design to reduce its weight and volume while varying the size of the fissile core to produce different yields. The active competition that existed between the Khan Research Laboratories, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Development Complex throughout the 1980s and 1990s only stimulated this innovation, which was finally proven during the 1998 nuclear tests.152

Although Pakistan claimed that its tests on May 28 and May 30, 1998, involved the detonation of five weapons in the first round and a sixth in the second round, it is almost certain that Pakistan tested only a pair of devices over those two days. The number of claimed tests was designed to establish parity with India, but the few nuclear weapons in the Pakistani inventory at the time—probably not more than between 16 and 20 weapons—made it improbable that any large fraction would be expended in testing. Both devices tested, at any rate, were uranium weapons and likely involved the largest and smallest devices then existing in the stockpile: the yield of the largest weapon was pegged at about 8–12 kilotons and the smaller device was judged as yielding 4–6 kilotons.153 Conversations in Pakistan soon after the 1998 tests suggested that the largest device utilized about 20 kilograms of HEU, with the quantity of material employed in the second device remaining unclear. Since the 1998 tests and spurred on by Indian claims about its own thermonuclear devices, Pakistan has engaged in an active effort to develop boosted-fission and thermonuclear devices of its own. Given this interest, it must be expected that Pakistan also consistently produces tritium to support the production of its advanced nuclear weapons.154 Pakistani scientists, arguably attempting to emulate India, claimed that boosted-fission—and even plutonium-based—weapons were tested in 1998, but this is undoubtedly hyperbole.

There has been considerable progress on this score since the 1998 tests and it is likely that Pakistan has by now developed boosted-fission and thermonuclear weapons. Emulating India, Pakistan has long sought such capabilities, but whether such devices will become standard in its inventory without full-up hot testing is uncertain.155 The development of such advanced devices obviously complicates the effort at calculating the number of nuclear weapons straightforwardly from the fissile material stockpile because Pakistan’s usage of highly enriched uranium per weapon might increase or decrease depending on their design. The introduction of plutonium-based weapons adds further complications in that Pakistan can now produce additional plutonium-only weapons—whose numbers can be more easily judged in principle—as well as composite core weapons, which makes assessing the likely number of weapons in the inventory impossible in the absence of information about the ratio of WGPu to HEU utilized in these devices. The interest in composite core weapons has many roots. It is driven in part by a desire to exploit the best properties of HEU and WGPu synergistically, to optimize the use of the inventory of each fissile material, and to reduce the size of the warhead mass for either Pakistan’s substrategic systems or to support the introduction of multiple warheads on, while improving the range of, its advanced ballistic missiles.156

Whatever the reasoning, Pakistan could be thus credited with possessing at least five different types of warheads currently: fission devices based on uranium-only, plutonium-only, and composite core designs of varying yields as well as boosted-fission and thermonuclear weapons. The maximum yield of the fission devices probably remains around 12 kilotons, the value demonstrated during the 1998 tests, though it is possible that Pakistan has increased this yield marginally as a result of improvements (to include the systematic regime of cold testing as well as subcritical and hydronuclear tests) it has pursued since.157 The yields of Pakistan’s boosted-fission and thermonuclear devices are unknown, but like similar Indian weapons, their reliability is an open question because they have never been subjected to full-up hot tests. Whether they would be treated as standard devices in the Pakistani arsenal remains, therefore, unclear. It is possible, however, to conclude that, compared to the situation obtaining in 1998, the character of Pakistan’s nuclear devices has been transformed dramatically. The previous relatively large, solely uranium-based weapons have now been complemented by plutonium and composite core weapons of widely varying yields together with likely experimental boosted-fission and thermonuclear devices as well.

Pakistan’s Evolving Delivery Systems

The diversity of Pakistan’s device designs in terms of the materials used, the yields sought, and the explosive principles exploited is only matched by the growing numbers and the diversity of its delivery vehicles and systems. On this count, too, Pakistan’s progress has been quite remarkable, especially when compared to its capabilities in 1998. Consequently, arguments suggesting that “Pakistan simply lacks enough nuclear-capable launchers to accommodate 285 to 342 warheads” should be treated cautiously.158 Islamabad may not have the number of launchers required to carry nuclear weapons in these precise numbers, but it can deploy a much larger nuclear force than it is usually credited. The number of nuclear weapons that Pakistan possesses admittedly cannot be confidently judged from the outside, but the kinds of weapons it has developed make any inference based primarily on counting delivery systems problematic—and the data offered by respectable public sources, as evidenced by Figure 6, are highly muddy.

Figure 6 collates the number of Pakistan’s nuclear systems from 1998 to 2020. It is drawn from various annual editions of the Military Balance. The limitations of such data should be obvious. Each delivery system is assumed to have only one warhead, a reasonable assumption for most missiles but not necessarily for aircraft. Pakistan’s diverse substrategic weapons do not feature in the count. And the number of missiles included in the tally may not be accurate. With the exception of the Abdali close-range missile and the Shaheen-2 medium-range ballistic missile, all other Pakistani delivery systems seem to have ceased growing in numbers after about 2015.159 The best that such a compilation can suggest, therefore, is that Pakistan’s nuclear delivery systems (and, by implication, its weapons) have been growing at different rates since 1998, with all other details about their composition being somewhat speculative. Given the larger trends in Pakistan’s security environment, the post-2015 freeze in nuclear growth is odd and must be treated simply as a defect in the data.

In any event, the post-1998 growth in Pakistan’s nuclear forces has been shaped obviously by its continuing fears of India, its exaggerated perceptions of current Indian nuclear capabilities, and its anxieties about India’s nuclear production potential, especially in the aftermath of the U.S.-Indian civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Although Pakistan has admittedly been expanding its nuclear inventory in response, its strategic planners have insisted that Islamabad’s program “is not open ended” and that the currently planned force levels are likely to remain stable for ten to fifteen years of incremental acquisitions.160 This prognosis offered in 2015 seems consistent with the development and acquisition efforts since, and the best assessment of Pakistan’s ballistic missile production suggests that although it could produce up to twelve solid-fueled missiles of all kinds annually, the actual production rate is lower.161 If the Pakistani fissile material stockpile is presumed to grow by 130 kilograms of HEU and 40 kilograms of WGPu annually, the thirteen or so notional warheads that could be produced would then be easily distributed between the ballistic and cruise missiles and various other tactical weapon systems.

Although Pakistan has admittedly been expanding its nuclear inventory, its strategic planners have insisted that Islamabad’s program “is not open ended.”

What is striking about the development and expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear delivery systems thus far is the absence of technological determinism—that is, the absorption of new capabilities into the nuclear arsenal merely because technological innovations autonomously materialize. In other words, technological determinism would imply, to use Alex Roland’s succinct description, that Pakistan’s “weapons [are] not tailored to strategy, but rather the strategy [is] shaped to suit the weapons.”162 It is hard to find evidence that Pakistan’s nuclear evolution is driven in this way today. To be sure, Pakistan undoubtedly benefited from the early rivalry between the Khan Research Laboratories and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission/National Development Complex where fissile material production and weapons manufacturing was concerned. But with the formation of the Strategic Plans Division in 2000, the body tasked with overseeing Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent, the three main complexes now involved in the nuclear weapons program—the National Engineering & Scientific Commission (which oversees Pakistan’s weapons programs to include the National Defense Complex and the Air Weapons Complex), the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (which oversees uranium mining and processing as well as all plutonium-related programs and the nuclear reactors), and the Khan Research Laboratories (which focuses primarily on uranium enrichment)—are heavily coordinated and supervised from above ultimately by the National Command Authority.163

Where the development of both nuclear warheads and nuclear delivery systems are concerned, the Strategic Plans Division controls and directs the innovation process by establishing requirements, defining the technical capabilities required, their timelines for delivery, and the organizational changes to accommodate them, as well as supervising their testing, certifying their acceptance, and, finally, piloting their integration into the combat force. The development of new capabilities is thus based primarily on the Strategic Plans Division’s vision of strategic necessity, though whether its conception of necessity would be shared outside of Pakistan (or sometimes even within) is obviously debatable. However, there is little evidence that Pakistan’s dozen or so distinct, and often opaque, engineering complexes that support its nuclear weapons program today in all its diversity have independent development programs that are driven either by profit considerations, nationalism, or mere technical possibility to generate products that are thereafter offered to the Strategic Plans Division as candidates for possible induction into the nation’s nuclear arsenal.164 The frequent claims made by Pakistan’s security managers that their nuclear program is both centrally and purposefully directed are thus credible.

Against this backdrop, the following survey of Pakistan’s nuclear delivery systems illustrates the remarkable fecundity of its research and development endeavors.

Air Systems

At the time of the nuclear tests, Pakistan’s principal nuclear delivery system consisted of manned aircraft, the F-16 and possibly Mirage III/V fighters, which carried only uranium-based gravity bombs based on some version of the Chinese CHIC-4 design. The main missile system operational then was the M-11 SRBM, though Pakistan has just begun testing the Ghauri MRBM that had been clandestinely acquired from North Korea. Both missiles carried different versions of the uranium warhead based on the CHIC-4. The shift to missile-delivered nuclear weapons gathered steam throughout the 1990s because of fears that Pakistan’s air-breathing delivery systems would be neutralized by India’s superior air force in wartime. These concerns, coupled with the bureaucratic primacy of the Pakistan Army in national security decisionmaking, soon made land-based weapons the core of the Pakistani nuclear deterrent, but service prerogatives—combined with the desire to emulate India’s emerging triad—finally ensured that Pakistan’s air-delivered nuclear weapons would not be retired, thus remaining an integral part of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.165

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF), accordingly, still has nuclear responsibilities and continues to maintain at least F-16 and Mirage V aircraft for the nuclear delivery role.166 The fear about India checkmating Pakistan’s air nuclear missions through defensive counterair operations, however, has not disappeared. Rather, it has pushed the PAF to supplement its inventory of older gravity bombs with new powered and unpowered standoff weapons, of which the Ra’ad air-launched cruise missile is best known.167 PAF planners consider nuclear-tipped standoff weaponry to be a viable antidote to India’s air defense operations, especially in the early phase of a conflict when the Indian Integrated Air Command and Control System may not have been sufficiently degraded. If Pakistani airpower is tasked with conducting nuclear strike operations in these circumstances, air-launched standoff weapons remain the best instruments particularly “when paired with lightweight low-yield nuclear warheads” that promise “a high level of ‘distributed lethality.’”168

This calculation alone ensures that Pakistan will continue to develop and acquire a range of nuclear air-delivery systems that can be launched from outside the weapon engagement zones of defending Indian fighters or surface-to-air missile batteries. Even though using air-delivered warheads early in a conflict is not particularly optimal for Pakistan, the PAF’s desire to maintain its nuclear capability, the Air Weapons Complex’s ability to develop new and exotic nuclear delivery vehicles, and the conviction that full-spectrum deterrence requires suitable weapons for every imaginable contingency at every phase of a conflict all combine to ensure that the air-breathing leg of the Pakistani nuclear triad will continue to expand, including through new platforms such as the JF-17, well into the future. The evolving Pakistani investments, especially in aerial standoff weaponry, are directed toward enhancing the survivability of their launch aircraft even if they are committed to nuclear missions only in the second wave of nuclear strikes—after Pakistan’s missiles are unleashed—but they would obviously have their greatest value for first-wave nuclear operations.

Land Systems

The increasing expansion and diversification of Pakistan’s air-delivered nuclear weapon carriers reflect a trend that is even more visible where its land-based nuclear systems are concerned. The two ballistic missiles that were present in the arsenal in 1998—the M-11 SRBM and the Ghauri MRBM—are still in service, but they have been complemented by many more systems that span diverse delivery ranges. The close-range delivery systems—that is, systems that can reach up to 300 kilometers—have received heightened attention in recent years because these, in Pakistani parlance, “short-range, low-yield nuclear weapons” are seen as offering graduated response options in the event of an Indian military attack.169

By developing low-yield nuclear weapons that can be used either at the line of contact with the enemy or behind the adversary’s front line at tactical and operational depths, Pakistan is obviously emulating some aspects of NATO’s nuclear strategy from the 1960s. At a time when fissile materials were plentiful and readily available to Western powers, NATO made the fateful shift toward tactical nuclear weapons, which were conceived as good substitutes for expensive conventional forces.170 The United States alone stockpiled some 7,000–8,000 of these weapons by the 1970s, with land-based systems including nuclear artillery shells, atomic demolition munitions, short-range ballistic missiles, and even a nuclear recoilless gun! The yield of these weapons ranged from .02 kilotons at their smallest to usually a few tens of kilotons, though some, such as the W89 warhead, had a yield as high as 200 kilotons.171

Pakistan’s tactical weapons, in contrast, likely produce only single-digit yields; since they exist in much smaller numbers, they cannot genuinely neutralize battlefield threats as NATO’s nuclear countermilitary targeting was intended. All the same, Pakistan has pursued the development of various kinds of devices—just as the United States did earlier—with the Nasr and Abdali close-range ballistic missiles being best known. The Nasr (Hatf-IX) missile, which is deployed in a quad-canister launcher (making it a “Multi-tube Ballistic Missile” system172) has a 60-kilometer range and likely uses one of Pakistan’s new compact plutonium warheads.173 The Abdali, an early Pakistani nuclear missile, supposedly had a range of up to 200 kilometers. Although it was both tested and claimed to be nuclear capable, it is not clear whether it remains in the operational inventory.174 Pakistan has also developed a nuclear artillery shell that is fired from its M110A2 howitzers at even closer ranges of some 30 kilometers, as well as atomic demolition munitions that could be employed at the forward line of contact with advancing Indian armored echelons.175

While Pakistan has thus invested significant resources in building up its close-range and tactical nuclear stockpile with diverse systems, the short-range component of the Pakistani nuclear armory has expanded as well. The original Chinese M-11 missile that was clandestinely transferred in the late 1980s is now manufactured in Pakistan; named the Ghaznavi (Hatf-III), it is deployed with both conventional and nuclear warheads. Although initially advertised as capable of a 300-kilometer range in order to satisfy Missile Technology Control Regime requirements, it can reach much greater distances depending on the payload. At any rate, since 1998, Pakistan has supplemented the Ghaznavi with longer-range nuclear-tipped SRBMs, the 600-kilometer Shaheen-1 (Hatf-IV), and an extended range variant, sometimes dubbed the Shaheen-1A, that reaches up to 1,000 kilometers.176

Pakistan’s quest for medium-range ballistic missiles was realized even before the 1998 nuclear test with the arrival of the 1,000-kilometer-range liquid-fueled Ghauri MRBM (Hatf-V). The Ghauri is a variant of the North Korean No Dong-1 missile and was acquired through A. Q. Khan’s efforts to procure a system with a longer range than the 300-kilometer M-11 SRBM then in Pakistan’s possession. The Ghauri provided Pakistan with its first capacity to target India in depth (beyond the normal reach of the F-16), and although it is a liquid-fueled system, it can be brought to readiness much faster than some of Pakistan’s other solid-fueled missiles.177 Moreover, the large volume of its post-boost vehicle enabled Pakistan to deploy its larger and heavier early uranium-based warheads.178 The Ghauri thus served Pakistan well, but the desire for a long-range solid-fueled missile that would be more easily dispersible pushed Islamabad to develop, again with Chinese assistance, the two-stage Shaheen-2 (Hatf-VI) with a maximum range of some 2,000 kilometers.179 The relatively large size of the Shaheen-2’s post-boost vehicle suggests that it too can carry Pakistan’s early uranium-based weapons. The Shaheen-2 has also been modified to produce the Ababeel, a three-stage missile with a 2,200-kilometer range, which apparently carries three reentry vehicles and is designed to defeat India’s emerging ballistic missile defenses.180

For the longest time, Pakistan sought the capacity to range the entire Indian landmass with missile-borne nuclear weapons. This desire only intensified after the U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement, when Pakistan embarked on an expansion of its nuclear arsenal, the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons, and the enlargement of its missile reach. The two-stage, solid-fueled, Shaheen-3, with a range of some 3,000 kilometers, is Pakistan’s first intermediate-range ballistic missile. It was ostensibly developed to target India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which Pakistani strategists feared might be “developed as strategic bases” where “India might think of putting its [nuclear] weapons.”181 Although Pakistan carefully advertised the missile’s range as being precisely 2,750 kilometers, this system would have to be based perilously close to Pakistan eastern border with India to satisfy the requirement of targeting the latter’s island territories. Private conversations with Pakistani military officers, however, suggest that the Shaheen-3 has a greater range than Islamabad has publicly admitted, exactly to avoid such risks, which also has the effect of comfortably bringing Israel within reach. The Shaheen-3, which has not yet been deployed, continues to be developed further and will spawn either longer-ranged systems or more specialized variants.

Pakistan’s land-based ballistic missile program has also been complemented by ground-based nuclear cruise missile development. Here, Pakistan has focused on inducting the Babur (Hatf-VII) cruise missile in at least two variants with ranges of 350 to 700 kilometers and multiple sophisticated guidance systems.182 Even longer–ranged variants of the Babur are certain to appear in time, as Pakistan accelerates its effort to defeat future Indian ballistic missile defense systems.

The ambition to develop an intercontinental-range ballistic missile continues to simmer and speculation about Pakistan’s plans for a Taimur missile persists,183 despite Islamabad supposedly suspending its development efforts under U.S. pressure during the Obama years. Because the overt development, not to mention deployment, of a Pakistani ICBM would be viewed as highly provocative by the United States, Pakistan’s activities in this regard are likely to persist covertly. Given Pakistan’s other priorities, however, it is unlikely that Islamabad is currently in a rush to develop an ICBM to deter Washington. To the degree that this objective remains desirable, it makes sense for Pakistan to either utilize its faltering space program to develop space-launch vehicles that could double as ICBMs in case of an emergency or to explore how its longest-ranged current missiles, such as the Shaheen-3, might be employed with reduced payloads and atypical launch angles to hold at risk outlying U.S. territories as part of a deterrence strategy. Such possibilities are relevant, however, mostly over the long term.

Sea Systems

While Pakistan has thus developed a diverse land-based missile program—consisting of close- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles (with ambitions of reaching even farther) and complemented by ground-based cruise missiles—these terrestrial nuclear forces, which constitute the primary arm of its nuclear deterrent, are increasingly supplemented by sea-based nuclear systems in both shore-based and offshore variants. In 1998, Pakistan had no sea-based nuclear capabilities. But it was not long before Islamabad, following New Delhi’s example, sought a full-fledged triad with naval nuclear weapons as well. India was first out of the gate, using its standing ties with Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau to develop the Arihant-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine, the first two of which are now nominally operational.

Pakistan has followed suit and is developing a nuclear-powered submarine of its own, possibly with Chinese assistance, which has already been incorporated in the Yuan-class air-independent propulsion–equipped diesel-electric submarines now being constructed at Karachi.184 As Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai described this Pakistani quest:

I would say it’s a work in progress. It’s a work in progress where different elements, and different segments will come, are coming in stages. And there will be a time when there will be a platform as well. There will be a time when there will be a weapon. There will be a time where there will [be a] communications part of it coming into place. I can say with confidence that we are not too far away from it. So, comprehensively speaking I think this capability will come into play in the next few years.185

The Pakistani program to develop a nuclear submarine will inevitably prove to be a long and slow process, but the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s efforts since 2001 “to design and manufacture a miniaturized nuclear power plant for a submarine” suggests that its strategic planners are committed to acquiring such a capability eventually.186 Given the origins and timing of this decision, it is unlikely to have been shaped by concerns about the vulnerability of Pakistan’s land-based systems, some arguments to the contrary notwithstanding.187 Rather, it was probably driven by abstract convictions about the strategic advantages of concealed submerged platforms for deterrence stability, coupled with the desire to push the technological envelope in ways that would ultimately benefit Pakistan.

In any event, because a nuclear submarine is years, if not decades, away from commissioning, Pakistan has in the interim focused on developing nuclear warheads for the tactical weapons currently in naval service. Similar to the efforts associated with the air arm, Pakistan seeks to maintain an inventory of diverse nuclear weapons that could be carried by different naval platforms. For example, the Babur cruise missile variant called the Harbah, employed for both anti-ship and land-attack missions, is currently deployed aboard the Pakistan Navy’s surface attack craft, but extended range variants will be deployed aboard Pakistan’s submarines as well.188 The Harpoon anti-ship missile, a U.S.-supplied conventional weapon that Pakistan covertly modified and mated with nuclear warheads for the land-attack role, can be fired from maritime patrol aircraft such as the P-3C Orion as well as from other Western-origin surface vessels and submarines.189

Pakistan has likely developed other nuclear-tipped systems as well: the Chinese C602 missile, called the Zarb, which is deployed aboard Pakistan’s surface combatants and serves in its coastal defense batteries as well as is part of the Navy Strategic Force Command, is a particularly attractive candidate because its relatively large payload volume and its tactically useful range of 280 kilometers make it a useful area denial weapon when employed along the Pakistani coastline.190 For this mission—which is focused on potential naval threats from both the United States and India—Pakistan has also embarked on developing an anti-ship ballistic missile that could be either ship- or land-based; if the latter, it would be similar in principle, except perhaps for its range and its payload, to China’s own anti-ship ballistic missiles deployed along its eastern seaboard.191 There are some reports suggesting Chinese assistance in the development of this close-range missile, but given that Pakistan lacks the wide area-integrated sensor network that makes China’s conventional anti-ship ballistic missiles so potent, Islamabad would probably substitute “a small nuclear weapon” in order to secure effective targeting of various offshore surface threats.192

Given Pakistan’s success in developing compact nuclear warheads, it would not be surprising if its military technologists explore new naval weapons such as nuclear torpedoes and nuclear depth charges, just as the United States did during the Cold War.193 Although small nuclear yields, say in the range of 1–3 kilotons, might have only modest impact in a land environment, they would more than suffice to inflict consequential devastation if they are detonated on or in proximity to naval vessels and submarines. Pakistan’s naval nuclear weapons currently are designed primarily as second-strike systems. In order of priority, they appear to focus on: protecting Pakistan’s own coastline against Indian and “extra-regional force” power projection operations; targeting an adversary’s major combatants in sea denial operations on the high seas; and, lastly, attacking Indian land targets relatively close to shore and, in the process, defeating New Delhi’s emerging missile defenses.

Command and Control, Operational Posture, and Force Employment

While the internal activities of the key organizations involved in Pakistan’s strategic programs are hard to track, the broad organizational structure of Pakistan’s nuclear command system is well known. The National Command Authority (NCA), formalized in the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests, serves as the highest decisionmaking body for all matters pertaining to the nuclear arsenal. It is chaired by the prime minister and consists of two committees: the Employment Control Committee, responsible for nuclear use decisions, and the Development Control Committee, overseeing the nuclear acquisition process, with the Strategic Plans Division serving as the common secretariat for the NCA at large and the Strategic Plans Division’s director general serving concurrently as the secretary for both committees. Although the uniformed military is comprehensively represented in both bodies, there are civilian representatives as well: key ministers, such as those in charge of foreign affairs, defense, interior and finance, are present in the Employment Control Committee, and the heads of the major strategic industrial organizations have berths in the Development Control Committee.194

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is thus administratively overseen and directed by the Strategic Plans Division headed by a three-star military officer. The Strategic Plans Division is a highly professional organization and consists of some seven directorates that include operations and plans; command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; arms control; and security, among others.195 The chief of army staff, the most powerful personage in the Pakistani military, selects the Strategic Plans Division’s director general, who thereafter reports to, and functions under the authority of, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The chairman exercises operational control over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal through the three service-level commands and is ultimately accountable to the prime minister in council.

In theory, therefore, Pakistan possesses a unified civilian-military command structure with all nuclear acquisition, deployment, and use decisions made through a collective system that involves both elected officials and uniformed representatives equally. It is entirely possible that this corporate edifice works as designed in peacetime, at least formally, insofar as decisions pertaining to nuclear weapons development and procurement are reached by consensus. This fact, however, may obscure deeper imbalances in technical competence and political heft within the NCA—a problem that, though also prevalent elsewhere, has particular connotations in Pakistan’s “hybrid regime.”196 Whether civilian authorities, therefore, would have veto power over the military’s preferences, especially on the critical issue of nuclear use in wartime, thus remains an open question. This problem is grounded fundamentally on the deep structure of power relations within the Pakistani state and it has led observers such as Michael Krepon to argue that, “while notional authority now resides in the office of the [Pakistani] prime minister, and while cabinet ministers on the NCA are involved in [nuclear] decisions, real authority lies with the chief of army staff, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, [the Director General, Strategic Plans Division], and few others, some of whom may not be involved in decisionmaking under extreme duress.”197 With a bit of luck, this matter will never be put to the test, but it will nonetheless persist because of the enduring praetorian dominance in Pakistani politics.

In any case, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has another distinguishing characteristic. Although the Strategic Plans Division serves as the central node of the nation’s nuclear force, Pakistan—unlike China and India—does not have a unified strategic command but rather maintains three service-level strategic force commands that oversee the nuclear delivery systems operated by each service. In peacetime, these service commands do not have any access to the nation’s nuclear weapons. The control over, and the custody of, these weapons rests solely with the Strategic Plans Division as the executive agent of the NCA, with the weapons released to the service operators only when authorized by the Pakistani leadership in accordance with its multistep alerting system.

Of the three strategic commands, the Army Strategic Force Command, headed by a lieutenant general, is the largest and the most important. It controls all the ground-based delivery systems, including Pakistan’s ballistic and cruise missiles and its tactical weapons. These capabilities are organized under two corps-equivalent formations, Strategic Forces North and Strategic Forces South, based at Sargodha and Petaro, respectively.198 Each of these commands, in turn, controls a number of brigade-equivalent strategic missile groups, which are loosely modeled on the Pakistan Army’s artillery brigades. If the organizational structure of the latter is any indication, a strategic missile group could have some three subordinate missile regiments with supporting capabilities such as signals, engineers, survey, and security elements among others. One seemingly authoritative briefing (of unknown provenance) on the Pakistan Army’s order of battle and deployment in its western frontier regions indicates that each strategic missile group possesses eighteen missile launchers. This figure is analogous to the number of field artillery pieces in the Pakistan Army’s standard artillery brigade, but it has not been corroborated elsewhere despite seeming reasonable.199 Based on the news bulletins issued by the Pakistan Army after various missile tests, it also appears as if each strategic missile group deploys one particular kind of missile system, which would make sense from both an operational and a logistical perspective.200 Early in the last decade, Pakistani military officers had indicated in private conversations that they would like to raise and equip somewhere between six and twelve strategic missile groups by 2025. Based on the steady enlargement and diversification of Pakistan’s missile inventory, the army could be well on its way to realizing these ambitions, but whether and how this changes the internal composition of the strategic missile groups is unclear.

The Air Force Strategic Command is next in order of importance. This command retains the oldest nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s inventory as well as some of the newest air-delivered standoff weapons. The F-16 remains Pakistan’s most reliable aircraft delivery platform with a useful operating radius of about 500 nautical miles in the strategic strike role.201 Although the F-16 C/D Block 52 aircraft operated by 5 Squadron remains the PAF’s most effective multirole variant, its superb air combat capabilities are likely to restrict it to a conventional mission, at least initially, likely leaving the Block 15 models of 9 and 11 Squadrons with nuclear responsibilities.202 The Mirage III and V aircraft of 15, 25, and 27 Squadrons probably share the nuclear delivery mission, and, in time, will likely be joined by Pakistan’s new JF-17.203 Despite being secondary to the army’s strategic forces, the Air Force Strategic Command takes its nuclear mission seriously, constantly rotating nuclear capable aircraft between air bases, practicing takeoffs and landings on highway strips, and testing the mating of nuclear weapons with combat aircraft at austere facilities in order to protect the effectiveness of the nuclear air arm in the face of the expected Indian attacks in wartime.204

The Navy Strategic Force Command controls Pakistan’s naval nuclear delivery systems and most likely its coastal defense capabilities as well. Again, the nuclear warheads allocated to these vehicles are maintained under the centralized control of the Strategic Plans Division and are disbursed to the combat vessels (or shore weapons) when required according to the alert sequence. Like the PAF’s nuclear weaponry, the navy’s nuclear forces are viewed primarily as insurance—second-line capabilities that complement the principal land-based systems operated by the Army Strategic Force Command. Until the Pakistan Navy acquires submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missiles, its current capabilities will remain largely marginal as a deterrent.

Given the naval superiority that India is likely to enjoy in a conflict, the survivability of Pakistan’s nuclear systems aboard any surface ships is questionable. If nuclear-armed versions of weapons such as the Harbah, the Harpoon, and the C602 are deployed on the Pakistan Navy’s frigates and fast attack craft, they would be at high risk in any subcontinental war. Only the nuclear-tipped Babur submarine-launched cruise missile, the submarine- and air-launched nuclear Harpoons, and the nuclear-tipped coastal defense missiles are likely to remain relatively invulnerable. This suggests that Pakistan’s real naval nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future will consist mainly of the weapons deployed aboard sub-surface and air platforms (and secondarily on shore). Notwithstanding speculation to the contrary, Pakistan certainly has the technical capability “to shrink warheads enough for use with tactical or sea-launched weapons” and to deploy these aboard its surface vessels,205 but the operational and strategic value of such systems is dubious in comparison to the hazards. Given Pakistan’s conservatism regarding its nuclear posture, it is likely, therefore, that the Strategic Plans Division will eschew any temptations to deploy naval nuclear weapons on vulnerable surface platforms or maintain them at higher levels of readiness in peacetime, even though the several nuclear cruise missiles now in service reflect both its investments in full-spectrum deterrence and the Pakistan Navy’s desire to partake in the national nuclear deterrence mission.206

Although Pakistan is thus pushing the envelope in creating a large and diversified nuclear force along many dimensions, its operational posture has been strikingly cautious so far. Since the beginning of its nuclear program, Pakistan has maintained its nuclear warheads routinely in unassembled form—that is, with the cores separated from the rest of the weapon assembly, and with these two elements separated from their delivery systems as well.207 The U.S. Department of Defense corroborated this description in 2001 and there have been no indications to the contrary since.208 This posture was also alluded to by Musharraf, who metaphorically noted in 2003 that, “There is no button in our case. Missiles and warheads are not permitted together. There is a geographical separation between them.”209 Subsequently, senior officials from the Strategic Plans Division confirmed that Pakistan’s nuclear forces are not maintained routinely on “hair trigger alert,” but that the separation between components “is more linked to time rather than space.”210 When senior Pakistani military officers have been queried about this formulation in private conversations during the last decade, they invariably acknowledge that even though the warhead components and the delivery systems were often stored together in dedicated repositories, the process of integrating them involved a lengthy sequence that prevented any instantaneous employment. Whatever the nuances, the clarifications confirmed that Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities in peacetime are preserved in separated form even if the various elements are sequestered either within single facilities—a posture most relevant to land-based missile warheads and their delivery systems—or in close proximity to their delivery platforms—as is likely to be the case with aircraft-delivered and naval weapons.

To support this posture, Pakistan began to invest heavily in building a large and opaque network of underground storage sites to protect its strategic weaponry against both domestic threats and external attack. These facilities are invariably hardened, heavily guarded, and obscured by various deception and denial measures to prevent easy identification and targeting. These infrastructure investments, just like in India, began well before the 1998 tests but were accelerated after elevated fears over the possibility of the United States seizing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons—first after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and later after the Abbottabad raid on Osama bin Laden.211 After A. Q. Khan’s proliferation activities became public in 2003–2004, this effort acquired further impetus, leading the Strategic Plans Division to double down on enhancing the internal security of Pakistan’s nuclear program while continuing its previous efforts at minimizing the vulnerability of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to potential external attacks.212

What is remarkable is that Pakistan’s posture of maintaining unassembled nuclear weapons in peacetime has survived over the last two decades despite its perpetual fears of Indian aggression. In other words, the emphasis on positive control (requiring nuclear weapons to be readily available for operations when necessary) has not overwhelmed the requirements of negative control (ensuring that nuclear weapons cannot be used except when authorized), even though Islamabad’s concerns about India remain unabated. This speaks to the fundamental confidence that Pakistan has about the survivability of its deterrent against the worst forms of Indian attacks imaginable; this confidence, in turn, derives from the effectiveness of the Strategic Plans Division’s preparations in both a technical and a procedural sense. Furthermore, it reflects the enduring conviction that all nuclear use contingencies vis-à-vis India (and any other power, for that matter) will be presaged by a period of strategic warning that will enable Pakistan to prudently increase its force readiness in accordance with strategic necessity.213

What is remarkable is that Pakistan’s posture of maintaining unassembled nuclear weapons in peacetime has survived over the last two decades despite its perpetual fears of Indian aggression.

Preserving the fine balance between maintaining disaggregated nuclear capabilities that are nonetheless responsive has been aided by both technical and procedural solutions. Fully cognizant of the imperatives of safety and security, one very senior Pakistani Air Force officer at the turn of the century indicated that Pakistan’s device designs from the beginning incorporated something akin to insertable nuclear capsules, just as early U.S. nuclear weapons did as well.214 Although Pakistan could not mimic the technical mechanisms employed in early U.S. nuclear weapons exactly, the virtue of the “insertable pit” solution is that it allows weapon cores to be preserved separately from the rest of the nuclear assembly while also permitting their easy integration when required in a crisis either at the storage site or even at a field location after dispersal.215 The nuclear capsules in air-dropped U.S. weapons at the beginning of the nuclear era were, in fact, inserted into the high explosive shell of the weapon assembly by the bomber’s crew en route to its target.216 Nuclear weapons carried by tactical strike-fighters do not permit a similar solution and, hence, the pits in Pakistan’s air-delivered weapons must be fully integrated prior to the aircraft’s takeoff. A similar regime defines the integration activities pertaining to Pakistan’s land- and sea-based missiles.

In any event, and whatever the differences characterizing Pakistan’s weapons integration regime compared to that of the United States in the early Cold War, maintaining unassembled nuclear weapons in peacetime guards against accidents at the storage sites while also minimizing the dangers of seizure, since both elements—the cores and the weapon assembly—would have to be lost simultaneously for security to be compromised. Pakistan’s procedural systems, like India’s and China’s, have consequently focused on creating the alerting system that would allow its military to systematically integrate the nuclear weapon and delivery systems components in their custody when required during a crisis.

The exact details of Pakistan’s alerting sequence are not known but, like India’s four-tier process, it involves a structured procedure whereby nuclear weapon components are assembled; delivery systems are tested, relocated (if necessary), and prepared for mating with the warheads; weapons and delivery vehicles are integrated; and, finally, the completed systems are either readied for launch or dispersed to field sites or hides awaiting their orders to launch. Every step of the process can be undertaken only upon receipt of specific orders that are transmitted over a dedicated strategic communications network, which conveys the targeting data, the segmented twelve-digit alphanumeric arming code, and finally the launch code that authorizes the release of the weapon.217 Multiple levels of authority are also involved in this process, from the Strategic Plans Division to the service Strategic Force Commands to the strategic missile group commanders (or their air force and naval equivalents) and their subordinates. The entire chain is subject to the strong scrutiny of a personnel reliability program and a stringent “two-man rule” is employed where all critical activities involving nuclear operations are concerned.218 Depending on the delivery instrument involved—land-based missiles, aircraft, or naval platforms—the precise modalities of the integration and alerting process will vary, but the overall concept of steadily bringing routinely disaggregated capabilities to full integration over a period of time has survived thus far.

The length of time required to traverse the entire alert sequence from a starting start also varies depending on the delivery system involved. Aircraft-delivered weapons can be prepared most quickly—possibly a few hours—though they are the least preferred instruments for penetrating strike missions in the early days of a conflict. In comparison, land-based missile forces and naval nuclear forces would take longer to reach full readiness—many hours to a few days—but, since the entire force generation process is assumed to occur under conditions of strategic warning, it is likely that Pakistan will be able to ready many of even its slowest nuclear systems before the onset of any conflict. Depending on the amount of strategic warning available, the processes of integration could proceed and be completed even after the onset of a conventional conflict. And unless a high intensity, all-out conventional war is assumed, it is possible—even likely—that Pakistan, like India, would not integrate all of its strategic forces but merely a subset, keeping the rest in reserve as a force-in-being.

The most stressing threat to the customarily disaggregated Pakistani nuclear force would be an extensive bolt-out-of-the-blue counterforce strike, but strategists in Islamabad have sensibly dismissed this contingency as unrealistic for the foreseeable future.219 Notwithstanding some recent claims that India is contemplating “splendid first strikes” in the service of counterforce missions—an issue discussed at length in the following chapter—Pakistan’s strategic planners anticipate that their investments in hardening, deception, and force expansion and distribution, their tested routines for force generation, and the quality of India’s nuclear capabilities all combine to make any threats of a splendid first strike by New Delhi practically impossible.220 Once Islamabad’s nuclear forces have been generated and surged, the dangers of victimization to any imagined Indian counterforce strikes—conventional or nuclear—in fact recede even further. The real danger facing Pakistan’s dispersed weapons, which would be fully integrated by that point, is actually accidents because its assembled weapons, just like India’s, are unlikely to be “one point safe” in the face of the physical and thermal shocks that may arise during movement from their peacetime repositories to their wartime launch locations.221

The most stressing threat to the customarily disaggregated Pakistani nuclear force would be an extensive bolt-out-of-the-blue counterforce strike, but strategists in Islamabad have sensibly dismissed this contingency as unrealistic for the foreseeable future.

The introduction of some kinds of new tactical nuclear weapons, both land- and sea-based, could stress Pakistan’s traditional posture of maintaining its nuclear capabilities in separated form, but much depends on the specific device designs utilized in these systems. Pakistan still seeks to maintain its traditional solution in regard to most of its tactical weapons, and the benefits of having a recessed force can still be enjoyed if systems that cannot be maintained routinely in unassembled form are simply withheld from frontline deployment until absolutely necessary. At the moment, Pakistan appears to be pursuing both technical and procedural controls even in regard to its tactical nuclear weapons with an eye to ensuring at least their security in both peacetime and conflict.222 The success of these efforts will be continually debated inside Pakistan and elsewhere, but there is little doubt that Islamabad is cognizant of the problems involved and, at least thus far, is pursuing relatively conservative solutions that are biased toward minimizing the dangers of unauthorized use. As such, there is no evidence supporting the claim that “whatever negative controls exist to ensure the security and safety of Pakistan’s arsenal during peacetime, they are likely circumventable, by design, for deterrence purposes in a crisis or conflict situation with India” (emphasis added).223

Despite the expansion and diversification of its nuclear weapons inventory since the 1998 tests, Pakistan has, in fact, persisted with a centralized command system, preferring to devolve nuclear use authority as appropriate in war, rather than pre-delegating that authority to field commanders and dispersing ready nuclear weapons in peacetime. Many thoughtful Pakistani observers early on, including military officers who once served in the Strategic Plans Division, were fearful that the acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons might lead to the decentralization of nuclear command and control. In this vein, Naeem Salik had noted in 2012 that such capabilities “may force a rethink of existing centralized negative and assertive controls over nuclear weapons and may lead to a pre-delegation of command and control with its own attendant risks.”224 Similarly, Feroz Hassan Khan had earlier warned even more portentously that:

should a trade-off [between positive and negative control] be required, [the] battle effectiveness of the nuclear force will trump centralized control. This does not mean that [a] nuclear use decision will be taken irrationally by the theater commander. But this transition of command-and-control in operational conditions is an outcome of the fog of war and will require careful attention as the process of integration of nuclear and conventional forces goes apace.225

The evidence suggested by Pakistan’s military exercises in recent years, however, corroborate earlier assurances offered by its nuclear strategists, such as Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, that “no delegation of authority concerning nuclear weapons is planned.”226 Although the temptation to do so is understandable, neither Pakistan’s National Command Authority nor the Pakistani military leadership—even if it is assumed that the latter are the ultimate decisionmakers on nuclear use issues—has moved to pre-delegate authority for use decisions to subordinate echelons, such as the army’s corps commanders who would oversee military operations in a conventional war.227

If anything, Pakistan has doubled down on centralized control even as it has acquired tactical nuclear weapons. Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai has more recently noted that, “Pakistan has ensured seamless integration between nuclear strategy and conventional military strategy,” but where nuclear weapons (to include tactical devices) are concerned, this “seamless integration” involves institutionalizing the procedures for releasing weapons only to the respective service-level strategic force commands—and not conventional formations—when required for possible use. Until that point, all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, including its tactical systems, remain under the control of the Strategic Plans Division and protected by its own security force, which has now expanded to some 30,000 personnel. The current technical and procedural systems, therefore, do not permit anyone outside the services’ strategic force command leadership and their direct subordinates to arm Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The extensive expansion and diversification of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is intended to provide sufficient redundancy so as to allow the leadership enough alternative nuclear use options that mitigate the use-or-lose dilemmas that can be easily hypothesized in the context of an intense conventional war. Toward this end, Pakistan, despite some speculation to the contrary, has not deliberately weakened the technical safeguards preventing unauthorized nuclear use in order to allow field commanders to be able to fire nuclear weapons on their own initiative in the event of fractured communications or even localized military reverses.228 In fact, except for some accident occurring in the chaos of war, no Pakistani conventional force component would ordinarily be able to lay its hands on any of the nation’s nuclear weapons.

In support of such a command system, Pakistan has, and continues to, invest heavily in creating the physical, technical, and procedural infrastructure to ensure the protection of its leadership and their capacity to control nuclear forces even in the event of chaotic conventional operations. Toward that end, Islamabad has constructed “a National Command Center (NCC), which has a fully automated Strategic Command and Control Support System (SCCSS) that enables the decisionmakers at the NCC to have round the clock situational awareness of all strategic assets during peacetime and especially in times of crisis.”229 This facility is complemented by other underground command centers connected to the hardened storage sites for Pakistan’s weapons and the principal missile delivery systems, with the air and naval vectors relying on a combination of opacity and mobility for their survival. All the nodes in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal are now linked by a dedicated strategic communications system that, although interfacing with the nation’s other leadership and conventional military communications networks, is distinct from them.230 The strategic communications system, just like in India, is built on a buried fiber-optics backbone and supplemented by high-frequency radio, microwave radio relay, and satellite communications. The subsurface platforms of the naval arm, in addition, are connected by very low frequency communications, which as one analyst noted, “reinforce[s] the message that the country is investing in maintaining a credible and survivable nuclear deterrent.”231

Islamabad has thus invested extensively in the physical infrastructure required to protect its nuclear systems and in the technical capabilities and procedural regimes required to ensure their effective generation, dispersal and use if required by strategic necessity. The extent of the investments sometimes gives rise to the impression that Pakistan is, in fact, preparing for nuclear warfighting—that is, resolving its tactical weaknesses at the conventional level through the application of nuclear fires. This perception is mistaken. Given Pakistan’s geographic vulnerabilities, both its civilian and military leaders are sufficiently aware of the implications of widespread nuclear use for the nation’s survival. However, because of their fears about India’s superior capabilities—and, more to the point, its supposedly revanchist ambitions—they feel compelled to amass the largest nuclear capabilities possible and constantly threaten their use simply to signal their willingness to bear the high costs necessary in the event of Indian aggression. Even as they issue such threats, sometimes even provocatively,232 Pakistan’s overarching objective remains deterrence: preventing any conventional war that might put at risk its national survival and thereby provoke the very nuclear weapons use that could also eventually lead to its own physical destruction.

Taking Stock

This survey of Pakistan’s evolution since the 1998 tests highlights dramatic changes along with more limited, yet important, continuities. The clearest discontinuity has been manifested in Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, which has shifted from its original intention to build a minimum deterrent to a more expansive conception labeled full-spectrum deterrence. While the former notion conveyed the possession of a relatively small and possibly limited arsenal that would see use solely as a last resort and directed mainly as countervalue targets, the latter concept has justified a larger nuclear inventory consisting of a variety of weapons that range from tactical to strategic, which can potentially be used earlier in a conflict, in a more graduated way, and directed at a variety of targets ranging from military formations all the way to an adversary’s cities. This transformation has been supported by an expansion in Pakistan’s fissile material production base, with new plutonium-producing reactors joining its traditional uranium enrichment program. The availability of plutonium has resulted in a transformation of Pakistan’s device designs as well: it has allowed the fielding of new, more compact weapons that now arm the country’s diverse substrategic systems, even as Pakistan has also proceeded to push for greater yields on its strategic systems through the development of boosted-fission and thermonuclear warheads.

The Pakistani nuclear arsenal today, accordingly, bears scant resemblance to the force that existed in 1998: the emerging dyad at the time has now mutated fully into an evolving triad that also incorporates a spectrum of tactical to strategic weapons. For all these changes, however, Pakistan’s nuclear posture has remained remarkably conservative. Almost every system in the arsenal is still maintained in separated form, with integration occurring through a structured process depending on the level of alert, while the command system remains durably centralized, albeit dominated by the military despite the appearances of a hybrid civilian-military command system. Above all, the starkest element of continuity since 1998 remains Pakistan’s emphasis on deterrence—that is, avoiding a conventional war that could threaten the survival of the nation. While Islamabad has moved away from a pure strategy of deterrence by punishment, it has not yet moved toward deterrence by denial either. Rather, it has incorporated symbolic elements of denial that are intended primarily to signal resolve and a willingness to escalate further in order to force war termination through external political intervention, at least in regard to conflicts involving India. Where other powers are concerned, principally the United States, Pakistan views the presence of a large number of diverse and survivable nuclear weapons as hopefully sufficient to prevent any aggressive actions.


1 For gripping overviews of the pain of Partition, see Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, Freedom at Midnight, 7th ed. (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 2011); Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008); and Barney White-Spunner, Partition (London: Simon & Schuster, 2017). A very useful academic overview of the enormous literature on Partition is Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh, The Partition of India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

2 For excellent analysis of the historical and structural factors that shaped the making of Pakistan, see Ian Talbot, Pakistan: A Modern History (London: Hurst, 2009) and Ayesha Jalal, The Struggle for Pakistan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).

3 Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan

(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 121.

4 C. Christine Fair, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 139–141.

5 For a detailed, albeit controversial, reading of the dispute pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir, see Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy 1846–1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); the Afghan-Pakistan dispute over the Durand Line is summarized in Bijan Omrani, “The Durand Line: History and Problems of the Afghan-Pakistan Border,” Asian Affairs 40, no. 2 (2009): 177–195; and in Elisa Giunchi, “The Origins of the Dispute Over the Durand Line,” Internationales Asienforum 44, nos. 1–2 (2013): 25–46. A detailed examination of the Durand Line dispute at the time of Partition can be found in Elizabeth Leake, The Defiant Border: The Afghan-Pakistan Borderlands in the Era of Decolonization, 1936–1965 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

6 Vali Nasr, “The Negotiable State: Borders and Power-Struggles in Pakistan,” in Right-sizing the State: The Politics of Moving Borders, eds. Brendan O’Leary, Ian S. Lustick, and Thomas Callaghy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 168–200.

7 For more on this theme and its complexities, see Stephen Philip Cohen, The Idea of Pakistan (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004).

8 T. V. Paul, The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 69–126.

9 For useful discussions about the role of the Army in Pakistan’s security consciousness, see Paul, The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World, 69–93; and the extensive and illuminating discussion in Aqil Shah, The Army and Democracy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014). The ethnic representation of the Pakistan Army and the changes therein are discussed in Ayesha Siddiqa, “Pakistan Military—Ethnic Balance in the Armed Forces and Problems of Federalism,Manekshaw Paper 39, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, 2013; and C. Christine Fair and Shuja Nawaz, “The Changing Pakistan Army Officer Corps,” The Journal of Strategic Studies 34, no. 1 (2011): 63–94.

10 For more on this issue, see Ashley J. Tellis, Are India-Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn? (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2017), 25–42.

11 The term is Bernard Brodie’s and appears in the title of his pathbreaking volume, Bernard Brodie, ed., The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946).

12 Stephen Philip Cohen, The Pakistan Army (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 152–161; and Feroz Hassan Khan, “Pakistan as a Nuclear State,” in Pakistan—Beyond the Crisis State, ed. Maleeha Lodhi (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2011), 267–282.

13 Bhumitra Chakma, “Road to Chagai: Pakistan’s Nuclear Programme, Its Sources and Motivations,” Modern Asian Studies 36, no. 4 (2002): 871–912.

14 Bhumitra Chakma, Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons (London: Routledge, 2008): 10–17, 46.

15 Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Address by Mr. Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, to the 470th Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, 8 December 1953,” International Atomic Energy Agency,

16 Chakma, “Road to Chagai,” 875–877.

17 Abdul Sattar, Pakistan’s Foreign Policy 1947–2005: A Concise History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 46–52, 57–60.

18 Khan, Eating Grass, 53–58, 129–134.

19 Chakma, “Road to Chagai,” 878–879. See also, Samina Ahmed, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Program: Turning Points and Nuclear Choices,” International Security 23, no. 4 (Spring 1999): 178–204.

20 Ahmed, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Program: Turning Points and Nuclear Choices,” 181–183.

21 Khushwant Singh, “Pakistan, India and The Bomb,” New York Times, July 1, 1979.

22 Khan, Eating Grass, 68–71.

23 Ibid., 129–134, 198–200.

24 For useful and colorful details, see William Langewiesche, “The Wrath of Khan,” The Atlantic, November 2005,

25 Khan, Eating Grass, 120–121.

26 Ahmed, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program: Turning Points and Nuclear Choices,” 185–192; Ghulam Mujaddid, “The Next Decade of Nuclear Unlearning: Command and Control and Management of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons,” in Nuclear Learning in South Asia: The Next Decade, eds. Feroz Hassan Khan, Ryan Jacobs, and Emily Burke (Monterey: Naval Postgraduate School, 2014), 102–110.

27 Khan, Eating Grass, 188.

28 U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 104th Cong., 1st sess., vol. 141, no. 107 (1995): S9230.

29 P.R. Chari, “Nuclear Signaling in South Asia: Revisiting A. Q. Khan’s 1987 Threat,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 14, 2013,

30 The history of this effort is detailed in Khan, Eating Grass, 196–198, who insists, however, that this project was largely indigenous. For a critique of Khan’s historiography, see C. Christine Fair, “Feroz Hassan Khan, Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb,” Journal of Strategic Studies 36, no. 4 (2013): 624–630; and Khan’s response can be found in Feroz Hassan Khan, “Response to C. Christine Fair,” Journal of Strategic Studies 36, no. 4 (2013): 630–634.

31 Robert S. Greenberger and Matt Forney, “China-Pakistan Missile Pact Shows a Calculated Strategy,” Wall Street Journal, December 15, 1998,; and Joby Warrick and Peter Slevin, “Libyan Arms Designs Traced Back to China,” Washington Post, February 15, 2004, For more detailed overviews, see T.V. Paul, “Chinese‐Pakistani Nuclear/Missile Ties and Balance of Power Politics,” Nonproliferation Review 10, no. 2 (2003): 21–29; and Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons,” Congressional Research Service, February 12, 2016,

32 David Horowitz, “Israelis Dismiss Claims of Plans to Blow Up Pakistani Nuclear Sites,” Irish Times, June 3, 1998,

33 David Albright, Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America’s Enemies (New York: Free Press, 2010), 46–50.

34 Khan, Eating Grass, 321–337, 374–375; and Peter Lavoy, “Islamabad’s Nuclear Posture: Its Premises and Implementation,” in Pakistan’s Nuclear Future: Worries Beyond War, ed. Henry D. Sokolski (Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute, 2008), 149–153.

35 Lavoy, “Islamabad’s Nuclear Posture,” 146–147.

36 Ibid., 155–156.

37 Meenakshi Sood, “Pakistan’s (Non-Nuclear) Plan to Counter ‘Cold Start,’” The Diplomat, March 25, 2017,

38 Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (London: Penguin Press, 2004); and Carlotta Gall, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001–2014 (Boston: Mariner Books, 2014).

39 Seth G. Jones and C. Christine Fair, Counterinsurgency in Pakistan (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 85–141.

40 Between 2008 and 2011, there were at least six significant skirmishes before the incident at Salala in November 2011 where twenty-eight Pakistani soldiers, including two officers were killed as a result of a U.S. attack on a Pakistani border post. For an overview of this incident in the context of wider U.S.-Pakistan skirmishes along the Afghan border, see Ahmad Rashid Malik, “The Salala Incident,” Strategic Studies 32/33, nos. 4/1 (Winter 2012 and Spring 2013): 45–60.

41 The evolution of Pakistan’s threat assessment regarding the United States in the context of its other dangers has been illuminatingly documented in John H. Gill, “Through the Khaki Lens: Pakistan Army Views of the US as Presented in Military Journals 2002–2016,” July 31, 2016, unpublished manuscript. I am deeply grateful to Colonel Gill for sharing this paper.

42 Brigadier Shaukat Iqbal, “Present and Future Conflict Environment in Pakistan: Challenges for Pakistan Army and the Way Forward,” Green Book 2008: Future Conflict Environment (Rawalpindi: Pakistan Army, 2008), 43–50.

43 Najam Rafique, “Rethinking Pakistan–U.S. Relations,” Strategic Studies 31, no. 3 (2011): 126.

44 Jane Perlez, “Pakistani Army, Shaken by Raid, Faces New Scrutiny,” New York Times, May 4, 2011,; and Toby Dalton and George Perkovich, “Beware decline in Pakistani relations,” Politico, May 15, 2011,

45 Cohen, The Idea of Pakistan, 39–130.

46 See the remarks of Lieutenant General (Retd) Khalid Kidwai, Advisor, National Command Authority, and former Director-General, Strategic Plans Division, Pakistan, at the Seventh IISS-Centre for International Strategic Studies (CISS) (Pakistan) workshop on “South Asian Strategic Stability: Deterrence, Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control,” London, February 6, 2020,

47 Peter R. Lavoy, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrine,” in Prospects for Peace in South Asia, eds. Rafiq Dossani and Henry S. Rowen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 281.

48 Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, “Anatomizing Pakistan’s Motivations for Nuclear Weapons,” Pakistan Horizon 64, no. 2 (2011): 5–19.

49 Rizwan Zeb, “Pakistan: A Reluctant Nuclear State, 20 Years After?,” Asia Dialogue, June 28, 2018,; and Naeem Salik, “The Evolution of Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrine,” in Nuclear Learning in South Asia: The Next Decade, eds. Khan, Jacobs, and Burke, 71–84.

50 Nawaz Sharif, “Remarks of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, on Nuclear Policies and the CTBT at the National Defense College” (speech, Islamabad, PK, May 20, 1999), cited in Rodney W. Jones, Minimum Nuclear Deterrence Postures in South Asia: An Overview (Reston: Policy Architects International, 2001), 27.

51 Lavoy, “Islamabad’s Nuclear Posture,” 137.

52 Abdul Sattar, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Strategy: Inaugural Address,” Strategic Issues (March 2000): 3.

53 Ibid.

54 David Albright, “The Shots Heard ‘Round the World,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 54, no. 4 (1998): 25.

55 Bhumitra Chakma, “Pakistan: Whither Minimum Deterrence?,” S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, December 2013,, f. 2.

56 Naeem Salik, “Minimum Deterrence and India-Pakistan Nuclear Dialogue: Case Study on Pakistan,” Landau Network-Centro Volta South Asia Security Project, Working Paper 1/2006, March 2006, 15.

57 Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan’s Strategic Thinking and the Role of Nuclear Weapons (Albuquerque: Sandia National Laboratories, 2004), 12.

58 Sharif, “Remarks of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, on Nuclear Policies and the CTBT at the National Defense College.”

59 See the discussion in Zulfqar Khan, “India-Pakistan Nuclear Rivalry: Perceptions, Misperceptions, and Mutual Deterrence,” Islamabad Policy Research Institute, IPRI PAPER 9, January 2005; and Hassan Masood, “Pakistan’s Search for Security Through Reliable Balance of Power and Nuclear Weapons,” Journal of Political Studies 25, no. 1 (2018): 1–16.

60 Durrani, Pakistan’s Strategic Thinking and the Role of Nuclear Weapons, 11–12.

61 Cf., Vernie Liebl, “India and Pakistan: Competing Nuclear Strategies and Doctrines,” Comparative Strategy 28, no. 2 (2009): 154–163. For a more accurate reading, see Michael Quinlan, “How Robust Is India-Pakistan Deterrence?,” Survival 43, no. 4 (2000): 149–150.

62 Although Bhutto did not employ this precise term, the idea was certainly popularized by him and its justification is clearly articulated in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, If I Am Assassinated, Reproduced in PDF Format by Sani Hussain Panhwar, 148,

63 Samina Yasmeen, “Is Pakistan's Nuclear Bomb an Islamic Bomb?,” Asian Studies Review 25, no. 2 (2001): 201–215.

64 Khan’s proliferation activities, driven at different times by state encouragement and by personal pecuniary interests—sometimes complementarily, sometimes oppositionally—are usefully surveyed in Gordon Corera, Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and the Rise and Fall of the A. Q. Khan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

65 See Christopher Clary and Mara Karlin, “The Pak-Saudi Nuke, and How to Stop It,” American Interest 7, no. 6 June 2012):; “Pakistan Rules Out Sharing Nukes with Saudis, Anyone Else,” Associated Press, June 5, 2015,; and Dan Drollette, Jr., “View From the Inside: Prince Turki al-Faisal on Saudi Arabia, Nuclear Energy and Weapons, and Middle East Politics,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 72, no. 1 (2016): 16–24.

66 Elaine Sciolino, “The World: Buzz Words; Who’s Afraid of the Islamic Bomb?,” New York Times, June 7, 1998,

67 “Text of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Speech at the UN: September 23, 1998,” Strategic Studies 19/20 (1998): 135.

68 Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, “Evolution of Pakistan’s Nuclear Programme: Debates in Decision-Making,” Regional Studies 30, no. 2 (2012): 4.

69 Lavoy, “Islamabad’s Nuclear Posture,” 131.

70 Paolo Cotta-Ramusino and Maurizio Martellini, “Nuclear Safety, Nuclear Stability, and Nuclear Strategy in Pakistan: A Concise Report of a Visit by Landau Network Centro Volto,” Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, January 14, 2002,

71 Lavoy, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrine,” 283.

72 Durrani, Pakistan’s Strategic Thinking and the Role of Nuclear Weapons, 32.

73 Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Pakistani Nuclear Weapons, 2021,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 77, no. 5 (2021): 266. Dr. Samar Mubarakmand more improbably, however, claimed a capacity to produce yields of some 15–18 kilotons. See Khalid Qayyum, “Shaheen Missile Awaits Go-ahead for Test Fire,” The Nation, June 1, 1998, cited in A.H. Nayyar and Zia Mian, The Limited Military Utility of Pakistan’s Battlefield Use of Nuclear Weapons in Response to Large Scale Indian Conventional Attack (Pakistan Security Research Unit, 2010), 6.

74 Kamal Matinuddin, Nuclearization of South Asia (Karachi: Oxford University Press Pakistan, 2002), 242.

75 Chakma, “Pakistan: Whither Minimum Deterrence?,” f. 2.

76 Durrani, Pakistan’s Strategic Thinking and the Role of Nuclear Weapons, 26.

77 See the sensible discussion in Zulfqar Khan, “The Changing Dynamics of India-Pakistan Deterrence,” Pakistan Horizon, 66, no. 4 (October 2013), 1–19.

78 Feroz Hasan Khan, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Future,” in South Asia in 2020: Future Strategic Balances and Alliances, ed. Michael R. Chambers (Carlisle: U.S. Army War College, 2002), 153–189.

79 On the tensions and ambiguities involved, see Sadia Tasleem, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Use Doctrine,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 30, 2016,

80 “No PR-94/2011-ISPR,” Inter Services Public Relations, April 19, 2011,

81 Naeem Salik, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Force Structure in 2025,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 30, 2016,

82 Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, “Full Spectrum Deterrence: Capability and Credibility,” Pakistan Politico, June 7, 2018,

83 All quotes in this paragraph are drawn from “Rare Light Shone on Full Spectrum Deterrence,” Dawn, December 7, 2017,

84 For a comprehensive discussion of NATO’s original flexible response strategy, see J. Michael Legge, Theater Nuclear Weapons and the NATO Strategy of Flexible Response (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 1983). The Pakistani effort at emulation is discussed in Sadia Tasleem and Toby Dalton, “Nuclear Emulation: Pakistan’s Nuclear Trajectory,” Washington Quarterly 41, no. 4 (2018): 135–155; and Shashank Joshi, “Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Nightmare: Déjà Vu?,” Washington Quarterly 36, no. 3 (2013): 159–172.

85 Wilkening, “Nuclear Warfare,” 314–328.

86 Adil Sultan, “Pakistan’s Emerging Nuclear Posture: Impact of Drivers and Technology on Nuclear Doctrine,” Strategic Studies 31, no. 4 (2012): 147–167.

87 David J. Karl, “Pakistan’s Evolving Nuclear Weapon Posture,” Nonproliferation Review 21, nos. 3-4 (2014): 317–336; and Mansoor Ahmed, “India’s Nuclear Exceptionalism,” Discussion Paper (Cambridge, MA: Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, May 2017).

88 “Rare Light Shone on Full Spectrum Deterrence.”

89 Sannia Abdullah, “Pakistan’s Evolving Doctrine and Emerging Force Posture: Conceptual Nuances and Implied Ramifications,” Pakistan Horizon 71, no. 1/2 (2018): 80.

90 As Lieutenant General (retd.) Khalid Kidwai has argued, “in order to deter the unfolding of [offensive] operations under the [Indian Cold Start] doctrine, Pakistan opted to develop a variety of short range, low-yield nuclear weapons, also dubbed tactical nuclear weapons.” See Kidwai and Lavoy, “A Conversation With Gen. Khalid Kidwai,” 4, and the more extended discussion on this topic on p. 8.

91 Bhumitra Chakma, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrine and Command and Control System: Dilemmas of Small Nuclear Forces in the Second Atomic Age,” Security Challenges 2, no. 2 (2006): 116.

92 Sultan, “Pakistan’s Emerging Nuclear Posture Impact of Drivers and Technology on Nuclear Doctrine,” 147.

93 P.R. Kumaraswamy, “Israel and Pakistan: Public Rhetoric versus Political Pragmatism,” Israel Affairs 12, no. 1 (2006): 123–135.

94 Ibid., 128–131.

95 Sohail H. Hashmi, “Islamic Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction,” in Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Religious and Secular Perspectives, eds. Sohail H. Hashmi and Steven P. Lee (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 340–341.

96 For a good example of how Pakistani officials sometimes betray Freudian slips on this score, see Russell Goldman, “Reading Fake News, Pakistani Minister Directs Nuclear Threat at Israel,” New York Times, December 24, 2016, Pakistani fears about the Israeli-Indian relationship are usefully summarized in Muqtedar Khan, “Are Pressures From the U.S., India, and Israel Too Much for Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program to Withstand?,” Institute for Policy Studies, September 23, 2003,; and in Ahmed Ayaz, “Indo-Israeli Bonhomie,” Defence Journal 20, no. 12 (2017): 23–24.

97 Azriel Bermant, “Pakistan Is the Only Muslim Nuclear State – So Why Is Israel’s Hysteria Reserved for Iran?,” Haaretz, May 20, 2015; and Shimon Arad, “How Israel and Pakistan Can Avoid a Nuclear Showdown,” National Interest, February 19, 2018,

98 Munir Akram, “The Nuclear Dimension,” Dawn, October 1, 2017, For an example of the kind of news that accentuates Pakistan’s fears of U.S. threats, see Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder, “The Pentagon’s Secret Plans to Secure Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal,” National Journal, November 9, 2011,

99 Sannia Abdullah, “Pakistan’s Full-Spectrum Deterrence: Trends and Trajectories,” South Asian Voices, December 13, 2018,

100 “China Helping Pak With ICBM: U.S. Congressman,” The Hindu, April 29, 2016,; “Pakistan, US yet to Remove Differences Over N-arsenal,” Dawn, March 2, 2016,

101 Feroz Hassan Khan, “Pakistan’s Perspective on the Global Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,” in National Perspectives on Nuclear Disarmament, eds. Barry M. Blechman and Alexander K. Bollfras (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, 2010), 218.

102 Sood, “Pakistan’s (Non-Nuclear) Plan to Counter ‘Cold Start.’”

103 This local force balance has been in place since the 1990s, as illustrated in Ashley J. Tellis, Stability in South Asia (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 1997), 19–29. The discussion in next chapter confirms that despite India’s “Cold Start” doctrine, the force ratios along the India-Pakistan border favor the latter on C-day.

104 I am deeply grateful to Naeem Salik for bringing this point to my attention. See also, Major Muhammad Zeeshan Ali, “Strategic Delusions – The Cold Start Doctrine: Proactive Strategy,” School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2016,, 44.

105 Ali Ahmed, “India and Pakistan: Azm-e-Nau as a Response to the Cold Start,” Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, July 28, 2013,

106 Sannia Abdullah, “Cold Start in Strategic Calculus,” IPRI Journal 12, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 1–27; and Zafar Khan, “The Arrival of Tactical Nuclear Weapons in South Asia: Deterrent Stability or Instability?,” Comparative Strategy 32, no. 5 (2013): 402–417.

107 For one exploration of this issue, see Nishank Motwani, “Be Prepared for an India-Pakistan Limited War,” The Diplomat, October 5, 2018,

108 Timothy Hoyt, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Posture: Thinking About the Unthinkable?,” in Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age, eds. Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012), 181–200.

109 Sannia Abdullah, “The Quest for Escalation Dominance: Pakistan’s Response of Full Spectrum Deterrence,” Sandia National Laboratories, December 1, 2016,

110 Lavoy, “Islamabad’s Nuclear Posture,” 133–134.

111 Michael Fitzsimmons, “The False Allure of Escalation Dominance,” War on The Rocks, November 16, 2017,

112 The logic underlying this strategy goes back to the Cold War and was first articulated with clarity in Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 187–203; and Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 92–125.

113 Christopher Clary, “The Future of Pakistan’s ‘Nuclear Weapons Program,’” in Strategic Asia 2013–2014: Asia in the Second Nuclear Age, eds. Ashley J. Tellis, Abraham M. Denmark, and Travis Tanner (Seattle and Washington, DC: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2013), 153.

114 Sultan, “Pakistan’s Emerging Nuclear Posture: Impact of Drivers and Technology on Nuclear Doctrine,” 147–167.

115 The fact that Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons are not intended as genuine functional antidotes to operational threats on the battlefield is often missed even in otherwise excellent analyses on the subject. See, for example, A.H. Nayyar and Zia Mian, “The Limited Military Utility of Pakistan’s Battlefield Use of Nuclear Weapons in Response to Large Scale Indian Conventional Attack,” Pakistan Security Research Unit, November 2010; and Jaganath Sankaran, “Pakistan’s Battlefield Nuclear Policy: A Risky Solution to an Exaggerated Threat,” International Security 39, no. 3 (2015): 118–151.

116 For an argument that posits rapid war termination to also be India’s next best outcome in the event of Pakistani nuclear use, see Ali Ahmed, “Limiting a Subcontinental Nuclear War,” SP’s Land Forces,

117 The potential physical costs of Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons use on its own soil are strikingly demonstrated in Sankaran, “Pakistan’s Battlefield Nuclear Policy: A Risky Solution to an Exaggerated Threat,” 118–151, based only on an assessment of using the Nasr battlefield rocket system. If other Pakistani tactical weapons, such as nuclear artillery shells and atomic demolition munitions, are factored in, the burdens on Pakistan would only be further magnified.

118 That this concern may not be unfounded is insightfully explored in Ahmed, “Limiting a Subcontinental Nuclear War,” 4.

119 For a discussion of how these factors shaped Indian attitudes to Pakistan around the time of the 1998 tests, see Tellis, India’s Emerging Nuclear Posture, 51–55.

120 Michael Krepon, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Strategy and Deterrence Stability,” in Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia, eds. Michael Krepon and Julia Thompson (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, 2013), 53.

121 Sadia Tasleem, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Use Doctrine,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 30, 2016,

122 Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict, 187–203.

123 Abdullah, “The Quest for Escalation Dominance: Pakistan’s Response of Full Spectrum Deterrence,” 5.

124 On catalytic nuclear strategies, see Vipin Narang, “What Does It Take to Deter? Regional Power Nuclear Postures and International Conflict,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 57, no. 3 (2012): 478–508. In Vipin Narang, “Posturing for Peace? Pakistan’s Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability,” International Security 34, no. 3 (2009): 38–78, Narang argues that Pakistan abandoned its strategy for catalyzing international intervention after 1991, but both the logic of Pakistan’s predicament and its behavior in recent crises with India, especially during the Pulwama-Balakot crisis in 2019, suggest that relying on external intervention remains an integral element of Pakistan’s broader strategy and would be especially critical in any nuclear standoff.

125 On the threats posed by successful nuclear use in South Asia to the nuclear taboo, see Tellis, Stability in South Asia, 2–3; and Nina Tannenwald, “How Strong Is the Nuclear Taboo Today?,” Washington Quarterly 41, no. 3 (2018): 89–109. For an example of high negative externalities, see Owen B. Toon, Charles G. Bardeen, Alan Robock, Lili Xia, Hans Kristensen, Matthew McKinzie, R. J. Peterson, Cheryl S. Harrison, Nicole S. Lovenduski, and Richard P. Turco, “Rapidly Expanding Nuclear Arsenals in Pakistan and India Portend Regional and Global Catastrophe,” Science Advances 5, no. 10 (2019).

126 These levels are assessed at a uniform price point of less than U.S. $260 per kilo of uranium. See Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Uranium 2020: Resources, Production and Demand (Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2020), 19.

127 Nuclear Energy Agency, World Uranium Geology and Resource Potential: International Uranium Resources Evaluation Project (San Francisco: Miller-Freeman Publications, 1980), cited in Zia Mian, A.H. Nayyar, and R. Rajaraman, “Exploring Uranium Resource Constraints on Fissile Material Production in Pakistan,” Science and Global Security 17, no. 2–3 (2009): 77–108.

128 “Nuclear Power in Pakistan,” World Nuclear Association, December 2020,

129 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Uranium 2020, 56.

130 Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Pakistan's Nuclear Forces, 2011,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 67, no. 4 (2011): 91.

131 Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon, A Normal Nuclear Pakistan (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2015), 21.

132 PowerTechnology, “Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) Expansion,” PowerTechnology,

133 Tamara Patton, “Combining Satellite Imagery and 3D Drawing Tools for Nonproliferation Analysis: A Case Study of Pakistan’s Khushab Plutonium Production Reactors,” Science & Global Security 20 (2012): 117–140; and David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Claire Chopin, and Frank Pabian, “New Thermal Power Estimates of the Khushab Nuclear Reactors,” Institute for Science and International Security, May 23, 2018,

134 Maria Sultan, Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, Mohmmad Riaz, Jamshed Hashmi, Jawad Hashmi, and Asra Hassan, Governing Uranium in Pakistan (Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies, 2015).

135 The 2020 report estimates a cumulative production of 1,664 tons at the end of 2019. Reports since 2010 have estimated a rate of 45 tons of uranium production a year, estimating that this rate continues into 2019; if this rate persists, Pakistan’s cumulative production will stand at 1709 tons at the end of 2020. See Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Uranium 2020, 56.

136 “Pakistan’s Oldest Nuclear Reactor KANUPP-1 Closed,” World Nuclear Industry Status Report, October 22, 2021,

137 “Countries: Pakistan,” International Panel on Fissile Materials,” August 31, 2021,

138 One early scholarly effort at addressing this issue suggested a variety of scenarios, but only one in which Pakistan’s natural uranium stockpile lasts until roughly 2024. This timeline, based on different calculations from those employed here, would allow Pakistan to produce about 80 kilograms of HEU annually using feedstock from the past stockpile, while leaving its ongoing annual production of some 45 tons to fuel the Khushab reactors for operations at close to the levels assumed earlier. See Mian, Nayyar, and Rajaraman, “Exploring Uranium Resource Constraints on Fissile Material Production in Pakistan,” 77–108.

139 While the IPFM does not explicitly publish annual production rates, they can be tentatively extrapolated from the IPFM’s publications over time. Over the last decade, the IPFM has released five mean estimates (with constant uncertainty of 400 kg in either direction): 3,000 kg HEU in end-2012, 3,100 kg in end-2014, 3,400 kg in end-2016, 3700 kg at the beginning of 2019, and 3,900 kg at the beginning of 2020. In recent years, this would imply annual production rates of 150 kg HEU between end-2016 and end-2018 (equivalent to the beginning of 2019), rising to a production rate of an astonishing 200 kg between end-2018 and end-2019 (equivalent to the beginning of 2020). However, it is not clear from the IPFM website what accounts for this change in rate, nor is it clear whether the new estimate indeed reflects a new estimate of annual change or instead a retroactive change to the base estimates of HEU, pre-2019. In any case, as the IPFM acknowledges, “Uncertainty about Pakistan’s uranium resources [and its enrichment capacity] limit the reliability of the estimate”; this means that inferred annual production figures should be treated with caution, particularly in the case of dramatic shifts such as the jump in production rate pre- and post-2018. For the subsequent analysis, an annual production rate of 130 kg HEU has been chosen as an average of estimates between end-2012 and end-2019/beginning 2020. Conclusions are substantively the same with lower annual production rates, e.g., 100 kg. More aggressive estimates of Pakistan’s HEU production, including the maximum estimate of 200 kg annually, would only exacerbate the deficiency of natural uranium described in this section.

140 This is extrapolated from IPFM’s estimates of Pakistan’s total cumulative production of WGPu at the beginning of 2019 and at the beginning of 2020 as 370 kg and 410 kg, respectively. Note that as discussed in the previous footnote, inferred changes in annual output should be treated with caution. International Panel on Fissile Materials, “Countries: Pakistan,” Internet Archive, December 19, 2020,; and International Panel on Fissile Materials, “Countries: Pakistan,” Internet Archive, October 14, 2020,

141 Given these possibilities, and running against the conventional wisdom, one serious Indian assessment examining this issue has concluded that, based on natural uranium constraints, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stockpile is actually smaller than advertised. See Lalitha Sundaresan and Kaveri Ashok, “Uranium Constraints in Pakistan: How Many Nuclear Weapons Does Pakistan Have?,” Current Science 115, no. 6 (2018): 1,042–1,048. The available evidence, however, does not support Sundaresan and Ashok’s conclusion.

142 Dalton and Krepon, A Normal Nuclear Pakistan, 21.

143 U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2019 Uranium Marketing Annual Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 2020), 1.

144 Mian, Nayyar, and Rajaraman, “Exploring Uranium Resource Constraints on Fissile Material Production in Pakistan,” 89–90.

145 David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Frank Pabian, “Pakistan’s Growing Uranium Enrichment Program,” Institute for Science and International Security, May 30, 2018,

146 Khan, Eating Grass, 200; Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Nuclear Notebook: How Many Nuclear Weapons Does Pakistan Have in 2021?,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 7, 2021,; and Milton R. Benjamin, “Pakistan Building Secret Nuclear Plant,” Washington Post, September 23, 1980, cited in Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar, “An Initial Analysis of 85Kr Production and Dispersion From Reprocessing in India and Pakistan,” Science and Global Security 10 (2002): 161.

147 This conclusion would not change even if Pakistan were to secure a comprehensive civilian nuclear cooperation similar to India’s in the future. Such an agreement—of which the current Sino-Pakistani nuclear cooperation agreement that led up to the construction of the Chashma Nuclear Power Complex is an example—would provide Pakistan only with safeguarded natural uranium that could not be used for weapons. If Pakistan is to sustain a much larger weapons program, therefore, it would require more natural uranium either from increased domestic extraction or from covert purchases abroad because its attributed current production, which supports its unsafeguarded weapons-production reactors at Khushab, its uranium enrichment facilities, and its minor research activities, would not underwrite a dramatically expanded strategic program. Hence, it is not surprising, as one study concluded, that “as a result of Pakistan’s consistent deficit of uranium, the PAEC [Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission] has launched expensive uranium exploration drilling projects in the Kirthar mountain range, the Kohat plateau, and the Potwar plateau.” See Melissa Hanham, Grace Liu, Joseph Rodgers, Ben McIntosh, Margaret Rowland, Mackenzie Best, Scott Milne, and Octave Lepinard, “Monitoring Uranium Mining and Milling in India and Pakistan through Remote Sensing Imagery,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, CNS Occasional Paper, Number 41, November 2018, 9–10.

148 International Panel on Fissile Materials, “Countries: Pakistan,” August 31, 2021,

149 Kristensen and Korda, “Pakistani Nuclear Weapons, 2021,” 265–278.

150 Author’s private conversations. This judgment also runs counter to the Indian estimate found in Sundaresan and Asho, “Uranium Constraints in Pakistan: How Many Nuclear Weapons Does Pakistan Have?,” 1047, which judged that Pakistan could at best have had a total of between 112 and 156 nuclear weapons in 2018.

151 Khan, Eating Grass, 234–251; and Albright, Peddling Peril, 47.

152 Khan, Eating Grass, 174–190.

153 Terry C. Wallace, “The May 1998 India and Pakistan Nuclear Tests,” Seismological Research Letters 69, no. 5 (1998): 386–393.

154 Gregory S. Jones, “Do India and Pakistan Possess Boosted Nuclear Weapons? Tritium Supply Considerations,” Proliferation Matters, July 31, 2019,

155 David Albright and Paul Brannan, “Pakistan Expanding Plutonium Separation Facility Near Rawalpindi,” Institute for Science and International Security, May 19, 2009,; and David Albright, Paul Brannan, and Robert Kelley, “Pakistan Expanding Dera Ghazi Khan Nuclear Site: Time for U.S. to Call for Limits,” ISIS Imagery Brief, Institute for Science and International Security, May 19, 2009,

156 Clary, “The Future of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program,” 135–137; and Mansoor Ahmed, “Trends in Technological Maturation and Strategic Modernization: The Next Decade,” in Nuclear Learning in South Asia: The Next Decade, eds. Khan, Jacobs, and Burke,58–70.

157 Allusions to such testing can be found in Rob Matsick, “Shaking the Rust Off the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Ratification Process,” 418; and in National Academy of Sciences, Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2002), 74.

158 Kristensen and Korda, “Pakistani Nuclear Weapons, 2021,” 269.

159 Estimates for the M-11/Ghaznavi and Shaheen-1 are also constant for all years for which Kristensen and Norris have data, although these authors’ estimates begin only in 2015.

160 Kidwai and Lavoy, “A Conversation With Gen. Khalid Kidwai,” 12.

161 Rajaram Nagappa, An Assessment of Ballistic Missile Production Capacity in Pakistan (Bangalore: National Institute of Advanced Studies, 2007).

162 Alex Roland, “Was the Nuclear Arms Race Deterministic?,” Technology and Culture 51, no. 2 (April 2010): 448.

163 Bruno Tertrais, “Pakistan’s Nuclear and WMD Programmes: Status, Evolution and Risks,” EU Non-Proliferation Consortium, Non-Proliferation Papers, Number 19, July 2012, 2.

164 The entirety of Pakistan’s strategic complex is well described in Project Alpha, Pakistan’s Strategic Nuclear and Missile Industries, Centre for Science and Security Studies, King’s College, London, 2016.

165 Mujaddid, “The Next Decade of Nuclear Unlearning,” 103–104, 106.

166 The most recent edition of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Notebook is more ambivalent, attributing a nuclear role only to Pakistan’s Mirages: “In light of uncertainties regarding Pakistan’s nuclear-capable aircraft, the PAF’s F-16s and JF-17s are not identified in this Nuclear Notebook as having a dedicated nuclear weapon delivery system.” See Kristensen and Korda, “Pakistani Nuclear Weapons, 2021,” 271. There is, however, no reason to believe that Pakistan has removed its F-16 strike-fighters from their nuclear responsibilities.

167 Bilal Khan, “Will Pakistan Focus on Force Multipliers (Part-1),” Quwa, July 6, 2016,; and Bilal Khan, “Pakistan’s Force Multipliers (Part 2): Precision-Guided Bombs,” Quwa, July 8, 2016,; Bilal Khan, “Pakistan’s Force Multipliers (Part 3): Cruise Missiles & Sub-Munitions,” Quwa, July 6, 2016,

168 Bilal Khan, “The Rationale Behind Pakistan’s Nuclear Program,” Quwa, October 25, 2015,

169 Kidwai and Lavoy, “A Conversation With Gen. Khalid Kidwai,” 4–5.

170 The limitations of this strategy, which propelled a later shift to theater nuclear weapons, is discussed in Ashley J. Tellis, “NATO and Theater Nuclear Force Modernization: Looking Backward, Looking Forward,” Journal of East and West Studies 15, no. 2 (1986): 101–126.

171 “Complete List of All U.S. Nuclear Weapons,” Nuclear Weapon Archive, June 12, 2020,

172 Asad Haroon, “Pakistan Test-Fires Hatf-IX,” Dispatch News Desk, September 26, 2014,

173 Rajaram Nagappa, Arun Vishwanathan, and Aditi Malhotra, HATF-IX/NASR – Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapon: Implications for Indo-Pak Deterrence (Bangalore: National Institute of Advanced Studies), 20–24; and Khan, Eating Grass, 388.

174 Kristensen and Korda, “Pakistani Nuclear Weapons, 2021,” 271.

175 Mansoor Ahmed, “Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons and Their Impact on Stability,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 30, 2016,

176 Sikander Shaheen, “Upgraded Hatf IV test-fired,” The Nation, April 26, 2012,

177 This counterintuitive fact derives from Pakistan’s use—just like India’s—of hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) with ammonium perchlorate (AP) and aluminum (AL) powder as its solid missile propellant. HTPB/AP/AL propellants, which must be stored at low temperatures to protect the structural integrity of the missile, take significant amounts of time to be gradually brought to the ambient environmental temperature for combat operations. This characteristic of HTPB/AP/AL propellants drove the Indian shift to canisterization for its larger ballistic missiles.

178 Khan, Eating Grass, 240–244.

179 Missile Defense Project, “Hatf 6 ‘Shaheen 2,’” Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 15, 2018,

180 Missile Defense Project, “Ababeel,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 15, 2018, Somewhat implausibly, the Ababeel is sometimes cited as being able to carry more than three warheads but irrespective of the number carried, the intent is clearly to defeat India’s emerging ballistic missile defense systems. See “Ensured Nuclear Strike: Indian Ballistic Missile Defense and Pakistani Countermeasures,” August 27, 2020,; and Feroz H. Khan and Mansoor Ahmed, “Pakistan, MIRVs, and Counterforce Targeting,” in The Lure and Pitfalls of MIRVs: From the First to the Second Nuclear Age, eds. Michael Krepon, Travis Wheeler and Shane Mason (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, 2016), 149–175. For a skeptical Indian assessment of the Ababeel’s capabilities, see Rajaram Nagappa, “Does Pakistan’s Ababeel Medium Range Ballistic Missile Really Have MIRV Capability?,” Delhi Defence Review, February 3, 2017,

181 Kidwai and Lavoy, “A Conversation With Gen. Khalid Kidwai,” 10.

182 Missile Defense Project, “Hatf 7 ‘Babur,’” Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 15, 2018,

183 “Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Pakistan,” Arms Control Association, July 2018,

184 H.I. Sutton, “Pakistan’s New Type-039B AIP Submarines: Image Shows Shipyard Expansion,” Naval News, October 6, 2020,

185 Kidwai and Lavoy, “A Conversation With Gen. Khalid Kidwai,” 16.

186 Andrew Detsch, “Pakistan’s Oversized Submarine Ambitions,” The Diplomat, October 9, 2013,

187 Sufian Ullah, “Strategic Calculations Behind Pakistan’s Pursuit of Sea-Based Nuclear Deterrence,” South Asian Voices, June 11, 2020,

188 Ankit Panda, “Pakistan Conducts Second Test of Babur-3 Nuclear-Capable Submarine-Launched Cruise Missile,” The Diplomat, April 1, 2016,

189 Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Says Pakistan Made Changes to Missiles Sold for Defense,” New York Times, August 29, 2009, See also, Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha, “South Asia: Nuclear Navies?,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 56, no. 5 (September/October 2000): 12–14.

190 “Pakistan Navy Launches Land-based Anti-ship Missile,” Hilal, March 2018,

191 Usman Ansari, “Outgoing Pakistan Navy Chief Reveals Details of Modernization Programs,” Defense News, October 14, 2020,; “M-20B Anti-ship Ballistic Missiles for Pakistan?,” Vayu Aerospace & Defence Review, January 1, 2019, 147; and “Pakistan’s A2/Ad Efforts: P282 Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” Quwa, November 1, 2020,

192 Ajai Shukla, “China’s New ‘Aircraft Carrier Killer’ Missile Could Add Teeth to Pakistan Navy,” Business Standard, December 28, 2018,

193 A useful assessment of the Pakistani motivations for such capabilities can be found in Siddiqa-Agha, “South Asia: Nuclear Navies?,” 12–14; and Iskander Rehman, “Nuclear Weapons and Pakistan’s Naval Strategy,” The Interpreter, August 22, 2014, See also the pertinent comments in David O. Smith, “The US Experience with Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Lessons for South Asia,” Stimson Center, March 4, 2013, 2–3, For an Indian discussion of these capabilities, see Roshan Khanijo, “Pakistan’s Sea-based Nuclear Deterrence: Implications for India,” Journal of the United Service Institution of India 147, no. 607 (2017).

194 Lavoy, “Islamabad’s Nuclear Posture,” 149–153.

195 Ibid.

196 For more on this issue, see Katharine Adeney, “How to Understand Pakistan’s Hybrid Regime: The Importance of a Multidimensional Continuum,” Democratization 24, no. 1 (2017): 119–137; and Shah, The Army and Democracy, for how the Pakistan Army continues to control the nation’s politics even after formal democratization.

197 Krepon, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Strategy and Deterrence Stability,” 56. See also, Ghulam Mujaddid, “The Next Decade of Nuclear Unlearning,” 102–107.

198 “Pakistan Army,” Pak Defense, November 16, 2018,; and Ian Macdonald, “Pakistan’s Army Strategic Forces,” CRW Flags, December 10, 2010,

199 “Pakistan Army: Its ORBAT and Deployment in NWFP and FATA,”, 13.

200 See for example, Inter-Services Public Relations, No. PR-83/2008-ISPR, February 13, 2008, See also, Zia Mian and M. V. Ramana, “Going MAD: Ten Years of the Bomb in South Asia,” Economic and Political Weekly 43, nos. 26-27 (2008): 201–208.

201 “F-16 Fighting Falcon,” U.S. Air Force, September 23, 2015,

202 Kristensen and Korda, “Pakistani Nuclear Weapons, 2021,” 271.

203 Kristensen and Korda conjecture that the 7 and 8 Squadrons may have a nuclear mission as well. Kristensen and Korda, “Pakistani Nuclear Weapons, 2021,” 270.

204 For an example of some of these activities, see “F-16s Landing on Highways, Airspace Restriction: All You Need to Know About Pakistan’s Largest Military Exercise,” India Today, September 23, 2016,

205 Tim Craig and Karen DeYoung, “Pakistan Is Eyeing Sea-Based and Short-Range Nuclear Weapons, Analysts Say,” Washington Post, September 21, 2014.

206 The challenges involved here are usefully explored in Christopher Clary and Ankit Panda, “Safer at Sea? Pakistan’s Sea-Based Deterrent and Nuclear Weapons Security,” Washington Quarterly 40, no. 3 (2017): 149–168.

207 “Pakistan Nuclear Weapons,” Federation of American Scientists, December 11, 2002,

208 Office of the Secretary of Defense, Proliferation: Threat and Response, January 2001 (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2001), 27.

209 “Musharraf Rules Out Accidental N-war With India,” Times of India, January 10, 2003,

210 Maurizio Martellini, Security and Safety Issues About the Nuclear Complex: Pakistan’s Standpoints (Landau Network-Centro Volta: Como, 2008), cited in Tertrais, “Pakistan’s Nuclear and WMD Programmes: Status, Evolution and Risks,” 5.

211 Goldberg and Ambinder, “The Pentagon’s Secret Plans to Secure Pakistan's Nuclear Arsenal.”

212 For details, see Feroz Hassan Khan, “Nuclear Security in Pakistan: Separating Myth From Reality,” Arms Control Association, July 2009,

213 Conversations with Pakistani military officers suggest that they entirely appreciate the risks of “warning failure,” as described in Gregory S. Jones, “From Testing to Deploying Nuclear Forces: The Hard Choices Facing India and Pakistan,” IP-192, RAND, Santa Monica, 2000, 9, and have developed plans that limit such dangers partly by increasing the number of weapons in the stockpile and partly through the opacity surrounding their secure nuclear storage sites. In any event, the risks associated with warning failure are judged to be lesser in comparison to the dangers of deploying standing nuclear forces, a judgment that is reflected in the Indian posture as well.

214 How insertable capsules were employed in early U.S. nuclear designs are described clearly in Michael H. Maggelet, “North Korea’s Inevitable Nuclear Threat Is Here,” American Consequences 3 (2017): 37-43.

215 For more on such designs, see Chuck Hansen, ed., The Swords of Armageddon, Vol. 8 (Sunnyvale: Chukelea Publications, 1995), 11–36.

216 Maggelet, “North Korea’s Inevitable Nuclear Threat Is Here,” 38.

217 Ahmed, “Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons and Their Impact on Stability.”

218 Naeem Salik and Kenneth N. Luongo, “Challenges for Pakistan’s Nuclear Security,” Arms Control Today 43, no. 2 (2013): 14–19; and in illuminating detail in Christopher Clary, “Thinking About Pakistan’s Nuclear Security in Peacetime, Crisis and War,” IDSA Occasional Paper Number 12, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, 2010.

219 Apparently taking his cue from some Western speculation, one Pakistani military officer has recently claimed that India’s “recent technological and force posture developments indicate that New Delhi is mulling over announcing a pre-emptive nuclear doctrine that relies on counterforce targeting.” See Colonel Imran Hassan, “Strategic Instabilities in South Asia and Pakistan’s Nuclear Policy,” International Institute of Strategic Studies, Thursday, May 28, 2020, Not only is Hassan’s central assertion baseless, but it also remains the exception rather than the rule.

220 This confidence has been memorialized most authoritatively in the remarks of Lieutenant General Kidwai, at the Seventh IISS–Centre for International Strategic Studies (CISS) (Pakistan) workshop on “South Asian Strategic Stability: Deterrence, Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control,” London, February 6, 2020.

221 David Albright, “Securing Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons Complex,” Paper commissioned and sponsored by the Stanley Foundation for the 42nd Strategy for Peace Conference, Strategies for Regional Security (South Asia Working Group), October 25–27, 2001, Airlie Conference Center, Warrenton, Virginia,

222 Ahmed, “Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons and Their Impact on Stability.”

223 Narang, “Posturing for Peace? Pakistan's Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability,” 70.

224 Naeem Salik, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence Stability,” U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, 2012, 3.

225 Feroz Hassan Khan, “Nuclear Command and Control in South Asia During Peace, Crisis, and War,” Contemporary South Asia 14 (June 2005): 169.

226 Cotta-Ramusino and Martellini, “Nuclear Safety, Nuclear Stability and Nuclear Strategy in Pakistan,” 4.

227 Sébastien Miraglia, “Deadly or Impotent? Nuclear Command and Control in Pakistan,” Journal of Strategic Studies 36, no. 6 (2013): 841–866.

228 For an example, see Narang, “Posturing for Peace?,” 70.

229 Adil Sultan, “Nuclear Security in Pakistan” (meeting, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, July 7, 2015), cited in Ahmed, “Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons and Their Impact on Stability.”

230 Feroz Hassan Khan, “Nuclear Command, Control and Communications (NC3): The Case of Pakistan,” Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, September 26, 2019,

231 Usman Ansari, “Pakistan Unveils VLF Submarine Communications Facility,” Defense News, November 16, 2016,

232 See, for example, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, “Whatever It Takes,” Dawn, December 2, 2019.