With Indias Deepavali peace proposals being matched by Pakistans Eid ul Fitr salvo of proposals, reflection on nuclear use may appear unnecessary. However, it would be politically innocent to believe that the bonhomie generated by the peace proposals is here to stay. On the contrary, it's nuclear weapons that are here to stay. Therefore even as the K word must concentrate minds to ensure that peace is prolonged beyond the usual winter hiatus, the nuclear issue that could quite rapidly move from backdrop to foreground at the bark of the kalashnikov must not be neglected. The War of Attrition to whittle away the logic of nuclearisation must continue, irrespective of the tactical posturing that hogs todays headlines.
A beginning to this can be made with the lone clearly articulated principle of nuclear policy from either side: Indias policy of massive retaliation. The Indian doctrine of infliction of unacceptable damage, even if retaliatory, is only credible against the least likely manner in which Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons - in the form of a first strike. Pakistan is also unlikely to wait till regime or state survival is threatened, even if doing so would make its case for going nuclear compelling. Relying on the nuclear option when pushed to the wall would arise from crisis-generated 'use it or lose it' thinking at a juncture Pakistan's National Command Authority is least able to exercise the option. Therefore scenario writers err in believing that this is the likely manner in which Pakistan would employ its nuclear weapons. The greater likelihood is India is also not likely to provoke Pakistan by pegging its war aims that high.
For Pakistan, the military utility of its nuclear capability lies in redressing Indias across-the-board superiority, one that is currently being deepened through high profile acquisitions for all three services.
The more likely manner Pakistan could use its nuclear weapons is to influence the tactical situation, defensively, within its own territory and not necessarily on Indian troops. Doing so would breach the nuclear taboo in a manner that the international community would find more acceptable thereby preserving Pakistan?s strategic options from international pressure. Such a nuclear strategy would be in keeping with what is referred to as ?a threat that leaves something to chance? in deterrence theory, meaning that though it may not choose to employ nuclear weapons on Indian soil or against its military, this cannot be discounted altogether.
Pakistan could best employ its nuclear weapons in a preemptive manner as a green field option on its own territory, particularly in its sparsely inhabited desert region, in areas of likely advance by Indian armored forces prior to their attack. Locally this would make the area unsuitable for speedy armor operations and thereby limit Indian attacks to areas where Pakistan could cope with the attack. At the political level it would focus international opinion in such a manner as to make the intended Indian offensive a non-starter. Indias nuclear doctrine itself rules out an Indian nuclear response since it contemplates nuclear use only in case of threat of use or use of WMD against it or its forces. Thus Indias preference in such an instance may well be to continue sitting on the blocks, in a replay of Operation Parakram, rather than begin the fight under terms preemptively appropriated by Pakistan. Attempting to prevail elsewhere, for instance in inhabited areas to the north and in the mountainous areas even further north, would be to fight against a defenders advantages.
Finally it is worth pondering if the threat of limited war - euphemism for limited nuclear war - has indeed recessed with the recent outbreak of peace in the form of guns falling silent on the Line of Control. India is keeping its powder dry in as much as it is speedily filling in the military shortfalls revealed in the Operation Parakram experience with help from the usual suspects - Israel, Russia, France, USA and UK. Indias aim remains Great Powerdom best signified through subjugation or cooptation of Pakistan, a choice for Pakistan to make in face of the decided and increasing asymmetry between the two.
Pakistan, being politically and militarily constrained, has a rapidly closing window of opportunity to retrieve any Kashmir related gains. While competing with India in lobbing peace proposals in the near term to milk the thaw for all its worth, it would not be oblivious to a middle term over which Indias would gain an insurmountable lead. Therefore, should the peace initiative fizzle out yet again after all, there is no fresh ingredient now that wasn't available in Lahore or Agra renewed strategic competition can be expected. Both states could be inclined towards a military engagement for their own reasons, with India militarily confident and Pakistan preferring the conflict sooner than against a militarily resurgent India later. The threat of war has not receded.
This only accentuates the need to ensure that security establishments do not commandeer the current period of peace, simply to say I told you so!. The longer term and wider implications of the thaw require public appreciation so that the resulting pressure could help prolong the peace and make it routine.