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Pakistan: What a bomb cannot buy

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    The News on Sunday May 28, 2006 pakistan WHAT A BOMB CANNOT BUY Eight years after the nuclear test, a lot many promises remain unfulfilled and costs
    Message 1 of 1 , May 28, 2006
      The News on Sunday
      May 28, 2006


      Eight years after the nuclear test, a lot many promises remain
      unfulfilled and costs unacknowledged

      By Pervez Hoodbhoy

      On the eighth anniversary of Pakistan's nuclear tests, there is
      little point in debating whether we should have followed India down
      the nuclear gutter. But there is need for a sober stock-taking that
      moves us away from the still rampant, simple-minded, nuclear
      triumphalism. So far the region's nuclear 'experts' and
      'strategists', actively assisted on both sides of the border by their
      respective states, have effectively monopolised discussion on nuclear
      policy. But many promises remain unfulfilled and various political
      and social costs for Pakistan are barely acknowledged. What are these?

      The most obvious fact is that testing the bomb speeded up the
      subcontinent's arms race, rather than slowing it down. If you had
      believed what the nuclear pundits used to say, it should have been
      the other way round. Their argument was so seductive and simple that
      even well-meaning people were taken for a ride. They said acquiring
      the bomb would ensure national security into eternity -- the threat
      of a nuclear response would deter territorial violations by the
      other, and hence the need for conventional arms would evaporate. Just
      a few bombs would do. Before the May 1998 tests, and even for several
      months after it, some Pakistanis cheerfully wrote that after going
      nuclear, little more than salaries for soldiers would be needed.
      Defence budgets could be slashed, and (at last) funds would go into
      development and education.

      Instead, what have we seen? Today the need for acquisition of battle
      tanks, artillery, fighter aircraft, surface ships, submarines,
      anti-ballistic missile systems, early warning aircraft, and
      space-based surveillance systems is now claimed -- by many of the
      same people -- to be more urgent than ever before. The US-India
      nuclear deal, if ratified by Congress, will add fuel to the fire.
      After India's breeder reactors come on line, it will be able to
      produce as many nuclear warheads in just one year as it had in the
      previous 30. Pakistan is sure to react in various ways.

      The once-popular concept of 'minimal deterrence' died after India's
      firm statement that the requirements for a deterrent force will be
      'dynamically determined' and cannot be explicitly stated. In other
      words, it will never say how many bombs are enough. That is not how
      it used to be. I well remember my intervention during a conference in
      Chicago (1992) which provoked the Indian strategist K. Subramanyam to
      angrily protest that "arms racing is a Cold War concept invented by
      the western powers and totally alien to sub-continental thinking". We
      Pakistanis and Indians were supposed to be infinitely wiser than the
      compulsive Americans and Soviets. But one sees that Cold War racing
      has been followed to the letter on the subcontinent. Tactical nuclear
      war-fighting, once considered escalatory, is reported to be
      incorporated into current Indian and Pakistani military doctrines.

      The fact is that nuclear racing and doctrines is everywhere and
      always driven by the same implacable, mad, runaway logic. Should
      there be the slightest danger of the race slackening, a nuclear
      'expert' will point to the other side's latest acquisition and shout
      wolf. With every passing decade, advances in technology make it
      easier and cheaper to create ever more deadly nuclear weapons, buy or
      make longer range and more effective missiles, and go for various
      hi-tech weapon systems that could not have been imagined just a while

      For Pakistan, the nuclear cost -- political and social -- has been
      even higher than for India.

      First, nuclear weapons led to Pakistan's Kargil debacle. The 1998
      tests gave the country's leaders a false sense of security. This was
      the direct cause of a misadventure that ended in a stunning political
      and diplomatic defeat for Pakistan. If anything, it made clear that
      Pakistan could no longer hope for a military victory in Kashmir.

      The Kargil episode offers the very first example in history where
      nuclear weapons, by dint of creating a presumed shield for launching
      conventional covert operations, were responsible for having brought
      about a war. The unrestrained propagation of false beliefs in nuclear
      security brought India and Pakistan to the brink of a full-blown
      confrontation that could well have been the very last one. Arguably
      it was the Bharatiya Janata Party that, by ordering Pokhran-II,
      fathered Kargil.

      Second, Pakistan's acquisition of nuclear weapons has made it
      effectively a less independent state, rather than it being the other
      way round. While Pakistan became popular in Saudi Arabia and other
      Muslim countries after testing, its inability to stand up for real
      Muslim interests remains as chronically weak as ever. Unlike many
      European and non-aligned countries -- which were vociferous in their
      opposition to the US war upon Iraq -- Pakistan chose the side of
      pragmatism. One can also be sure that if Iran's nuclear facilities
      are bombed by the US, Pakistan's leaders will do no more than shake
      their heads in mild disapproval. The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline
      provides yet another example of weakness.

      Although nukes have pushed up Pakistan's rental value for fighting
      the wars of other nations, the constraints on its behaviour have also
      greatly increased. The danger that our nukes may turn loose is a
      source of deep discomfort to Pakistan's chief patron and paymaster,
      the United States of America. The fiery rhetoric of religious
      parties, who claim the bomb for the entire Muslim Ummah rather than
      just for Pakistan, understandably terrifies many in the West.
      Moreover, the A. Q. Khan episode -- in spite of Pakistan's repeated
      assertions that the matter has now closed -- is still very much on
      the minds of the US establishment and media. These reasons account
      for the US's flat rejection of any kind of nuclear deal with Pakistan
      along the lines that it had proposed to India.

      For the time being, with General Pervez Musharraf in power, the US is
      willing to tolerate Pakistan's nuclear arsenal -- and may even
      satisfy some of its needs for advanced conventional weaponry. But
      this could be shortlived. Many gaming scenarios played in the US
      strategic war planning institutions indicate there are well-rehearsed
      contingency plans if Pakistan's political situation changes radically
      in the event of General Musharraf's departure. Clearly, Pakistan is a
      country that is closely watched and monitored.

      Third, and finally, while a connection is sometimes alleged, in fact
      nuclear weapons have been irrelevant to two of Pakistan's critical
      needs -- national integration and high technology. If anything, the
      effect has gone the other way.

      National integration remains a distant goal, and the hope that the
      bomb would be a rallying call for all Pakistanis has disappeared. The
      tumultuous, officially inspired, 1999 celebrations of 'yaum-e-takbir'
      all over the country were supposed to infuse a new sense of national
      spirit in Pakistanis. Bomb and missile models were installed at every
      other street corner; many still survive. But instead of love for the
      centralised Islamabad-based Pakistani state, the ongoing widespread
      insurgency in Balochistan and rising bitterness in Sindh are sending
      clear messages of a dangerous disaffection. Nuclear weapons cannot
      compensate the absence of a democratic process, which alone can weld
      Pakistan's disparate people into a nation.

      The failure is evident. Punjab celebrates the bomb while Balochistan
      protests it. It resents the fact that the nuclear test site -- now
      radioactive and put out of bounds -- is located on Baloch soil.
      Accused of dumping nuclear wastes, the Pakistan Atomic Energy
      Commission is now being increasingly targeted by Baloch nationalists
      as an instrument of foreign domination. On May 15, 2006, Baloch
      insurgents reportedly launched a mortar attack on a Pakistani nuclear
      establishment controlled by the PAEC in the vicinity of the Dera
      Ghazi Khan-Quetta highway.

      And, what of the Bomb being a technical miracle? Over thirty years
      ago, fearful of India's newly acquired nuclear weapons, Pakistan set
      out on its own quest to become a nuclear weapons state. It lacked a
      strong technological base. But its secret search of the world's
      industrialised countries for nuclear weapons technologies was
      successful. It now advertises itself as a high-tech state.

      But in a world where science moves at super-high speeds, nuclear
      weapons and missile development is today second-rate science. The
      undeniable fact is that the technology of nuclear bombs is six
      decades old. Famine-stricken North Korea, with few other
      achievements, is probably also a nuclear power and clearly has a very
      advanced missile programme. In fact it had transferred this
      technology to Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and other countries. While
      Pakistani and Indian weapons programmes have diverted substantial
      financial and material resources away from social and scientific
      needs, they have merely used scientific principles discovered and
      developed elsewhere. Not surprisingly, there are no worthwhile
      spin-offs. Surely it is time to drop the pretence that making nuclear
      weapons and guided missiles is a wonderful thing.

      The author is professor of nuclear and high-energy physics at
      Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.


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