The India-Pakistan Relationship

India – Pakistan relationship has been marred with conflict ever since their independence and both the nations have been involved in three major wars till date in1947-48, 1965 and 1971. In 1998, both countries conducted nuclear tests to enter the nuclear powered nations club. This led a few number of experts to profess that the nuclear deterrence would lead to stabilization of conflict in the sub continent and result in establishment of peace. This kind of deterrence was witnessed by the world for the second time, the first being nuclear deterrence between the cold war foes of NATO and Warsaw Pact countries and to be more specific the US and USSR. Experts from the field of international relations who applied the theories developed in the cold war era Europe to the South Asian rivalry professed that the chances of conventional conflict using regular forces are a thing of the past in case of these two nations. This theory was further reinforced by the Kargil war and the standoff subsequent to the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001.

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In 1999 Pakistan occupied a large number of posts after crossing the LOC in the Kargil sector, threatening the crucial Srinagar – Leh highway using regular troops in the guise of Mujahids. The Indian Army reacted to the situation by regrouping and launching “Operation Vijay”, and started to recapture the posts by forcibly removing Pakistani troops occupying the posts. This operation was also accompanied by a full scale mobilisation of its military forces by India; however despite the tough posturing by India the war remain limited to the Kargil sector. This was primarily because of tremendous pressure mounted by the international community, especially the US fearing that this conflict may escalate to a nuclear plain.

In 2001 the same massive mobilisation was witnessed by both the countries when they had their forces deployed against each other ready for combat. This time in December 2001 following the attack on the Indian parliament by a group of militants trained in Pakistan. The situation reached a flash point when on 14 May 2002, when another terrorist attack on the Indian Army camp in Kaluchak threatened to start a war between the two nuclear neighbours. In this instance also, as seen in Operation Vijay, India despite posturing did not take any punitive offensive action against Pakistan despite having all its forces in a completely mobilized state.

The above incidents did reflect a situation where in Pakistan had effectively used the nuclear deterrence to attain strategic parity with India negating a conventional disadvantage and thus supposedly giving it immunity to conduct sub conventional operations without the fear of any retribution. Thus India to face major challenges in conducting sub conventional spectrum in Kashmir, which Pakistan initiated after covertly attaining the nuclear technology in the late 1980s. Its conventional strength negated, and with no option to retaliate India find itself in a position where it will have to work its way around this nuclear parity, so as to be able to stifle the Pakistan supported terrorism. Therefore, we need to carefully study the nuclear capability and doctrine of Pakistan in conjunction with the theories of nuclear deterrence, to work out ways for India to exploit its massive conventional superiority by utilizing it to escalate the conflict spectrum, such that it remains under the level of ‘Total War’.


To analyze nuclear deterrence in India Pakistan relations. Explore the possibility of use of conventional forces by India to counter the sub – conventional threat faced from Pakistan, while avoiding a nuclear war.


Having attained nuclear capability Pakistan has been acting with a presumption that India’s conventional superiority has been totally negated by the nuclear symmetry and has encouraged the Pakistani military elite to intensify the ongoing Proxy War in Jammu and Kashmir. This has had catastrophic consequences for India, which though enjoying substantial conventional superiority, is unable to use it to counter Pakistan’s sub conventional threat. It is therefore important to study the interaction between conventional and nuclear deterrence on the India Pakistan relations and generate credible conventional responses to the sub conventional conflict India finds itself embroiled in Jammu and Kashmir.


Indian armed forces along with paramilitary forces are deeply committed in counterinsurgency operations in Jammu & Kashmir, which is fallout of the sub conventional operations by Pakistan in the state. This has been possible due to the fact, that Pakistan has been able to achieve strategic parity with India by attaining nuclear capability which affords it certain degree of immunity from direct retaliation through conventional means by Indian forces. Off late, the thought process in higher echelons of Indian leadership has been to ascertain ‘What should be India’s response, should Pakistan continue with its sub conventional campaign?’ While a majority of international relation theorists who studied the nuclear deterrence during the cold war, suggest that the likelihood of a conventional conflict between two nuclear armed rivals are slim, as it leads to a situation of mutually assured destruction (MAD). However, it would be injudicious to apply these theories in their entirety in the Indo – Pak context, as the conditions and realties that exist in South Asia are considerably different than that of the cold war. Thus there exists a window for vertical escalation of the ongoing sub conventional engagement which is below the nuclear threshold. This would however depend on Pakistan’s response to a conventional threat, as it the weaker party. Thus any suggested response for India should also carefully consider the Pakistani nuclear capability and doctrine as well, so as to work out practical options for use of conventional military and allow India to effectively counter its asymmetric threat. This study is thus aimed at ascertaining the possibility of a conventional war between India and Pakistan without it getting escalated to a total war.


The paper concentrates on analysing the effect of nuclear deterrence on India and Pakistan relations, applicability of various international relation theories on this relationship and possibility of use of conventional forces by India as counter to proxy war waged by Pakistan while staying below the nuclear threshold.


The methodology employed in this investigation to gather information and data was as follows: –

Scanning of literature on nuclear capability and doctrines of India and Pakistan.

Study of various International Relation theories worked out to explain the superpower relations during the cold war.

Scanning various articles and books by authors concerning the nuclear situation in South Asia.

A bibliography of sources studied and referred has been appended at the end of the text.


The dissertation has been carried out in the following parts:-

Chapter I – Introduction. The background, introduction to the subject and methodology will be covered in this chapter.

Chapter II – Deterrence In Context Of India – Pakistan Relations. This chapter will cover the theoretical aspects of deterrence and its applicability in the context of India – Pakistan relationship.

Chapter III – Nuclear Peace Hypothesis : Manifestation in India – Pakistan Relations. This chapter will study the hypothesis of nuclear peace as propounded by academic experts of international relations and analyse the India – Pakistan relations in its light.

Chapter IV – Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Capability And Command Control Setup. This chapter deals with the nuclear weapons capability that Pakistan possesses, to include its weapon system and delivery platforms, as well as the nuclear command and control setup.

Chapter V – Nuclear Weapon Use by Pakistan : Probability and Scenarios. This chapter will concentrate on the probability of nuclear weapon use by Pakistan and the various scenarios in which they are likely to be used.

Chapter VI – Options Available To India For Use Of Conventional Forces. This chapter will study the options available with India to use conventional force to deter Pakistan from undertaking sub conventional operations in Kashmir.

Chapter VII – Conclusion. The conclusion of the paper and appropriate recommendations will be made in this chapter.


We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth.”

John F. Kennedy

The word ‘deterrence’ comes from the latin verb ‘deterree’, which means ‘to frighten’. It is an attempt to influence ‘how and what an enemy thinks and does [1] . Thus deterrence is a state of mind that prevents a deterree from acting in a way a deterror considers harmful. In a simplistic form, deterrence is a crucial factor in the mind of someone trying to decide the benefits of executing a crime versus the likelihood and consequences of getting caught [2] .

The success or failure of deterrence also depends upon how the message is conveyed by the deterror to the deterree. In order to elucidate this aspect, the situation before the two Gulf Wars needs to be considered and understood which highlights the importance of how the deterrence message is framed and understood, as well as how disastrous it can be to fail to understand the thinking of the other side. Before Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the US diplomatic and political positioning was such that it failed to give a clear message that it would react strongly to any Iraqi invasion. Hence failure to clearly convey deterrence between the sides, ultimately lead to the war.

The example brings into play the lesser known twin of deterrence which is ‘compellance’ [3] . Deterrence can also be defined as the prevention of action for fear of the consequences, brought about by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction. Thus, it is designed to prevent something. Compellance on the other hand involves threat of consequences designed to cause the other party to reverse or to stop carrying out some unwanted action or activity, which has already occurred, the result is war. Similar analysis could be applied to the Cuban Missile Crisis, where initial misunderstandings lead to the failure of both deterrence and compellance. One could also use the word ‘coercion’ to cover both deterrence and compellance.

Another associated question [4] with the concept of deterrence which arises is ‘How much is enough?’ Since deterrence is essentially a psychological phenomenon, it is not surprising that how much punishment is sufficient to deter another state, which has always been a controversial and an elastic standard.

Types of Military Deterrence

Military deterrence are of two kinds defensive (conventional) and by punitive (nuclear) [5] . Effective deterrence is a matter of convincing an opponent that certain harm to him will accompany the act one wishes to deter. Thus it amounts to the imposition of a calculus of risk and value on an opponent, such that the value of the act sought to be deterred does not exceed the risk, which is an assessment of the likelihood and the extent of harm. For deterrence to succeed, the enemy has to be persuaded that the deterror has the capacity to act, in a manner that it inflicts greater cost than the advantages to be won by attaining the objective, and that it would actually undertake the act if it is required to. However if the deterror takes the threat of retaliation into account, he can no longer deter all objectionable acts. Thus making it obligatory on the deterror to distinguish between those objectives of indispensable value – such as national survival, and objects of relatively less importance/value.

While in the overall gambit of geopolitics there are large number of instruments of state power which work to deter an adversary, to include but not limited to, political, economic, diplomatic, military power. However in purely military terms deterrence is of two types:-

Conventional Deterrence. This is the deterrence accrued by a nation owing to it possessing a higher military strength, which would mean quality and quantity of hardware as well as trained military force. This spectrum of military power will include land, air and naval forces. This type of deterrence can be easily achieved by the nation which has a larger resource base both in terms of population as well as economic capital. Therefore, in a bilateral conflict the country which is larger in size tends to be the nation which generally has more deterrent potential (militarily), as it is assumed that it can not only maintain a larger force but would also be able to sustain the conflict much longer.

Nuclear Deterrence. This is the deterrence accrued by a nation when it possesses a nuclear weapon, and is studied separately because nuclear weapon exchange is likely to have such substantial effect to both the parties that it would force any nation irrespective of its size to ponder on the effects of such an engagement, hence forcing the dilemma of cost-benefit ratio in the minds of leaders of both the sides. Thus a weaker/smaller nation which faces a superior nation always opts for a nuclear deterrence, as was evident after the end of the Second World War, wherein the United States laid emphasis on developing its nuclear arsenal to counter the numerical superiority of the erstwhile USSR.

Nuclear deterrence theory consists of six key elements [6] , which have to be satisfied to be of any effect, these are:-

The assumption of a very severe conflict.

The assumption of rationality.

The concept of retaliatory threat.

The concept of unacceptable damage.

The notion of credibility.

The notion of deterrence stability.

Conventional Deterrence in Relation of India – Pakistan

India as a nation possesses all ingredients to effectively deter Pakistan in as far as conventional deterrence is concerned. However, this was not always the case, as after independence being of roughly comparable size both in economic and military strengths, India had limited deterrent capability. Although India did enjoy numerical superiority in its armed forces it was hardly sufficient to act as a deterrent for its new neighbour, coupled with the fact that Pakistani military leadership wrongly hypothesised that there soldier were better than their Indian counterparts and any advantage accrued due to numerical superiority was more than compensated. Their belief of superiority was further fortified when as part of its alliance with the US they received technologically advanced weaponry hence achieving qualitative edge over India. This myth carried by the Pakistani elite for a considerable period of time, manifested in the various wars which the two nations have since fought. However this misconception of its superior relative strength came crashing on the Pakistani leadership in 1971 when facing the full potential of the Indian military, it was not only defeated convincingly but also lead to it being bifurcated. Post 1971 there was no conventional conflict as India successfully deterred Pakistan, which till then was always the aggressor. This deterrence that India possessed was for the following reason:-

Conventional superiority of the Indian military infrastructure both as quantitatively well as qualitatively.

Economic superiority, considering the size of Indian economy vis-a-vis that of Pakistan.

Diplomatic strength wherein India had a larger clout in the comity of nations including Islamic states, being considered a peace loving nation which is actively involved in various international forums.

Effectiveness of Conventional Deterrence Against Pakistan

India – Pakistan relationship is going through a period during which no conventional conflict has occurred between them for a long time. However, this period does not signify that of peace as India has been facing a heightened level of sub conventional threat in Kashmir from Pakistan. So the question which arises is that has India been able to achieve effective deterrence against Pakistan or not?

The extent and severity of the sub conventional threat that India faced in Kashmir is clearly brought out by the figure 1.


The details given above make it clearly evident that though India may have deterred a conventional conflict but the same may not hold true for the sub conventional spectrum. This can be attributed to the attainment of nuclear weapons capability by Pakistan as the threat of conventional conflict reduced Pakistan adopted an aggressive policy of sub conventional operations against India [8] . Thus providing a political lever to the Pakistani ruling class to be exploited in international as well as national arena, while reducing the efficacy of Indian Army by embroiling it in asymmetric warfare leading to a classical case of ‘Stability – Instability Paradox’, which is defined as under:-

To the extent that the military balance is stable at the level of all out nuclear war, it will become less stable at lower levels of violence [9] .

Another expert elaborates; “nuclear weapons can generate risk taking because they presumably provide an insurance policy against escalation” [10] .

23. Hence it is pertinent to note that while India enjoys substantial conventional deterrence the same seems to be ineffective when faced with a nuclear adversary which is undertaking a sub conventional operation against it. Therefore, a thorough analysis would be necessary to ascertain whether India can utilize its conventional superiority and come out of the ‘stability-instability’ logjam, thus leading to the end of strife in Kashmir. The only example which can be studied to derive suitable future courses of action would be the nuclear deterrence between the NATO and the Warsaw pact countries during the cold war. This nuclear relationship was studied extensively and a number of international relation theories formalized to explain the interaction between the two parties. The most prominent of these hypotheses, forwarded by international relations experts, in as far as conflict involving nuclear states are concerned is the ‘Nuclear Peace Hypothesis’ which may shed some light on the status of the current relations between India and Pakistan.

However the theories evolved in a different set of situations may not be fully applicable to India – Pakistan relations and thus require suitable modifications to be relevant. And is it possible, at least theoretically, for India to escalate the conflict to conventional level.


“No explanation for the current strategic situation is satisfactory without a definition of the nuclear situation; no definition of the nuclear situation is possible without knowledge of the laws that rule deterrence.”

Andre Beaufre

Do nuclear weapons reduce the probability of war? From the starting days of the nuclear weapon development, proponents of nuclear deterrence argued that these weapons have the capacity to reduce the probability of conventional war resulting in what may be called as the ‘Nuclear Peace’. Studying the dynamics of the Cold War, some scholars have argued that this is indeed what happened. Despite large number of crises and several proxy wars, the US and USSR avoided a direct military confrontation as both feared an escalation to a nuclear plain. They suggest that unlike conventional deterrence, nuclear deterrence is extremely robust because even irrational or unintelligent leaders are likely to recognize the exceedingly high cost of nuclear war. Therefore, proponents of nuclear deterrence claim with a high degree of confidence that ‘the probability of major war among states having nuclear weapons approaches zero’.

Although Cold War was fierce but it never did escalate to World War III. Indeed, some experts argue that Cold War can be thought of as the “Long Peace”. And despite the collapse of Eastern Block and the end of Cold War the relative period of peace continues. However, other forms of warfare (sub conventional, asymmetric warfare, etc.) have been seen in various parts of the world but no major war has broken out. So what is responsible for the absence of major wars between great powers after WWII? The three main schools of international relations (IR) theorists have each offered answers to this question [11] .

Neo-Liberalism. As per Neo-liberals democracy, trade and international organizations are the key causes of peace.

Constructivism. While constructivists view democracy, trade, and international organizations as important factors, argue that the main facilitator of the ‘Long Peace’ are the evolving norms and the social construction of identity.

Neo-realism. They attribute peace during the Cold War to bipolarity and nuclear deterrence.

Robert Rauchhaus has quantitatively evaluated the nuclear peace hypothesis and his findings indicate that the impact of nuclear weapons is more complicated than is conventionally appreciated [12] . He further theorizes that when nuclear asymmetry exists between two states, a greater chance of military disputes and war exists. In contrast, when there is symmetry and both states possess nuclear weapons, then the odds of war drop drastically. When combined, these findings provide support for the existence of the stability instability paradox. Evidence suggests that while nuclear weapons promote strategic stability, they simultaneously allow for more risk-taking in lower intensity disputes. He thus gives out the following hypotheses:-

Hypothesis 1. The probability of major war between two states will decrease if both states possess nuclear weapons [13] .

Hypothesis 2. The probability of crisis initiation and limited uses of force between two states will increase when both states possess nuclear weapons [14] .

Hypothesis 3. The probability of major war between two states will decrease or remain constant if one state possesses nuclear weapons [15] .

Hypothesis 4. The probability of lower level conflicts will decrease or remain the same if one state possesses nuclear weapons [16] .

Applicability of Nuclear Peace Hypothesis in India Pakistan Relations

Having studied the various nuclear peace hypotheses, it will be clear that the first two would be applicable in the context of India Pakistan relations, as both countries are nuclear states. These hypotheses do hold considerably well, when we see them in relation to India Pakistan conflict, the same has been discussed in subsequent sub paragraphs:-

Hypothesis 1. The probability of major war between two states will decrease if both states possess nuclear weapons [17] . Relations between India and Pakistan have repeatedly reached flashpoints wherein they were dangerously close to an all out war ( Kargil 1999, Op Parakaram 2001) but they somehow manged to avoid escalating the conflict into an open war, hence maintaining strategic peace. This hypothesis may also apply to the pre 1998 era where in both the nations had acquired nuclear capability but had still not come out in open. India although having conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 is said to have acquired operational capability only in early 1980s, while Pakistan is said to have attained the capability somewhere between 1986 and 1990.

Hypothesis 2. The probability of crisis initiation and limited uses of force between two states will increase when both states possess nuclear weapons [18] . If we study the trend of sub conventional operations by Pakistan in Kashmir it would be clearly evident that the same was initiated by Pakistan on covertly acquiring the nuclear capability during the period mentioned [19] and then again given a fresh impetus after the 1998 nuclear tests. Thus it may be theorised, that Pakistan has used nuclear deterrence to negate India’s conventional superiority, while engaging in a sub conventional conflict. This hypothesis is also called the ‘Stability Instabilty Paradox’ which was first discussed in detail by Mr Snyder in an essay in 1965.

The situation is such that terrorism has become the foremost issue, which divides India and Pakistan [20] . And while a cursory study of the above hypotheses may lead one to conclude that the probability of fighting a conventional war is bleak, it must be understood that though the hypothesis says that a major war is unlikely between India – Pakistan, a major war is defined as when one of the nation wants to completely subject the other to its will [21] . This is in contrast the thinking of the present military leadership, which misunderstands it with any conflict in which conventional forces are used. Thus as per the hypothesis a repeat of 1971 war may be unfeasible, but a repeat of 1965 may be a possibility, till the time the aims of the conflict are limited and both the parties are clearly aware of the same. This does have a historical example, the Sino-Soviet dispute of 1968, where both the sides had nuclear capability but since the aims of the war were limited neither parties used a nuclear weapon even when faced with an adverse outcome. Therefore there is a case for India to utilise its conventional forces, to counter the Pakistan initiated proxy war, by initiating a punitive limited objective war with Pakistan, with the sole aim of deterring it from continuance of the sub conventional war in Kashmir.

Applicability of Cold War International Theories in South Asia

While there may have been the ‘Long Peace’ during the cold war because of nuclear deterrence, but is it applicable to the Indo – Pak relation? The answer to this question is more likely to be negative for the following reasons [22] :-

While Pakistan’s security concern is India centric, those of India extend beyond South Asia. Thus the relation is not a standalone interaction but is subject to pressures from external factors, which are unpredictable. This is contrary to the relation dynamics of the cold war.

India – Pakistan also do not enjoy the same degree of independence of action, as was available to the US and USSR. This is due to the fact that, unlike the cold war rivals who were at the top of the power hierarchy, India and Pakistan will be subject to interference/influence in their policy and decision making processes.

Geographical proximity of the two countries is also a facet which did not exist in the cold war and thus both countries will be affected by wind movements and fallout in case of a nuclear attack on the other.

However, the foremost reason for non applicability of the theories in South Asia is because unlike the cold war where both the sides were led by ‘satisfied powers’ i.e. the powers had accepted the status quo in Europe which was concretized by the Helsinki process, Pakistan is a revisionist state. Wherein Pakistan wants to change the status quo in South Asia w.r.t. Kashmir [23] .

However to postulate feasibility for use of conventional forces for punitive action against Pakistan, it would be prudent to study Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities and command control setup besides the international relation theories. are feasible not only as per international relations theories but also practical in view of the nuclear weapons capability that Pakistan possesses and the nuclear command control structure it has in place to use a nuclear weapon against India. This is because to have an extremely low nuclear threshold, as Pakistan professes to have, it requires certain capabilities and infrastructure to be in place which is still deficient. Hence it is necessary to study the nuclear capability and command control setup of Pakistan.


Deterrence is greatest when military strength is coupled with the willingness to employ it. It is achieved when one side’s readiness to run risks in relation to the other is high; it is least effective when the willingness to run risks is low, however powerful the military capability.

Henry Kissinger

The foundation for the India – Pakistan conflict is complex, Pakistan’s fears about India are not only because of the imbalance of power and Indian ambition for regional power status, but also because of the pre – Partition conflict and divergent ideas of nationalism [24] . Since independence the relations between the two countries have never been normal or even