Sunday, December 23, 2007

On the possibility of "Clerical Error" in the India Pakistan Context

An article by Jawed Naqwi on the ABM related developments in India came to me by way of email.

I think the article is quite perceptive and in the spirit of things found abundant in environs of Neemrana Fort, I wish to add a few comments.

When faced with a situation where the political authority in an adversary state is unstable, the path to reinforcing deterrence becomes complicated. The traditional idea of finding some object critical to the adversary leadership and posing a credible threat of guarenteed retaliation to that specific object becomes tricky to implement. As the leadership in the adversary nation is unstable, the idea of what is dear to them is unstable also, so a simple point and shoot philosophy becomes somewhat moribund and the possibility of escalations rises.

When two political groups tussle for control over nuclear weapons in a failed state, the only thing that both groups can agree upon is that the ability to project a nuclear threat is the key to gaining political prominence. This makes the entire deterrence regime extremely escalation prone as every little internal political shift acquires a nuclear deterrence related implication. By posing a credible threat to the ability to deliver nuclear weapons on to your soil, you diminsh the escalation potential inherent in such a situation.

In the more traditional context ( US-USSR or P5), this idea appears counter-intuitive. There the possibility of preventing the enemy's missile creates an escalation. The adversary simply increases the number of missiles in the arsenal or fields their own ABM system. This all pushes things towards a new equilibrium where neither party can field another ABM systems or ballistic missile. For this reason, perhaps, in the traditional context, political instability is never allowed to become so extreme that it shakes the very foundations of deterrence. However the India-Pakistan scenario significantly departs from the traditional mould in many ways, and I feel one cannot become too attached to ideas that have worked elsewhere.

As long as a deterrent exists to using weapons, no political leadership in a failed state, however desperate or short term in its thinking, will seek out nuclear adventurism. In my opinion the biggest deterrent to nuclear weapons use is the possibility of failure. No one wants to go down in history as someone who used a weapon of this magnitude and failed to deliver it to the target. Such a person or persons would be consigned to the dustbin of political history very quickly.

Much is made of the possibility of a religious zealot getting his finger on the button. To some extent the negative publicity accorded to this possibility comes from the incumbents who wear suits and pants but fear being displaced by those that wear pyjamas ans shawls. This is at some level, a form of elitism or perhaps it is simply a show being put on.

The "zealots" of Pakistan are not an unknown quantity. In the last seven years alone, they have been intensively studied in the West. In places like India, the exposure to these men is quite high. In India derogatory terms like "zealot" are rejected in favour of a direct recognition of the scholarship and erudition in social and political science that these men possess. The suits and pants have appeared in the last 60 years, by contrast, the others we have known them for centuries now, can one really expect us to be afraid of them? Especially when the men in suits have refrained from talking sense for the better part of the last 60 years but we recall the men in pyjamas and shawls speaking sense throughout the centuries?

Or do the men in suits now want to suggest that Shaykh Sirhindi and Shah Waliallah were not making sense at all?


At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Naqwi writes:

"Russia and the United States, with far greater lead-time to respond to each other’s nuclear threat and with a highly refined command and control mechanism, still do not have a completely trustworthy system in place."

this sort of statement plus 50 cents will leave Naqwi Mian 50 cents short of a dollar ...

firstly, the two problems are different ... we are not talking about defending against a technologically advanced state such as USSR, who could take evasive action and/or deploy decoys ... we are talking about "paint-job packees" who are probably already in Beijing asking for advice ...

secondly, Naqwi Sa'ab will do well to study the advances in computation from star wars days to today ... he would be impressed by how the same calculations now can be done 10,000 times faster ...

thirdly, if he wishes to pursue more gyaan, he could examine advances in high power rf technology ... it is more relevant in our case because we can paint the sky above packees continuously with pulsed radar ...

detecting something in packee sky with a missile-like trajectory would be accomplished in seconds ... further, a typical high-schooler in India would be able to calculate the tracking parameters in a matter of seconds as well ...

such efficiency did not exist a decade ago ... and, it is only going to get better ...

[note that we are not talking about ICBMs which is a different problem, and that was the one that the US was paying a lot of attention to ...]

fourthly, it is about the accuracy of interceptors ... does Mr. Naqwi not believe that technologies developed, for instance, for the Babur program (LOL) can be effectively used for this job as well? ...

it will boil down to political brinkmanship ... Sheikh Naqwi may believe so, but will the packee with a finger on the trigger be absolutely sure that his weapon will actually work? ... will he not have moments of grave doubt about the consequences of having fired a weapon only to see it shot down? ...

"fear of failure" can indeed be groomed into a #1 deterrent ...

more power to folks in India developing this system ...

more khujli for Naqwi-ji ...

At 8:06 PM, Blogger quantum chaos said...

Does pakistan have nukes that can be mated to missiles?arent there nukes aircraft delivered.atleast that is the opinion amongst WABBITS.ofcourse our warfighters cant afford to assume that.
also assuming paki nukes are chinese in origin would chinese be that foolish to give them missile deliverable nukes especially when they are jokeying for influence with US in Pak?
i know this last question can come across as naive but then i am a newbie and you have been patient in the past:)

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the other hand, a bigger threat to India is a dirty bomb, against which a missile shield will not help at all.

It'll be far easier smuggling one through our borders than trying to deliver a nuke through conventional means..( missiles/aircraft..).

I doubt if the concept of deterrence holds true then.

At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


why do you say that? ... typically, a "dirty bomb" has higher radiation levels and hence, easier to detect ...

unless you have something specific in mind, a dirty bomb usually refers to a sub-critical device made with spent fuel that uses conventional explasives to disperse the radioactive waste ...

what damage do you think such a device can cause? ... IMO, only marginally worse than the various jehadi acts that are carried out periodically in India ...

on the other hand, if jehadis can smuggle a dirty bomb they can just as easily smuggle a nuke ... so the entire problem is one of constant vigilance ... we have to know where each and every packee nuke is ...

the minute a pakistani nuke moves, India has to know about it ... period ... we need a combination of satellites, radar, and most importantly old fashioned "jasoos" with an ear to the ground ...

some folks have led me to believe that such assets are already in place ...

At 12:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mentioned dirty bombs specifically because I think there are many eyes on the weapons/devices just about now.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Wavefunction said...

Alok: A dirty bomb need not have spent radioactive fuel or material. It can more commonly contain isotopes used in peaceful applications, especially Co-60, I-131, Sr-90 and Cs-131. These isotopes are actually much more dangerous than uranium or plutonium because they resemble important elements in the body and are therefore taken up rapidly and distributed extensively throughout the body. That said, the major purpose of a dirty bomb would not be to kill but incapacitate and disrupt the workings of a city, as well as render some important area inhospitable for some time. I do agree that a dirty bomb attack is much more likely than a nuclear missile attack.

At 4:06 PM, Blogger maverick said...


The possibility that the Pakistanis are able to smuggle a nuke on to Indian soil and detonate it, has been around for well over three decades now.

I do not think that the GoI will see a difference between a nuclear attack and an RDD attack.

At 4:07 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear quantum chaos,

The pakistanis allege that their bombs can be delivered by their F-16s. External sources suggest that Pakistan acquired from the Chinese a bomb design that was first tested by the Chinese on a missile.

To date there has been no test of a Pakistani weapon that has been mated with a delivery system. The tests of 1998 were underground test of devices. Despite their enthusiasm to find out every last detail of the Indian bomb, the NPA has shown no interest in determining if the Pakistani devices tested in 1998 were in fact weaponisable configurations.

Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto once stated that the Pakistani bomb could put in a bullock cart. In an interview with the Indian ambassador, in the 80s, Dr. Abdul Qadir Khan stated that Pakistan could "hit Indian cities like Bombay and Madras in five minutes". This was long before Pakistan had any missile or even operational squadrons of F16s. Whenever the Pakistanis becomes anxious about India's nuclear capabilities, they begin to darkly hint at the SSG's "stay-behind" and "infiltration" capabilities.

This kind of talk by the Pakistanis invites the speculation that the Pakistanis have already prepositioned their bombs on Indian soil and their sleepers are awaiting a trigger signal of some kind to assemble and detonate the device.

There is no evidence to support this idea. No credible expert in India has ever mentioned this theory in public. No Pakistani has ever confirmed or denied this possibility.

Our American friends find this view inconvenient.

Per the American view, the Pakistani Army and Al Qaida are distinct entities, and one is helping America destroy the other.
There is a flood of "Al Qaida nuke" stories that have appeared in the Western press after 911. In these stories, a "rogue" Pakistani plays a role in ensuring that Al Qaida followers bring a nuke on to US soil and detonate it.

The US itself has routinely talked about the possibility of using Special Forces to insert nukes into Russia and the US has claimed that a number of KGB (and Chinese) sleepers were inserted into the US to detonate nuclear weapons inside America's critical national security infrastructure. The Americans also fear that "Al Qaida" might be able to access nuclear weapons or related resourced from the FUSSR/Chinese sources.

If you neglect the distinction that the US makes between the Al Qaida and the Pakistan Army, you see the exact image of the Indian speculation.

Now the question that people (and Pakistanis especially) must ask themselves is - Does the Indian talk of ABM systems convey a deeper sense of confidence about interdicting a Pakistani nuclear strike irrespective of its method of delivery?

A Pakistani could naturally ask, how will India stop a SSG officer from smuggling a nuke into India? How can an ABM stop something like that?

The answer is simple - it can't.

However if the SSG officer is requried to commit the murder of millions of Indians by smuggling a nuclear weapon and detonating it on Indian soil, he will need some serious psychological conditioning to convince him that this is the right thing to do. In Pakistan, the only model for that kind of indoctrination is Islam.

If Pakistanis as a whole, and the Deobandi religious elite which holds the key to legitimising any leadership in Pakistan, are not convinced that the Pakistani Army leadership acts in the interests of Islam: How can an ordinary Pakistani SSG officer be expected to make such a appraisal?

And please understand, the Jihadis of the various tanzeems are even more unlikely to find Pakistani Army's leadership "pak" by Islamic standards. A Jihadi given a bomb to dump on India is quite a bit more likely to turn that bomb on Islamabad itself.

As the Jihadis themselves cannot build a bomb, they rely on the Pakistan Army to give them a bomb they can detonate. If the Pakistan Army fears the possibility outlined above, then they will do their utmost to keep the bomb under their sole control. This way - even if the Jihadis seize control of the government, there is no guarentee that they will be able to seize control of a function device.

I admit that neither the thinking of the Pakistan Army and the Jihadis is particularly transparent to me as an Indian - certain I understand far less about their personality quirks than the American claim to... but I ask you..

Can a smuggled nuclear bomb - remain a reliable option under such circumstances?

How does the possibility of failure for this kind of effort compare with the likelihood of successfully launching an untested warhead on an American supplies airplane or Chinese supplied missile?

At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To put it even more bluntly, power corrupts, and often the tools of power get above their stations and begin to have ideas of being the tool wielders. If the PA wishes to abdicate power with a lot of its corps getting wiped out, it will use the "bullock cart" option. Rather like the story of Bhasmasura actually.

At 6:46 PM, Blogger PaiN said...


Re: the prepositioned bomb and sleeper agents waiting for the trigger signal

The biggest deterrent to this strategy is the risk of exposure. The probably of detection increases with time.

I'm not sure what India's doctrine offers in the event of detection of a concealed bomb. But even if it does not entail a military retaliation the non-military response would be unbearable.

I like your shipping container theory better

At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


one can always cook up scenarios and scare people with dirty bombs from hell ... clearly the istopes that you mention are all harmful to human beings ... I can add quite a few more to the list ... however, I have not seen any convincing estimates with hard numbers instead of speculation regarding the damage potential of "dirty bombs" ...

IMO, dirty bomb is a dirty idea cooked up by dirty governments ...

if you disagree, please post some numbers/calculations ...

At 5:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bebe just copped it. Me thinks it wasn't Mushy's Praetorians army though.....

-Anand K

At 7:19 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Nitin,

I do not know how to assess those "accidental discovery" risks.

You may be right that the device is discovered as time passes or possibly the mechanisms fail etc... but there is no way to rule out the possibility either.

Typically we think we interdict a small fraction 10% of the total number of illegal arms/ narcotics/ human traffic shipments passing through lands, so you can take a rough guess what the likelihood of intercepting something like this is. It compares well with likelihood of intercepting a missile or plane.


Dirty bomb - real bomb - who cares how many people it kills - as long as it is made of smuggled radioactive materials there is no difference.

The key word is smuggled. The radioactive dispersant will have to be smuggled in - we don't have that many easily available sources in India. India is not like America, where medical isotopes are more abundantly available. In India BRIT has a monopoly and anything you buy can be traced to a specific BRIT batch no. There are isolated incidents of pilferage of low radioactivity materials from mines etc... but getting your hands on something refined in India is very hard because there simply isn't enough of it.

The moment you steal something like that or smuggle it into India - a threshold is crossed and all kinds of machinery goes into action.

Why GoI - even Allah will not be able to tell the difference between the smuggling for an RDD and for a nuke.

BTW... kaun karega smuggling? Jihadis? Pakistan Army? who will do it?

Right now the Jihadis will not do something simply because the Pak. Army says so and the Pak Army soldiers will not do it just because some General says so.

Any attempt at smuggling is more likely to fail now than ever before.


I am still reading incident reports.

I want to make sure that the bullets were not strays from panicked members of her own security staff reacting to a blast at close proximity.

I will put up my reactions only after seeing the incident photos.

At 7:23 AM, Blogger quantum chaos said...

thanks a lot for being so that you have given me an inch i will try to extract a yard.kya karen assi TDC thehre :-).
so two questions
1)Now that the bakri has been assasinated who do you think was behind it.reading your blogs my guess would be US is behind it to put mushy on does it fit in with highlighting fissures in PA.Does it mean PAK will descend into stage 3 from stage 2?
2) Also what do you make of pandit at the helm of citibank?ofcourse he cant be like shortcut aziz? is it because of his background in Quant help.i remeber a commentator in your blog commenting on how iterative models have led to a deficit of creditworthiness.does his elevation fit in there?

At 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Just saw Najam Sethi say that the killer was a policeman and he shot her at "point blank" range.

At 8:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Ever since John Reed was deposed by Sandy Weill with the formation of Citigroup in 1998 the CEO of Citigroup has been a dealmaker whether it was Sandy Weill or his handpicked successor Chuck Prince. Both dealmakers did not really understand the art and science of risk at the market or liquidity level. Elevating Vikram Pandit as CEO is an acknowledgement by the Citigroup board and especially by Robert Rubin who has been Pandit's biggest backer that they need a person at the top who can understand risk and that quality is more important currently than having a flamboyant deal maker as CEO.

The structured debt obligation products that the banks and investment banks have created and made so much in over the last 5-8 years have not been understood even by the CEOs of the banks. In certain banks e.g. it was a total of 10 people who were in charge of commiting $10-$15 Billion of money to these instruments. Never was so much entrusted to so few by so many. I think the shortcut analogy is irrelevant in this situation.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger quantum chaos said...


At 9:08 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Nitin,

I am going to avoid further comment on the incident until I see the photos of the body and the event itself. I have yet to start sorting through the interviews with actual witnesses, so my comments are very premature.

Broadly speaking PPP supporters will blame Musharraf for this event as ultimately regardless of who did it, it was Musharraf's responsibility to protect her. I expect the Zardari-Bhutto clan will take a similar line and their supporters will lash out against anyone who supports Musharraf.

I anticipate that the PPP will ask for a postponement of the election to reorganise itself after this event. In order for its petition to be recieved favourably, the PPP will try to keep good relations with the Army and so I do not see any serious confrontation between the PPP and the Pakistan Army developing.

The present levels of violence in Pakistan do not appear to support the imposition of an emergency at this time.

Hi Abhisheik,

In my opinion we remain at the beginning of stage 2.

I have no comments to offer on Citigroup.

At 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maverick: I do not think that the GoI will see a difference between a nuclear attack and an RDD attack.

Well, lets hope that assumption holds and that the other side knows about it. Thats when deterrence will deter.

At 6:39 AM, Blogger maverick said...


Boss, what is there not to get?

Musharraf the Magnificient has killed some 700 children from pious families in the region where most of the Jehadi men-at-arms come from.

If somehow the Jihadis get hold of an RDD, they are likely to use it on Musharraf the Magnificient himself before they risk moving it across the border to India.

I am sure Musharraf the Magnificient understand that sort of thing very well.

At this point even if an RDD is discovered before it is detonated in India (like it once was in Russia) - everyone from Kanyakumari to Washington DC will think the exact same thing - that terrorists in Pakistan may have radioactive materials and that Musharraf government is failing in its responsibility to protect Pakistan's nuclear materials and weapons from Jihadi interference.

At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Correct me if I am wrong but I believe Naqvi's article is the first time that anyone in Pakistan has publicly talked about the ABM program. Should we attach more significance to it as a result? The PAD test was over an year ago and the existence of the program has been known since around 2001. Why wait for so long before talking about it? This has been bothering me for a while now.

At 11:54 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hello Sparsh,

The Pakistanis publicly dismissed reports about the progam as hype engineered to hide DRDO's incompetence.

I suspect that the success of the next test forces them to challenge held notions about DRDO and that probably makes them uncomfortable.

Naqvi does not spend time dismissing the program as an Israeli/American ripoff - he merely talks about the implications for the deterrence regime.

This sort of thing will only appear if the Pakistani consider the program a credible threat.

And that is why I feel we should pay attention to Mr. Naqvi's point of view.

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Even if the Pakistanis dismissed the existence of the program as mere propaganda, the successful PAD test was over an year ago. An year and no one had said anything. That is unusual.

Coming to Naqvi. His article itself is a jumbled mess. As Alok says, his statements and 50 cents will leave Naqvi 50 cents short of a dollar. I have no idea just what the hell he is trying to get across. If this sort of incoherent and hysterical screeching is all that the Pakistanis can come up with after an year plus of thought then they seem to have panicked somewhat.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger maverick said...


Yes he is quite confusing in parts.

I have approached it from a simplified viewpoint that this is a Pakistani concerned about the impact on deterrence.

I am trying to tell him that the Indian ABM system does not degrade Pakistan's ability to deter an Indian attack. It merely removes the incentive for Musharraf-wannabes *inside* Pakistan to make nuclear trouble.

In that sense it allows Indians to decouple their existance from the day to day happenings inside Pakistan.

If it werent for the PAD-ABM and what it stands for, India would have to treat every slight political shift inside Pakistan as a potential escalation. This would greatly multiply the bloodshed inside Pakistan.

I am sure Mr. Naqwi does not want that.

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I now understand what you were trying to say. Thanks.


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