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The introduction of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) into the India-Pakistan equation has injected a potent dose of anxiety into the already tense relationship. Experts like American security analyst Peter R. Lavoy argue that Pakistan’s vaguely defined “red lines” – economic and domestic destabilization – create an opening for them to initiate low-level conventional attacks against India.

The core concern is that TNWs lower the threshold for nuclear use in a region already bristling with nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s ambiguous red lines offer them a pretext to potentially initiate limited attacks, gambling on a measured Indian response. This creates an unstable environment where a conventional skirmish could spiral into a full-blown nuclear war, especially given Pakistan’s unsaid First Use doctrine.

Pakistan’s rationale seems to be that TNWs can compensate for its conventional military inferiority against India. However, the use of TNWs would likely trigger a massive Indian retaliation, potentially escalating the conflict beyond the tactical level into a strategic nuclear exchange. While the question of Pakistan’s political will to escalate remains open, the potential consequences are catastrophic.

Despite the risks, Pakistan’s TNW program might serve as a deterrent through credible signaling. The mere threat of nuclear escalation could compel India to exercise restraint in a potential conflict. However, the actual use of TNWs would be a gamble with potentially uncontrollable consequences.

The long-term stability of South Asia is more likely to be impacted by the widening gap in conventional military capabilities and the modernization of strategic forces on both sides. Ultimately, maintaining stability hinges on both India and Pakistan’s willingness to manage risk and avoid calling each other’s bluff. The stakes are terrifyingly high – a limited war initiated with TNWs could quickly escalate into a full-scale war of annihilation.