Pakistan is making qualitative and quantitative improvements to its nuclear arsenal, which is primarily targeted towards India, and could increase the number of circumstances under which it would be willing to use atomic weapons, according to a US Congressional report.
Maintaining that Islamabad's nuclear arsenal consists of approximately 60 atomic weapons, the Congressional Research Service's (CRS) latest report, nevertheless, said that this number could be even larger.
Another report released last week had said Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was inching towards 100.
The CRS, an independent bipartisan research wing of the US Congress, said that such an indication has come officially directly from the Pakistan government.
It noted that a foreign ministry spokesperson indicated during a May 21 press briefing that despite the government's continued opposition to a "nuclear or conventional arms race in South Asia," Pakistan may need to increase its nuclear arsenal in response to Indian conventional and nuclear arms expansion.
Illustrating this point, the CRS report, entitled 'Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues' which has been updated till July 30, said a Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson reacted to India's July 26 launch of its first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine by asserting that "continued induction of new lethal weapon systems by India is detrimental to regional peace and stability."
The Pakistani spokesperson had said that "without entering into an arms race with India, Pakistan will take all appropriate steps to safeguard its security and maintain strategic balance in South Asia," the CRS report noted.
However, whether and to what extent Pakistan's current expansion of its atomic weapons-related facilities is a response to the Indo-US nuclear deal is unclear, partly because the government's decisions regarding those facilities are not publicly available, said the report, a copy of which has been obtained by PTI.
The report said in addition to making qualitative and quantitative improvements to its nuclear arsenal, Pakistan could increase the number of circumstances under which it would be willing to use nuclear weapons.
For example, senior security analyst Peter Lavoy has argued that India's efforts to improve its conventional military capabilities could enable New Delhi to achieve "technical superiority" in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as precision targeting, providing India with "the capability to effectively locate and efficiently destroy strategically important targets in Pakistan."
Islamabad could respond by lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons, according to Lavoy. Indeed, a Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned in May that Islamabad could take this step, the report said.
The CRS report said Pakistan has pledged no-first-use against non-nuclear weapon states, but has not ruled out first use against a nuclear-armed "aggressor", an indirect reference to India. Some analysts say this ambiguity serves to maintain deterrence against India's conventional superiority.
The Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated on May 21 that "there are acquisitions of sophisticated weaponry by our neighbour which will disturb the conventional balance between our two countries and hence, lower the nuclear threshold."