The mainstream media, both television and print, were quick to deliberately misinterpret the recent statement made by the Chief of the Air Staff B.S. Dhanoa in a press conference in New Delhi. This was probably done for the sake of catchy headlines and TRP. The chief was very professional and candid but at the same time cautious in his replies to the questions raised by the media representatives. Nevertheless, the media found ways to unnecessarily sensationalise certain statements made by him.
Most leading dailies chose to highlight his statement on the IAF’s capability against Pakistan’s tactical nukes. The chief, before mentioning about his force’s ability to locate, fix and strike, clearly stated that the answer to Pakistan’s tactical nukes lies in the draft nuclear doctrine of India. As per the draft nuclear doctrine, any nuclear strike of any scale or type will be considered as first use and the resulting nuclear retaliation by India will be massive and unacceptable. Seeing it in the context of tactical nuclear weapons, if Pakistan fires even a single tactical nuke against Indian forces anywhere (even inside it’s territory), India will respond with a massive nuclear strike. The bottom line is that India does not recognise tactical use in nuclear warfare and all strikes nuclear will be considered as strategic first use.
On the IAF’s ability to locate, fix and strike, he mentioned it as a general capability against any target inside Pakistan or elsewhere, which technically, as the chief remarked, includes tactical nuclear systems as well, but was not stated specifically in the context projected by media. Probably, in the next media appearance the Air Chief Marshal might choose to be more cautious given the irresponsible and news hungry nature of the media.
This twisted hype brought out by the media has already attracted comments from across the border. Pakistan’s foreign minister had responded by warning ‘dire consequences’ if India hits at their nuclear sites. The more interesting issue is, there is no evidence as of now on Pakistan having deployed any tactical nuclear weapons. Only their designated tactical nuclear missile – Nasr has been tested so far. An in depth analysis will point out that like any strategic nuclear weapon, a tactical one too is just a political weapon and not a war fighting tool.
The entire Pakistani tactical nuke exercise is to counter India’s cold start doctrine. The objective is to lower the nuclear threshold so as to deter any conventional military offensive by the Indian armed forces. Studies have shown that Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons will be hardly useful in stopping an Indian armoured advance. However, the nuclear element is just a way for Pakistan to plug its relative weakness in conventional military capability with India.