Pakistan’s security establishment was early to realize the strategic importance of ballistic missiles. In February 1989, a few months before India tested its Agni missiles, Pakistan announced the testing of two types of missiles named Hatf, meaning ‘deadly’ and used for the sword of the Holy Prophet. Work on the Hatf was started in 1974 when Bhutto was prime minister. However, Pakistan needed technological improvements and North Korea and China became the suppliers. Much of China’s early role in Pakistan’s missile development was conjecture. US intelligence disclosed in 1990 that China’s involvement in nuclear and missile proliferation is at least five times greater than what was estimated before. China used its missile relationship with Pakistan as a bargaining chip with the United States. A case in point: a 1992 US decision to sell 150 F -16 fighters to Taiwan – in violation of bilateral communiqués- led China to withdraw from P-5 talks on conventional arms transfers. Later in 1992, there were reports of the transfer of 34 complete M-11 systems to Pakistan. This was followed by MTCR-related sanctions on China by the US, a step that was denounced by China and that prompted Beijing to threaten reneging from its promise to observe MTCR. In 1994 US agencies found that Chinese technicians were travelling to Pakistan to activate the transferred M-11 missiles. This involved completion of the missile facilities and training of military personnel. A six-monthly report of the CIA noted how Chinese entities continued to work with Pakistan and Iran on ballistic missile-related projects during the first half of 2003. Chinese assistance has helped Pakistan to move towards domestic serial production of solid propellant short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and has supported Pakistan’s development of solid propellant medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs). Pakistan’s elite came to realize that it was futile to persist in developing indigenous missiles and admitted that the Hatf series had failed. It was replaced by the Chinese M-series. The Pakistani Shaheen series has also become Chinese M-9, M-11 and M-18 types. Pakistan relies on ballistic missiles to deliver its nuclear warheads because its air force has not developed adequately. A long period of sanctions has left the Pakistani aircraft industry quite crippled and truncated. It has been struggling with F-16 supplies for more than a decade. Poor economic performance has prevented the Pakistan Air Force from undertaking major fleet expansion and modernization efforts by making the switch from US to European and Russian suppliers. Although India has a superior air force, it has no adequate defences at present against Pakistani ballistic missiles, but is catching up very fast. Pakistan has been using its deterrence to blackmail India. Pakistan has been supporting terrorism in India and any corrective measure by India threatens to turn into a nuclear battleground.
While India and Pakistan were once again teetering on the brink of war, after Pakistani-backed terrorists earlier in May 2002 had killed 32 civilians, mostly wives and children of soldiers in Kashmir, Munir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations threatened to use nuclear weapons against India on 30 May 2002. He defended Pakistan’s refusal to commit to a nuclear no-first-use policy. Pakistan has small conventional forces compared to India, Akram said the day after presenting his credential to the UN Secretary-General. ‘We have to rely on our means to deter Indian aggression. We have those means, and we will not neutralize them by any doctrine of no first use’, he said.
China has linked its nuclear proliferation, both for Pakistan’s bomb and its supply of ballistic missiles, to the United States’ long-time violations of US-China agreements in 1979 and 1981 on reduction and eventual phasing out of arms’ sales to Taiwan. According to the Washington Post, the Chinese calculus was ‘to blackmail the US into curbing arms’ sales to Taiwan’. After ‘9/11’, China became aware that Pakistan is seen more as the problem in the two most contentious issues – terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – than as a solution, and its ‘strategic partnership’ with Pakistan at the old level had become untenable. On Kashmir, which is Pakistan’s chief strategic concern in South Asia, China has distanced itself from the Pakistani position. Pakistan can therefore no longer ride on China’s strategic coat-tails in regional economic interactions in Central and West Asia, although China has been more than willing to use Pakistan’s goodwill in the Islamic world to facilitate its economic concerns in the area. China’s observer status at the ineffective South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is also a sign of China’s encroachment into India’s backyard. China continues to assist Pakistan in augmenting its military with the joint development of the F-22P frigate and JF-17 Thunder fighter.