Pakistan PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi last week yet again flaunted+ his country’s tactical or nonstrategic nuclear weapons, saying they were meant to deter the Indian Army’s ‘cold start’ doctrine.
While Abbasi declared that Pakistan’s nuclear assets, including the tactical nukes, were under a robust command-and-control system, the short-range weapons meant to be used early in a conventional conflict with India are vulnerable to accidents and risk of landing up with terrorists.
According to a recent report by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Pakistan has stored its nuclear forces at nine different locations across the country.
Renowned US nuclear weapon expert and co-author of the report Hans Kristensen said Pakistan’s nuclear warheads may be located in storage facilities near the bases the report identifies, and that these bases themselves appear to house nuclear-capable launchers that would use those warheads.
The report describes the launcher bases to give readers an impression of the extent to which Pakistan’s nuclear forces are being dispersed across the country.
Kristensen told TOI that because Pakistan was building a short-range sub-strategic nuclear arsenal (in addition to its longer-range force), the warheads would likely be distributed to regional storage sites from which they could be assembled and transported to the launcher bases.
“Since the shorter-range systems are intended to be used earlier in a conflict below the strategic level, weapons for these systems would likely be distributed early in a crisis and raise the risk of accident and incidents. If used against conventional attacks, use of the tactical nuclear weapons would likely lead to escalation to a wider nuclear war quickly,” said Kristensen.
A Trump administration official was quoted last month as saying that the US was particularly concerned by the development of tactical nuclear weapons that were designed for use in the battlefield, and that Washington believed these systems were more susceptible to terrorist theft and increased the likelihood of nuclear exchange in the region.
The report by Kristensen and Robert Norris also says that Pakistan has a rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal of 130-140 warheads and an increasing portfolio of delivery systems.
The report says Islamabad is quantitatively and qualitatively strengthening its arsenal and deploying weapons at more sites and yet the locations are difficult to pinpoint.
“For example, no reliable public information exists on where Pakistan produces or stores its nuclear weapons. Thus, we have used commercial satellite images, expert studies, and local news reports and articles to make the assumption that nuclear weapons are likely to be at, or near, wherever nuclear-capable weapon systems are deployed,” it says.