The United States has important security interests in South Asia, including preventing another Indo-Pakistani war, enhancing regional stability, and stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The United States seeks to persuade India and Pakistan to exercise restraint in their nuclear and missile programs and to bring their programs into conformity with international standards. The consequences of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan would be catastrophic, both in terms of the loss of life and in lowering the threshold for nuclear use in other parts of the world, particularly the adjacent Middle East/North Africa region. Deployment of ballistic missiles would pose especially troubling security risks, given the relatively short distances between major population centers in South Asia and the brief time required for missiles to travel such distances. This factor will compress decision making cycles for national leaders and battlefield commanders, reducing stability during times of crisis.

In addition to the immediate risks to regional security, the development of NBC weapons in South Asia has the potential to undercut broader U.S. and international nonproliferation objectives. Both India and Pakistan, for different reasons, have refused to sign the NPT. Their nuclear programs, outside of this widely accepted international norm, serve as dangerous examples for nations in other regions.

The NBC weapons and missile infrastructures in South Asia also pose potential proliferation threats as possible sources of supply. India and Pakistan’s slowness to adopt export controls consistent with established international control regimes is reason for concern. Although neither country has transferred its NBC and ballistic missile technology or expertise to states outside the region to date, such transfers remain a dangerous possibility.


India and Pakistan

The long-standing Indo-Pakistani rivalry continues to drive the pursuit of NBC weapons and especially ballistic missiles on the Asian subcontinent. After 50 years of independence and three wars, territorial disputes and deep-seated mistrust continue to divide the two countries. Each maintains substantial forces along their common border. These forces frequently exchange small arms and artillery fire along the Line of Control in disputed Kashmir. Although China soundly defeated the Indian Army in a 1962 border war, New Delhi’s relations with Beijing have improved in recent years. Indian strategists cite Chinese nuclear and conventional capabilities when justifying Indian defense programs.

New Delhi and Islamabad continue to maintain an ambiguous posture on nuclear weapons. While denying nuclear weapons possession, both governments feel it is important to pursue nuclear weapons programs. Both Indian and Pakistani officials occasionally acknowledge that nuclear weapons could quickly be constructed if required. Strategists in both countries—particularly in Pakistan, with its smaller conventional forces—see their nuclear capabilities as an important deterrent to conflict.

India and Pakistan are developing ballistic missiles. As with other weapons programs, Pakistani and Indian pursuit of ballistic missiles is largely driven by the perception that these missiles are necessary to counter their rival’s capabilities. India’s development of MRBMs also is motivated by its desire to be recognized as a great power and strategic competitor with China.

Meanwhile, both countries, especially India, remain suspicious of—and opposed to—most nonproliferation regimes, which they perceive as attempts by countries possessing such capabilities to discriminate against those that do not. India and Pakistan have ratified the CWC. Neither has signed, nor is expected to sign, the NPT or adhere to, or become a member of, the MTCR.

Also, neither country signed the CTBT during the 1996 negotiations. In fact, India attempted to block the draft treaty in the Conference on Disarmament and again in the UN General Assembly, citing its desire for a firm commitment from nuclear powers to a date for total disarmament and a provision that the treaty will not enter into force without Indian participation. Pakistan did not attempt to block the CTBT but refused to sign unless India signed the treaty.


Initiation of India’s nuclear weapons effort, including its 1974 test, was a direct response to China’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its test in 1964. India remains motivated to keep and improve its nuclear capabilities to counter nuclear forces in China and in Pakistan. New Delhi also views nuclear weapons as a symbol of international power and prestige.

India’s nuclear energy development program remains active and has allowed it to obtain the essential materials and facilities needed to produce nuclear weapons. This infrastructure includes seven operating nuclear power plants, two research reactors at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center near Bombay, where India produced its stock of weapons-grade plutonium, and resources for producing and reprocessing plutonium and enriching uranium. As additional indigenously built nuclear power reactors become operational, India’s capability to produce weapons-grade plutonium will increase. Although India is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, only some Indian nuclear reactors are subject to IAEA safeguards.


Nuclear Both possess adequate fissile material and components to assemble a limited number of nuclear weapons.

Both have substantial nuclear infrastructures.

Neither has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty nor the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Chemical India has a sizable chemical industry and recently declared its chemical warfare program, as called for under the CWC.

Pakistan has the ability to transition from research and development to chemical agent production.

India and Pakistan have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Biological India has research and development facilities geared toward biological warfare defense.

Pakistan may have the capability to support a limited biological warfare program.

Both have ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

Ballistic Missiles - India:
     Prithvi - two versions - 150-kilometer range; 250-kilometer range.
     Agni - testing stage; intended range: 2,000-kilometers.
- Pakistan:
     Hatf I - 80-kilometer range.
     Mobile SRBM - 300-kilometer range.

Neither is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime.

Other Means of Delivery Available India has shipborne and airborne anti-ship cruise missiles; Pakistan has shipborne, submarine-launched, and airborne anti-ship cruise missiles; none have NBC warheads.

Aircraft: both have fighter bombers.

Ground systems: both have artillery and rockets.


India’s nuclear infrastructure has allowed it to produce enough fissile material and components for several nuclear weapons, which could probably be assembled fairly quickly. India presently has fighter aircraft capable of delivering a nuclear payload. It also has ballistic missiles that may be capable of delivering a nuclear payload in the future.

Despite the intense public debate over the CTBT in 1995 and 1996, New Delhi continues to maintain its policy of nuclear ambiguity. India has not conducted any nuclear tests since its one test in 1974; however, internal political pressures to conduct further tests are likely to continue.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is driven by its need to counter India’s superiority in conventional forces. It has a well-developed program, including the facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment and the infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons. In March 1996, Pakistan commissioned an unsafeguarded nuclear reactor, expected to become fully operational in the late 1990s, that will provide it with a capability to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Pakistan probably has enough fissile material and components for a few nuclear weapons. Like India, Pakistan probably could assemble the weapons fairly quickly and it has aircraft and possibly ballistic missiles that are believed capable of delivery.

Unlike India, Pakistan has never tested a nuclear device, although after the 1996 press reports of Indian test preparations, Pakistani government officials insinuated that Pakistan had the capability to conduct a nuclear test and would do so if India did. Pakistan has taken the public position that if India would sign the NPT, it would also. Like India, not all of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are under IAEA safeguards.


India has an extensive commercial chemical industry and it produces a vast number of chemicals for domestic consumption. India has also exported a wide array of chemical products, including Australia Group-controlled items, to several countries of proliferation concern in the Middle East. Australia Group-controlled items include specific chemical agent precursors, microorganisms with biological warfare applications, and dual-use equipment that can be used in chemical or biological warfare programs. India ratified the CWC in September 1996. In June 1997, it submitted chemical weapons declarations to the governing body of the CWC in The Hague. This is the first time the Indians have publicly acknowledged a chemical warfare program. The Indian Defense Ministry declared that all related facilities will be open for inspection.

Pakistan has imported a number of chemicals that can be used to make chemical agents and is moving slowly toward a commercial chemical industry capable of producing all precursor chemicals needed to support a chemical weapons stockpile. Pakistan has also ratified the CWC. Both India and Pakistan have a wide variety of delivery means available for chemical agents, including artillery, aerial bombs, and missiles.

Biological technology generally is well developed in both countries. India has many well-qualified scientists and numerous biological or pharmaceutical production facilities, as well as biocontainment facilities for research and development for dangerous pathogens. At least some of these facilities are being used to support research and development for biological defense work. Pakistan has a capable, but less well developed, biotechnology infrastructure and may be seeking to upgrade hardware for selected biotechnology facilities. Nonetheless, Pakistan is believed to have the resources and capabilities to support a limited biological warfare research and development effort. Both India and Pakistan have ratified the BWC.


India has an extensive, largely indigenous ballistic missile program, including development and production infrastructures for both solid- and liquid-propellant missiles. By striving to achieve independence from foreign suppliers, India is hoping to alleviate problems caused by the MTCR. India also has been trying to develop a submarine-launched missile for many years.

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India’s Prithvi SRBM and its developmental Agni MRBM will provide New Delhi with two mobile ballistic missile platforms. The Army’s version of the Prithvi is being produced now; it has a payload of 1,000 kilograms and range of 150 kilometers. India has also conducted two flight tests of an Air Force version of the Prithvi with a 250-kilometer range and a 500-kilogram payload.

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Claiming the project was intended to demonstrate missile technological advancements, India conducted three flight tests of the Agni missile, which had an intended range of 2,000 kilometers, with a 1,000-kilogram payload. The last launch occurred in early 1994. The Indian Defense Minister has recently stated that the Agni program is "very much on." India may continue this flight test program and likely is planning a follow-on to the Agni.

India has a well-developed space program, with three space launch vehicles (SLVs) that can carry payloads from 150 to 3,000 kilograms. While India may have the ability to convert these SLVs into either intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), it has shown no indication of making the required modifications. Nonetheless, the space program supports New Delhi’s missile efforts through shared research, development, and production facilities. These assets provide a ready conduit for SLV technology acquired from the former Soviet Union and the West. India has launched an SLV about every other year since 1979.

Islamabad has two ballistic missile systems—the Pakistani-produced Hatf-1 with an 80-kilometer range and a 300-kilometer-range mobile SRBM. A third missile, the Hatf-2, was based on two Hatf-1 stages, but appears to have been discontinued. Pakistan received SRBMs and associated equipment from China during the early 1990s. In 1991 and 1993, the United States imposed economic sanctions, based on U.S. law, against both China and Pakistan for China’s transfer of M-11 missile-related equipment. The sanctions were lifted against China in 1992 and 1994, when China reaffirmed its 1992 commitment to adhere to the MTCR. The sanctions against Pakistan were not lifted until they expired in 1995. However, China remains Pakistan’s principal supplier of missile-related technology and assistance.

Pakistan currently produces only the Hatf-1. For the future, Pakistan, like India, hopes to achieve independence from foreign sources and produce long range missiles. It has made strong efforts to acquire an indigenous capability in missile production technologies. For example, it is believed to be constructing a facility for the production of a 300 kilometer range ballistic missile. However, it likely will continue receiving significant foreign assistance in key technologies for several years.


India has sea-launched and airborne short range anti-ship cruise missiles, while Pakistan has sea- and submarine-launched short range anti-ship cruise missiles. Both have a variety of short range air-launched tactical missiles. All were purchased from foreign sources, including Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. Both India and Pakistan also have fighter aircraft, artillery, and rockets available as potential means of delivery for NBC weapons.


Both sides’ apparent ability to employ nuclear weapons greatly magnifies the potential costs of a fourth Indo-Pakistani war. Resorting to nuclear weapons would not only bring devastation, particularly to the densely populated subcontinent, but would establish a new and dangerous threshold for their use elsewhere. While acknowledging these risks, some observers credit Indian and Pakistani nuclear capabilities with helping to sustain the peace. In making the case that nuclear deterrence is operative, these strategists point to both countries’ willingness to step back from the brink during heightened tensions in 1987 and 1990 and to the restraint shown since then. Nonetheless, unresolved disagreements, deep animosity and distrust, and the continuing confrontation between their forces in disputed Kashmir make the subcontinent a region with a significant risk of nuclear confrontation.

The advent of ballistic missiles in both countries also is cause for concern. Deployment of these weapons would raise the risk of miscalculation. When fielded with military units, both sides probably will assume that the other’s missiles can deliver nuclear warheads. As a result, leaders will be alarmed at evidence that their rival’s mobile SRBMs have moved from their garrisons. This would raise fears that conflict may be imminent or, during a conflict, that a missile attack—possibly a nuclear strike—may be planned. Compressed decision making cycles and a tendency to assume the worst could lead to a dangerous overreaction. Both countries’ apparent pursuit of longer range missiles will only compound this problem.

The CTBT debate and reports of Indian test preparations in 1995 and 1996, along with Indian public support for a test, have elevated the risk that one or both countries could take tangible steps to advance their nuclear posture. Although both governments have denied plans to conduct nuclear tests, should India test a nuclear device, Islamabad would be under immense pressure to test as well.

Indian and Pakistani approaches to nonproliferation regimes are also cause for concern. Although neither state has demonstrated any intent to proliferate, as they make progress with their indigenous production programs, they could become suppliers of related equipment, technology or expertise to other countries of proliferation concern. Further, their continued refusal to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will prevent its entry into force, although widespread international support already has established a de facto test ban. Reluctance to support the CTBT also could presage problems in upcoming negotiations over a fissile material cutoff treaty.


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