WASHINGTON -- Pakistan needs short-range "tactical" nuclear weapons to deter arch-rival India, a top adviser to its government said Monday, dismissing concerns it could increase the risk of a nuclear war.
Khalid Kidwai also rejected concerns over the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, insisting that adequate safeguards are in place to protect what analysts have described as the world's fastest-growing atomic arsenal.
Pakistan's development of smaller warheads built for use on battlefields, in addition to longer-range weapons, has increased international concerns that they could get into rogue hands because of the pervasive threat of Islamic militants in the country.
Pakistan and its larger neighbor India have fought three wars. They have held on-off peace talks over the years but are involved in a nuclear and missile arms race that shows no sign of abating.
Neither side discloses the size of its arsenal. But a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations think tank estimated that Pakistan has enough fissile material to produce between 110 and 120 nuclear weapons, and India enough for 90 to 110 weapons.
For 15 years, Kidwai led the administration of Pakistan's nuclear and missile weapons program. He now serves as an adviser to the National Command Authority, a committee of the top civilian and military leaders that sets the country's nuclear weapons policy. He spoke Monday at a conference on nuclear security organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
On the sidelines of the conference, Rakesh Sood, former Indian special envoy for disarmament and nonproliferation, said it was "extremely destabilizing for any country to develop tactical nuclear weapons" and that India has no plans to. He contended that Pakistan's nuclear doctrine is "cloaked in ambiguity" which undermines confidence between the two countries.
Kidwai said nuclear deterrence had helped prevent war in South Asia. He said Pakistan's development of tactical weapons -- in the form of the Nasr missile, which has a 37-mile range -- was in response to concerns that India's larger military could still wage a conventional war against the country, thinking Pakistan would not risk retaliation with a bigger nuclear weapon.
Peter Lavoy, a former senior U.S. defense official, questioned whether such intermingling of conventional forces and nuclear weapons in a battlefield could increase the risk of nuclear war.
Kidwai replied that having tactical weapons would make war less likely.
He said given the strength of the rest of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, the fear of "mutually assured destruction" of the South Asian rivals would ensure that "sanity prevails."
At the other end of Pakistan's missile inventory is the Shaheen-III missile that it test-fired this month. It has a range of 1,700 miles, giving it the capability to reach every part of India - but also potentially to reach into the Middle East, including Israel.
Kidwai said Pakistan wanted a missile of that range because it suspected India was developing strategic bases on its Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal. He said the nuclear and missile program was "India-specific" and not aimed at other countries.
India and Pakistan have not fought a major conflict since 1999, when Pakistani military infiltrated into an Indian-held area of disputed Kashmir called Kargil, sparking fighting that left hundreds dead on both sides. Tensions, however, have sometimes escalated dangerously since then. In 2008, Pakistan-based militants attacked India's commercial hub of Mumbai, killing 164 people.