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  • The India-Pakistan Nuclear Dyad and Regional Nuclear Dynamics
  • P.K. Singh (bio)

Nuclear weapons in various stages—in established armories, latent capacity, or merely embryonic potential—are alive, well, and thriving in Asia. Ashley Tellis has very aptly written that “given the contested geopolitics of Asia, which is defined by several enduring rivalries, many unresolved territorial disputes, significant local power transitions, and now the continent-wide anxieties provoked by the rise of China, it is not surprising that nuclear weapons have retained their critical importance.”1 To put the South Asian dimension of the nuclear environment in its correct perspective, it is critical to view the disputes, rivalries, and players involved in a historical and regional context. This essay begins with a brief historical overview of the regional dimension of India-Pakistan nuclear dynamics and then looks more specifically at the perspectives and nuclear policies of India and Pakistan, as well as on China’s nuclear policy vis-à-vis India. Finally, the essay concludes by asserting that the India-Pakistan nuclear dyad must be understood within the context of broader nuclear dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Regional Dimension of India-Pakistan Nuclear Dynamics

Before 1947 the Indian subcontinent was surrounded by the buffer states of Afghanistan, Tibet, and Burma, and the external players in the region were Britain and Russia. Soon after independence, Pakistan fought a war with India and occupied a part of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan later joined the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), bringing the United States and its alliances into the subcontinent in an effort to resist the influence of the Soviet Union. Tibet was taken over by China in the 1950s, introducing China as an important actor in the South Asian geopolitical and strategic environment. [End Page 37] In the mid to late 1950s, China also occupied Aksai Chin, a part of Jammu and Kashmir, which in 1962 led to the Sino-Indian War. Two additional wars between India and Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 ultimately involved both the United States and Soviet Union. Then, in the late 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan met with an insurgency supported by the United States and China, among others.

Consequently, while the Cold War was raging, South Asia experienced four major wars. This count excludes the wars in Afghanistan; the breakup of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh; the persistent involvement of the United States, the Soviet Union, and China on the subcontinent; and the nuclearization of China and its entry into the United Nations and the UN Security Council. Was all this due to the creation of the India-Pakistan dyad and the India-China dyad, or was it instead the product of the “great game” between the United States, Soviet Union, China, India, and Pakistan? Can we today forget this recent history and simply look at the subcontinent’s dynamics through the lens of the Cold War binary? The Cold War superpowers possessed a deep-rooted ideological rivalry, but they had no disputed territory between them and no enduring history of armed conflict against each other. Can Cold War binary dynamics therefore apply to the India-Pakistan-China nuclear trio, which do have territorial disputes and have fought wars? For the reasons stated above, it would be a misplaced logic to apply the Cold War binary dynamics to the India-Pakistan-China triad.


India’s tryst with the atomic bomb is almost as old as the bomb itself. In 1944, Homi Bhabha submitted a report on nuclear energy, and a year later the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was established. Early Indian leaders after independence understood the dual use of atomic energy. They established the Atomic Energy Act in April 1948 and later created the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in 1954. In 1956, India’s Apsara was the first nuclear research reactor in Asia to be operationalized. At that stage, India could have opted to build its nuclear weapons program, but its leaders chose to profess nuclear disarmament, little realizing that the nuclear genie was already out of the bottle. The 1962 Sino-Indian War, followed by the Chinese nuclear test of 1964, worried...


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pp. 37-44
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