ISLAMABAD: The National Command Authority (NCA) on Thursday emphasised that Pakistan was a responsible nuclear state and would continue with its policy of Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) to meet growing challenges to its security and for maintaining strategic stability in the region.

“NCA reiterated Pakistan’s policy of developing and maintaining Full Spectrum Deterre­nce, in line with the policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence and avoidance of arms race,” the Inter-Services Public Relations said after a meeting of the apex decision-making body of the country’s nuclear programme.

The NCA meeting, which was its 23rd session, took place after a break of nearly two years. The forum had last met in February 2016. Therefore, the forum met with its new civilian and military principals. It was the first meeting for Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who chairs the body, Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, Naval Chief Admiral Zafar Abbasi, Special Planning Division Director General Lt Gen Sarfraz Sattar and ISI chief Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar.

The meeting took place against the backdrop of evolving strategic environment that is to a great extent being influenced by the growing India-US strategic partnership. Therefore, much of the discussion focused on the threats to stability and the responses. The NCA identified three major threats — the growing conventional asymmetry with India because of its arms buildup, nuclearisation of Indian Ocean Region and Indian plans for development of Ballistic Missile Shield (BMD).

Islamabad will continue to support global efforts for non-proliferation

Pakistan’s response outlined in a press statement on the meeting is centered on the doctrine of FSD, which essentially means possessing a complete range of weapons with enough yield in all three categories — strategic, operational and tactical — and to have all Indian targets — whether counter-value, counter-force or battlefield located on mainland or outlying territories — within the striking range.

The statement also contained the assertion that FSD would be pursued within the limits of the overarching policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence, which implies that Pakistan would continue to seek deterrence, but in a cost-effective manner. However, it’s obvious that growing disparity in the realm of conventional weapons is increasing Pakistan’s reliance on nuclear weapons.

The NCA pointed towards the development of Sub-Marine Launched Cruise Missile Babur–III, which provides credible second strike capability, and Ababeel Missile System that is equipped with ‘Mirv’ capability to defeat BMD, describing them as “technological sophistication of Pakistan’s strategic capabilities”.

The other important element of the statement was apparently a response to the US National Security Strategy unveiled last week that called upon Pakistan to demonstrate that it’s a “responsible” stewardship of its nuclear assets. This was not the first time that the Trump administration had tried to turn the spotlight on security of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Earlier, President Trump had in his speech on the policy of South Asia and Afghanistan in August also talked of preventing nuclear weapons and materials from falling into the hands of terrorists as a major US policy goal.

Therefore, the NCA statement crucially had a lengthy paragraph on nuclear safety and security measures, particularly the command and control arrangements.

The NCA “expressed full confidence in command and control systems and security measures in place to ensure comprehensive stewardship and security of strategic assets and materials. It reaffirmed that, as a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan would continue to contribute meaningfully towards the global efforts to improve nuclear security and nuclear non-proliferation measures”.

It further reiterated Pakistan’s credentials for admission into export control regimes, particularly the Nuclear Suppliers Group, by noting the implementation of national comprehensive export control measures, which are in accordance with the international export control regimes.

An emphasis on civilian nuclear cooperation in the fields of energy, medicine and agriculture was another important feature of the NCA statement. “The role of nuclear applications in the fields of health, agriculture, medicine and industry was deeply appreciated. The NCA reiterated Pakistan’s interest in expanding international cooperation in these areas and play a positive role towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as a provider of expertise and services in peaceful nuclear application,” it said.

Pakistan is not only seeking support from other countries in peaceful application of nuclear technology, but also wants to extend help to others in this field due to advance capabilities that it has achieved.

The NCA statement showed renewed focus on space programme, although it is said to be of civilian nature. The space programme was initiated long time back, but has not made much progress. It is now expected that the ‘National Space Programme-2047’ would get greater attention and developments in this field are expected in coming years.

India has been actively pursuing militarisation of outer space, whereas Pakistan has been a strong supporter of a multilateral treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2017

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