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Shifts in India’s No-First Use Nuclear Declaration poses Grave Threats for Pakistan

A roundtable conference hosted by the Center for International Strategic Studies deliberated the threats faced by Pakistan in the instance of any shifts in India’s No First Use nuclear policy. The experts discussed the likelihood of such a shift, and its consequences for peace and stability in South Asia

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A shift in India’s nuclear policy of No First Use (NFU) can intensify the arms race in South Asia in the wake of the ongoing escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbors, India and Pakistan, over the occupied Himalayan region of Kashmir, warned the nuclear policy experts at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS).

The Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) hosted a roundtable discussion to deliberate the repercussions of the veiled nuclear threats made by the Modi administration, hinting that India’s nuclear policy on No First Use can change.

During a visit to Pokhran on the death anniversary of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 16th August, the Indian Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh, took to Twitter to make a statement that was strongly condemned by the Pakistani leadership, including Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Referring to India’s No First Use nuclear policy, Rajnath Singh had stated, “India has strictly adhered to this doctrine. What happens in future depends on the circumstances.”

Shifts in India’s NFU

The roundtable conference organized by the CISS examined the likelihood of India shifting its declared position on the No First Use nuclear policy, and the factors that motivate the Modi administration to change this policy, alongside its implications for peace and stability across the region.

The nuclear policy experts of the CISS warned that the veiled hints at altering the policy made by India’s civil and defense leadership are likely to have grave repercussions for Pakistan and the South Asian region.

India feels that now is an opportune time to maximize the leverage that it derives from its increasing diplomatic and economic influence at the global stage.

Ali Sarwar Naqvi, the Executive Director of CISS, observed the shifts in India’s No First Use Declaration since it was adopted in 1999. According to the press release issued by CISS, Naqvi observed, “The first significant shift was witnessed in 2003 when India said it could use nuclear weapons if it is attacked with biological and chemical weapons. Later in 2010, Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, in a speech, rephrased NFU to ‘no first use against non-nuclear weapon states.”

Naqvi further recalled that in 2013, Shyam Saran, the convener of India’s National Security Advisory Board, had stated that India will launch a massive retaliation regardless of the capacity of any nuclear attack launched against it, underscoring its capabilities of launching a second-strike.

A local media outlet quoted Ali Sarwar Naqvi’s observations, “Such doctrinal developments are alarming for India’s main adversaries, especially Pakistan, which would be compelled to take counteractive measures and increase the sufficiency level [of nuclear weapons] to ensure the credibility of its deterrence posture.”

Arms Race in South Asia

Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow at the CISS, noted, “India’s apparent changes in the No First Use policy stem from the military technologies that it has developed and acquired during the past two decades.”

Dr. Ahmed reflected upon the statements made by the Indian Defence Minister, and he observed that these statements are reflective of the Modi administration’s confidence in their newly acquired nuclear capabilities, which are aimed towards a dominance strategy that is capable of engaging Pakistan and China in a full-spectrum escalation.

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The Senior Research Fellow observed that a cascade effect of this veiled threat would be an intensified development of nuclear warheads and deliver systems, which would ignite the arms race in South Asia. Dr. Ahmed warned that such developments will incentivize the two countries to increase their investments in modernizing strategic and conventional forces.

Dr. Ahmed also highlighted India’s strategic defense cooperation with technologically advanced nations, including the US, France, Israel and Russia, and its impact on the apparent shifts in India’s NFU Declaration.

The CISS press release read, “India’s strategic partnership with major world powers and technologically advanced countries (US, Russia, France and Israel) too has contributed to this apparent policy shift in India’s nuclear doctrine. He (Dr. Ahmed) warned these strategic partnerships have potentially led to the undermining of strategic stability in the region and amplifying the level of threat for Pakistan.”

Retired Brigadier Dr. Naeem Salik, Senior Research Fellow at the CISS, observed that the civil and military leadership of Pakistan should not be surprised by the statements made by the Indian Defence Minister. He explained that Pakistan never had faith in India’s NFU declarations.

Read more: Pakistan will give up Nuclear weapons if India does: PM Khan

To substantiate his perspective, Dr. Salik cited the statements made by Indian leaders and officials about discarding the NFU Declaration in the past.

Dr. Salik noted, “India feels that now is an opportune time to maximize the leverage that it derives from its increasing diplomatic and economic influence at the global stage.”

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