Pakistan: What a bomb cannot buy
- The News on Sunday
May 28, 2006
WHAT A BOMB CANNOT BUY
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,
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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