President Barack Obama on Friday last week counselled India and Pakistan not to pursue aggressive military doctrines and nuclear arsenals as he wrapped up the fourth Nuclear Security Summit, his signature international effort to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons and source material.
During a press conference at the end of the summit that attracted leaders from all major powers, Obama sought to “see progress in Pakistan and India, that subcontinent, making sure that as they develop military doctrines, that they are not continually moving in the wrong direction.” He also expressed concern about “nuclear arsenals” expanding in some countries, “especially those with small tactical nuclear weapons that could be at greater risk of theft.”
The reference clearly was to Pakistan’s expanding nuclear arsenal with the addition of mini-nukes, but the US President also drew India into the picture with his reference to military doctrines, seen in some quarters as an allusion to New Delhi’s much-discussed but never implemented Cold Start Doctrine, a military manoeuvre that purportedly seeks to launch punitive armored strikes deep into Pakistan in a quick reaction response to egregious acts of terrorism by Pakistan inside India.
New Delhi has repeatedly said it has not implemented the Cold Start doctrine, and that Pakistan has historically been the aggressor with a military doctrine of terrorism and “death by thousand cuts” aimed at changing the status quo between the two countries. Still, there was a degree of surprise in Indian quarters that the US President’s lecture came despite the restraint exercised by the Modi government in what has been an extension of the UPA government’s Pakistan policy.
The Cold Start doctrine, a largely theoretical construct that has been debated in Indian strategic circles but not implemented, has rattled Pakistan to such an extent that it has developed and deployed battlefield nuclear weapons or tactical mini-nukes for use against an invading armored corps, even if it means nuking its own territory.
President Obama and other leaders have expressed fears that these mini-nukes dispersed to field commanders could be easy picking for terrorist groups that all too frequently infiltrate Pakistani military establishments, as evident in several attacks on military cantonments and garrisons. The concern was widely discussed by world leaders and their aides at the summit, both in the main session and on the margins.
Fearing a public dressing down, the Pakistani leadership bailed out from attending the Nuclear Security Summit, citing the Lahore terrorist attack as an excuse, thus forcing Obama to publicly voice the international concern.
Pakistan has repeatedly maintained that its nuclear weapons are safe and well-protected, but the assertion carries little credibility in the international community that has seen its blueprints and technology in the hands of countries such as Libya and Iran, and witnessed its nuclear scientists supping with al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.