Jun 042008

Lt-Gen (r) Hamid Nawaz Khan

May you have the hindsight to know where you have been, the foresight to know where you are going and the insight to know when you are going too far. — An Irish toast
From the geo-strategic point of view Pakistan is one of the most important countries in the world. In the north and east it has common borders with two regional powers, China and India and is a gateway to the Central Asian republics, Pakistan cannot be ignored in the context of the events in Afghanistan. Its common border with Iran and its proximity to the Gulf’s rich oil resources enhance its importance for the developed world, the United States, in particular. This factor is further reinforced by the facts that Pakistan can provide to China access to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean; while it can deny to India land trade routes to Afghanistan and access to the energy resources of the CARs and Iran. Pakistan is also the only nuclear-capable Muslim state. An unstable Pakistan is, therefore, extremely worrisome to world powers.

A word of caution may be in order here. Our perception of stability may be entirely at variance with how the outside world looks at us. In our interpretation, the national scene may appear to be absolutely stable while others consider the same unstable. An upsurge of militancy in the country or ascendancy of religious parties in one or two provinces may be viewed in a different manner domestically and internationally. It may, therefore, be worthwhile to review all the key issues relevant to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons from external angle. In fact, this is the central theme of the issue.

Right from the start, Pakistan’s nuclear programme faced consistent world opposition and multifarious pressures. It was also subjected to strict watch. However, steady progress was maintained, at par with the Indian nuclear programme, by adopting a prudent and clandestine course. Pakistan was constrained to respond when India decided to openly test her nuclear capability in 1998. While India has been readily accepted in the world’s exclusive nuclear club, Pakistan’s status to date is different. Pakistan’s weak power potential, adverse internal stability situation and Islamic identity are some of the serious hurdles in the way and world powers continue to discriminate against Pakistan. Multidimensional objections and doubts have been raised to imply that world peace is in jeopardy because of nuclear capability and weapons in Pakistan.

These can be listed as follows:

a) Pakistan’s nuclear assets are not physically safe. b) There is a great danger of proliferation from Pakistan to other countries, particularly Iran, Libya and North Korea. c) Deterrence based on nuclear capability between India and Pakistan is precarious and worrisome. d) There is an upsurge of militant extremism all over Pakistan with a potent possibility of terrorists gaining control of nuclear assets by simply overrunning the country. e) Religious parties are gradually gaining popularity and might gain decisive mandate from the masses anytime in the future. f) Because of ethno-sectarian overtones and weak economy, Pakistan is an unstable country where democratic institutions have not functioned properly. Overall image as a united and economically prosperous nation needs to be established before its nuclear capability can be accepted internationally.

Let us analyse each objection objectively. From the physical security point of view there is no possibility of nuclear assets falling into wrong hands. The command and control structure in place precludes any breach of physical security. Technically also it is not feasible to steal an active nuclear device. In actuality, this is the least of the worries and the voices of doubt on this account are minimal.

The possibility of proliferation has been one of the major concerns of the world. Great pressure was exerted to force Pakistan into signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Pakistan was also blamed for sharing nuclear technology and key parts of weapon system with Iran, Libya and North Korea. These charges were contested vigorously by the government. Assurances were given that an effective command and control authority has been put into effect in 1999; and, therefore, there could be no chance of security lapses in the future. The issue of giving access to IAEA still looms large and is not fully settled as yet.

The question of nuclear deterrence between Pakistan and India is genuinely worrisome. Nukes actually are not the weapons of war because there can be no winners. In a conventional war a cost-and-benefit equation is usually in play. This implies that if a nation is willing to pay the price it may reap the benefit and settle the issue with an adversary through recourse to war. This equation gets disturbed when both sides are nuclear capable. The cost is unbearable and both sides end up in mutual destruction. Both sides, per force, have to respect each other’s nuclear threshold even when the hostilities between them have broken out. The war, in such cases, will be limited in objectives and indecisive in outcome. However, nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan has its own peculiar problems. In the cold war era, the reaction time to respond to the nuclear strike was adequate for both sides to initiate counter-strikes and activate defensive measures. In case of India and Pakistan, reaction time is in terms of a few seconds only. Here we are really on a very short fuse. In an overall environment of lack of mutual trust and confidence, any misreading of situation can be potentially catastrophic. There is thus a need to evolve a sure mechanism, which should preclude the possibility of unintended use of nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan. This is the primary issue.

The writer was a federal secretary for defence and federal interior minister in the interim government of caretaker prime minister Mohammadmian Soomro. Email: gen.hnkhan@gmail.com


Source: The News, 4/6/2008

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