Pakistan-based Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin's threat of nuclear war against India should come as no surprise. In a country where the official military nuclear doctrine itself is an irresponsible 'touch-me-not' doctrine, born of acute weakness and insecurity, the Pakistani military seems to have hit a new low using its terrorist proxies to issue such threats.
Consider the official nuclear doctrine enunciated in 2002 by the Pakistani military's Strategic Plans Division. It says, Pakistan will hit India with nuclear weapons if it feels threatened in almost any way at all:
- if India conquered a large amount of Pakistani territory,
- if India destroyed a large part of Pakistan's conventional military,
- if India attempted to strangle Pakistan economically, or
- if India resorted to internal subversion and destabilized Pakistan politically.
It is conceivable that Pakistan should have a nuclear first-use policy, unlike India which has a 'no first use' policy. Pakistan's conventional weakness against India means it can keep India at bay only by threatening to escalate any conflict between the two immediately into nuclear war.
In nuclear parlance, it is called 'rationality of irrationality' -- behaving irrationally oneself in order to induce the enemy into behaving rationally.
It's also conceivable that Pakistan should reach for the nuclear button under the first two conditions spelt out by the SPD -- if India conquered a large amount of Pakistani territory, or destroyed a large part of its conventional military.
But to say it will nuke India if the latter even "attempted to strangle Pakistan economically" or "resorted to internal subversion and destabilised Pakistan politically" is not just an extreme version of the 'rationality of irrationality' principle, but downright irresponsible of a nation's political and military leadership.
It's Pakistan's attempt to hide under the nuclear umbrella even as it, through its terrorist proxies, does exactly that to India -- subvert and destabilise India internally.
The Pakistan military has since gone even further in lowering the threshold of nuclear conflict. Citing India's 'Cold Start' war doctrine -- in which, in the event of war, Indian strike forces are to quickly move deep into Pakistan -- Rawalpindi has embarked on making tactical nuclear weapons that it will drop on advancing Indian forces.
Salahuddin's threat of nuclear war is of a piece with this madness. The higher its own insecurity, as it battles in vain its own terror Frankenstein, the lower the Pakistani military pushes the nuclear threshold, while conveniently blaming India for doing so.
Pakistan's M-AD Calculus
The trigger for the latest round of Pakistan's nuclear sabre-rattling, it seems, is a perceived threat from India's current security managers, specifically Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. It's paranoid Pakistan's new Modi-Ajit Doval (MAD) calculus.
Salahuddin's threat is meant as a message to NSA Doval in particular, because he is said to advocate his own policy of offensive-defense in which India will strike pre-emptively at Pakistan's vital installations and terror camps across the Line of Control.
Since 2015, the Pakistani military has been nervous that the Modi-Doval duo could undertake such an exercise suddenly. Modi's several peace overtures have, ironically, only made the generals in Rawalpindi more nervous.
Indeed, the generals are said to worry that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may have lowered its nuclear guard. It is the major reason for a growing rift between the civilian government in Pakistan and the military, with fears growing that "the other Sharif", army chief Raheel Sharif is set to return Pakistan to military rule.
Getting a proscribed terrorist like Salahuddin to issue an irresponsible nuclear threat may just smooth the process for him. It is meant to give pause to Modi-Doval while at the same time heighten tensions with India.
But most importantly, it is also meant to play that old game of convincing the Americans that only a return to military rule can prevent Pakistani nukes from falling into the hands of terrorists -- such as Salahuddin!