Sunday May 29, 2011

Pak appears to cross nuclear-threshold against India

NEW DELHI: Pakistan's recent testing of NASR or Hatf-9 short-range missile, coupled with its rapidly growing stockpile of low-intensity nuclear weapons, suggests that it is actually preparing to cross the nuclear threshold in case of a conflict with India, said a report published in The Times of India.

One of world's most authoritative voices on Pakistan's nuclear strength and American nuclear expert Hans Kristensen told TOI that a nuclear-tipped NASR seemed more like a weapon intended for use against Indian forces advancing into Pakistani territory.

"While that wouldn't threaten Indian survival in itself, it would of course mean crossing the nuclear threshold early in a conflict, which is one of the particular concerns of a short-range nuclear weapon,'' said Kristensen, who is also Federation of American Scientists' Nuclear Information Project director.

While the 60-km short range of the nuclear capable missile doesn't threaten the security of any major Indian city, it certainly makes the Indian army and security forces vulnerable in case India does try to implement its much talked about Cold Start Doctrine, which entails making deep and precise incursions into Pakistani territory in the event of another Mumbai-like attack. Pakistan clearly seems to be raising the game considering that India will indeed be under pressure to destroy terror camps in Pakistan in the event of another state sponsored terror attack on India.

"A NASR would have to drive all the way up to the Indian border to be able to reach important targets in India. Amritsar would be one candidate, as would several smaller cities along the border. But that would also expose the missile to counter attack,'' Kristensen said as he emphasized that with its range of only 60 kilometres, the multi-tube NASR system is not intended to retaliate against Indian cities but be used first against advancing Indian Army in a battlefield scenario.

Kristensen had earlier described Pakistan's production of Hatf-9 as a worrisome development for South Asia and for efforts to prevent nuclear weapons from being used. He said it was time for Pakistan to explain how many nuclear weapons, of what kind, and for what purpose are needed for its minimum deterrent. Pakistan announced earlier that NASR "carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield with high accuracy, shoot-and-scoot attributes" and that it was developed as a quick response system to add deterrence value to Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

According to Kristensen though, the talk about Pakistan surpassing France in terms of the strength of its nuclear arsenal is "a decade or two ahead''. "Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is not equal to the number of warheads that could potentially be produced by all the highly enriched uranium and plutonium Pakistan might have produced. The size also depends on other factors such as the number of delivery vehicles and other limitations,'' he said.