The test of surface-to-surface ballistic missile Ababeel is an effective attainment of a second-strike capability for Pakistan, reaching a major technology milestone through the use of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). Not surprisingly, the achievement of the Ababeel missile in incorporating MIRV technology has inspired extensive debate among strategic analysts in South Asia, many of whom have voiced concerns.
However, Pakistan is not the only one that unveiled MIRV technology in South Asia. India has tested the Agni-IV and MIRV-capable Agni-V to counter China. Indian dual pursuit of both BMD and MIRVs has led to intensified strategic competition between India and Pakistan. In order to provide a balanced assessment of the strategic motives behind Pakistan’s addition of MIRV-capable missiles, Indian development as a regional driver must be considered.
The armament dynamics in the region are far more complex when considering Indian missile development, as concluded by Joshua T. White and Kyle Deming in their chapter “Dependent Trajectories: India’s MIRV Program and Deterrence Stability In South Asia” in Deterrence Instability and Nuclear Weapons in South Asia (ed. Michael Krepon et al.). The apparently rapid pace of nuclear development in India, which includes ballistic missile defense (BMD), technological advancements for combat aircraft, nuclearization of the Indian Ocean, air defense capabilities, cruise and ballistic missiles, sea-based deterrents, and MIRVs, intentionally indulging Pakistan in to an arms race.
If viewed from this lens, the missile development trajectory depicts a different story. It is within this context that in June 2016 India formally joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) after years of negotiations. Despite joining the MTCR, India and Russia joined hands to develop the 600-km range BrahMos cruise missile that can reach anywhere in Pakistan, a violation of the treaty. How can a state that is violating the treaty still be counted as a guaranteed member? One must also wonder what the diplomatic procedures were through which India was granted MTCR membership when it exports missiles and technology to African, Gulf, and Southeast Asian states, thereby violating MTCR guidelines. These developments arguably point to India’s lack of commitment to the nonproliferation regime and provide a basis for which Pakistan to justify its responsive developments.
After the successful launch of the 5,000-km range Agni-V, India is pursuing improvement of this MIRV in Agni-VI, which is being developed. It is believed that the missile will have the capacity to drop MIRVs with a more calculated range. Such additions could potentially lead to nuclear war and deteriorate the global security environment as a whole. Further, India’s nuclearization of the Indian Ocean is another milestone that is destabilizing the already fragile security situation in the region. Back in 2013 when India conducted an undersea missile test, hence completing its nuclear triad. The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) flight-tested its K-4 missile with a range of 3000km again in 2014. These such moves will add more thinking to attain a possible defensive measures by Pakistan.
Bearing in mind India’s developments and the negative ramifications they have had on the Asian region, few have shown any concern regarding India’s head-start vis-à-vis Pakistan and its effect on strategic stability in the region. For example, retired Rear Admiral and strategic analyst Raja Menon expressed concern that “India intends to deter nuclear use by Pakistan while Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are meant to compensate for conventional arms asymmetry.”
As India has operationalized its respective deterrent and sought to develop a triad, Pakistan cannot let go of its security concerns and must match regional military developments, which is essential for its survival. Through history, Pakistan has developed its arsenal at a measured pace. There must be greater international acceptance of Pakistan’s MIRV development, as it is acting as a deterrence stabilizer in the region.