Nuclear Pakistan

It’s Yet Another Pakistani Nuclear Anniversary Today

Pervez Hoodbhoy 

Eleven years ago a million Pakistanis danced in the streets after six nuclear weapons had been successfully tested. They had been told that making nuclear bombs was the biggest thing a country could do; Pakistan was now a great country. But this week’s North Korean nuclear test gave rock-solid proof that it was a lie.

North Korea is a country that no one admires. It is unknown for scientific achievement, has little electricity or fuel, food and medicine are scarce, corruption is ubiquitous, and its people live in terribly humiliating conditions under a vicious, dynastic dictatorship. In a famine some years ago, North Korea lost nearly 800,000 people. And it has an enormous prison population of 200,000 that is subjected to systematic torture and abuse.

Why does a miserable, starving country continue spending its last penny on the Bomb? On developing and testing a fleet of missiles whose range increases from time to time? The answer is clear: North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles are instruments of blackmail rather than means of defence. Brandished threateningly, and manipulated from time to time, these bombs are designed to keep the flow of international aid going.

Surely the people of North Korea gained nothing from their country’s nuclearisation. But they cannot challenge their oppressors. But, we Pakistanis — who are far freer — must ask: what have we gained from the bomb?

Some had imagined that nuclear weapons would make Pakistan an object of awe and respect internationally. They were told that Pakistan would acquire the mantle of leadership of the Islamic world. Indeed, in the aftermath of the 1998 tests, Pakistan’s stock had shot up in some Muslim countries before it crashed. But today, with a large swathe of its territory lost to insurgents, one has to defend Pakistan against allegations of being a failed state. In terms of governance, economy, education or any reasonable quality of life indicators, Pakistan is not a successful state that is envied by anyone.

Contrary to claims made in 1998, the bomb did not transform Pakistan into a technologically and scientifically advanced country. Again, the facts are stark. Apart from relatively minor exports of computer software and light armaments, science and technology remain irrelevant in the process of production.. Pakistan’s current exports are principally textiles, cotton, leather, footballs, fish and fruit. This is just as it was before Pakistan embarked on its quest for the bomb. The value-added component of Pakistani manufacturing somewhat exceeds that of Bangladesh and Sudan, but is far below that of India, Turkey and Indonesia. Nor is the quality of science taught in our educational institutions even remotely satisfactory. But then, given that making a bomb these days requires only narrow technical skills rather than scientific ones, this is scarcely surprising.

What became of the claim that the pride in the bomb would miraculously weld together the disparate peoples who constitute Pakistan? While many in Punjab still want the bomb, angry Sindhis want water and jobs — and they blame Punjab for taking these away. Pakhtun refugees from Swat and Buner, hapless victims of a war between the Taliban and the Pakistani Army, are tragically being turned away by ethnic groups from entering Sindh. This rejection strikes deeply against the concept of a single nation united in adversity.

As for the Baloch, they deeply resent that the two nuclear test sites — now radioactive and out of bounds — are on their soil. Angry at being governed from Islamabad, many have taken up arms and demand that Punjab’s army get off their backs. Many schools in Balochistan refuse to fly the Pakistani flag, the national anthem is not sung, and black flags celebrate Pakistan’s independence day. Balochistan University teems with the icons of Baloch separatism: posters of Akbar Bugti, Balaach Marri, Brahamdagh Bugti, and

‘General Sheroff’ are everywhere. The bomb was no glue.

Did the bomb help Pakistan liberate Kashmir from Indian rule? It is a sad fact that India’s grip on Kashmir — against the will of Kashmiris — is tighter today than it has been for a long time. As the late Eqbal Ahmed often remarked, Pakistan’s abysmally poor politics helped snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Its strategy for confronting India — secret jihad by Islamic fighters protected by Pakistan’s nuclear weapons — backfired terribly in the arena of international opinion. More importantly, it created the hydra-headed militancy now haunting Pakistan. Some Mujahideen, who felt betrayed by Pakistan’s army and politicians, ultimately took revenge by turning their guns against their sponsors and trainers. The bomb helped us lose Kashmir.

Some might ask, didn’t the bomb stop India from swallowing up Pakistan? First, an upward-mobile India has no reason to want an additional 170 million Muslims. Second, even if India wanted to, territorial conquest is impossible.

Conventional weapons, used by Pakistan in a defensive mode, are sufficient protection. If the mighty American python could not digest Iraq, there can never be a chance for a middling power like India to occupy Pakistan, a country four times larger than Iraq.

It is, of course, true that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons deterred India from launching punitive attacks at least thrice since the 1998 tests. Pakistan’s secret incursion in Kargil during 1999, the Dec 13 attack on the Indian parliament the same year (initially claimed by Jaish-i-Muhammad), and the Mumbai attack in 2008 by Lashkar-i-Taiba, did create sentiment in India for ferreting out Pakistan-based militant groups. So should we keep the bomb to

protect militant groups? Surely it is time to realise that these means of conducting foreign policy are tantamount to suicide.

It was a lie that the bomb could protect Pakistan, its people or its armed forces. Rather, it has helped bring us to this grievously troubled situation and offers no way out. The threat to Pakistan is internal. The bomb cannot help us recover the territory seized by the Baitullahs and Fazlullahs, nor bring Waziristan back to Pakistan. More nuclear warheads, test-launching more missiles, or buying yet more American F-16s and French submarines, will not help.

Pakistan’s security problems cannot be solved by better weapons. Instead, the way forward lies in building a sustainable and active democracy, an economy for peace rather than war, a federation in which provincial grievances can be effectively resolved, elimination of the feudal order and creating a tolerant society that respects the rule of law.

It is time for Pakistan to become part of the current global move against nuclear weapons. India — which had thrust nuclearisation upon an initially unwilling Pakistan — is morally obliged to lead. Both must announce that they will not produce more fissile material to make yet more bombs. Both must drop insane plans to expand their nuclear arsenals.

Eleven years ago a few Pakistanis and Indians had argued that the bomb would bring no security, no peace. They were condemned as traitors and sellouts by their fellow citizens. But each passing year shows just how right we were.

Dawn, May 28, 2009


Filed under Pakistan, Terrorism

10 responses to “Nuclear Pakistan

  1. Dr Hoodbhoy,
    I agree with every word you have written. Just to provide a historical perspective, I will ask every reader of this article to snatch a copy of ‘The Great Game’ by Peter Hopkirk and see how empires over time always had hawks and doves, two sets of people pushing the fate of their nations in diametrically opposite directions. However, as every reader of this book will conclude ‘jingoism’ never helps build nations. And if there is one word which describes the motley crew of Pakistanis today it is ‘Jingoistic’: a set of people driven by emotions and wildly ‘conspiratorial’ thinking. Each and every endeavour we have put our hands into we have made a mess of it. Just as an example, in 1992, Pakistan held four sports championship titles: Cricket, Hockey, Billiards, Squash. Today, we cannot even hold an International sporting even in our country. Look where the bomb has led us to!

    Just my 2 cents!

  2. AA

    With all due respects, PH is justifying his myopic position with asymmetric reasoning. It is more than just the is the cutting edge technology and the know how. For example, India does not have to conquer PK but can leave it bleeding and turn it into stone age comic strip just like what US did to Iraq… Let us not forget over 400 top Iraqi scientists and engineers have been assassinated to date because the goal was to prevent Iraq to ever become an intellectual threat to White man.

    Rest of the article ties down all ills of the country to nuclear bomb… Perhaps next time he will assert that nuclear bomb did not prevent Talibans from getting into Swat… This is what I refer to as apple and orange argument!

    Pakistan’s problems can be fixed with political statesmanship, fair distribution of resources to all people and sound economic policies. Nuclear know-how is icing on the cake… Enrichment has great economic potential like what Brazil is doing and in the US, USEC has opened a new 2 billion dollars plant in OH this year to centrifuge uranium for the power plants…

    I am not for the bomb either but lately my dear friend has gone too far off on an eccentric orbit.

  3. PMA

    Professor Hoodbhoy in this article presents a long list of the failures of past governments of Pakistan. Few will disagree with that. But then he starts dancing on a pinhead and attempts to make connection between poor governance and the nuclear deterrence program of a country. This is good example of retrofitting a proof to a professorial theoretic concoction. Hoodbhoy like his mentor late Eqbal Ahmad is known for his opposition to the nuclear weapons worldwide. Both are idealists living in idealistic world. But the real world is much different than a university campus. Pakistan embarked on its nuclear weapons program only after Indian armies marched into Dhaka. Indians do not have to take in 170 million Muslims as the professor says. Marching into Lahore or blocking Karachi would be enough for Indian regional hegemonic aims. But as the last decade has proved it, with a strong deterrent she will think twice before setting on any such misadventure. Good professor fails to make that connection.

  4. Bloody Civilian

    “university campus”!!

    are you sure you know about eqbal ahmed’s life?

    “after Indian armies marched into Dhaka”

    so if pak had the bumm, its army wouldn’t have marched in to dhaka on 25 march 1971?

    “think twice before setting on any such misadventure”

    and what did nuclear-armed pak aim to achieve in kargil? or, what did she achieve? or, was it some absurd ‘live’ war-game to prove that now that pak was a nuclear power india would not be able to retaliate to this sort of provocation the way it did in 1965?

  5. hayyer48

    India acquired its bomb because China has one and I suppose for status. Pakistan got its device because India had one and for status. So far so good. Pakistan feels safer with the bomb, perhaps it is. India certainly is not any the safer with its bomb.
    However my impression is that India has not indulged in misadventures with Pakistan except the (relatively minor) one in Siachen and to an extent Bangladesh, but that is largely to be blamed on Pakistan’s own errors. If India had not been saddled with 10 million refugees I doubt if Indira Gandhi could have managed to provoke a war.
    Would you not agree PMA that 1947, 1965, and 1998 have been Pakistani misadventures.

  6. swapnavasavdutta

    I think the right comparison would be,
    India embarking on (mis)adventurism wrt China
    Pakistan embarking on (mis)adventurism wrt India
    after aquiring the bomb.

    I think India has been quit mature in handling
    the bomb whereas Pakistan wrt India has been
    emboldened to carry out misadventures.

  7. AA

    This from one of my friends to whom I had forwarded Pervez’s article…
    I tend to agree with the response I got from my friend. Here it is:.

    “Being a retired PAF officer my views may be biased (although I personally consider them balanced ). Hoodbhoy arguments don’t hold water. Firstly, the objective of Pakistan’s nuclear program was parity with India and not to be a glue to hold Pakistan. It did provide the people with a sense of confidence and pride at that time.
    The current western mantra is that Pakistan faces an ‘existential’ threat from the Taliban and not India and our military needs to realign its objectives accordingly, and some ‘intelectuals’ in Pakistan agree with this. Indeed, the scourge of religious extremism whether it is the ‘Taliban’ or the ‘Punjabi extremists’ or the ‘Shia or Sunni extremists’ is a grave threat to the Pakistan that we would like to see (and in the final analysis it very well may an existential threat), the premise that we no longer face a threat from India is naivete’. Hoodbhoy needs to look at Advani’s statements immediately after their nuclear explosion in 1998. In my anlaysis India’s temptations to ratchet up rhetoric has been always quietened down by its begrudging acceptance of the nuclear deterrence. That Pakistan is besieged with these terrible problems has nothing to do with its gaining nuclear capability. These problems are the failures of governance primarily due to feudal/colonial attitudes of one part of the country towards other parts. Why FATA, PATA and FRs continue to be (mal)treated under FCRs since 1947?
    Secondly, military technology has always spurred industrial development. In case of Pakistan this has happened to a certain degree, albeit the industry is public sector. Private sector industry needs a stable, safe environment where the rule of law and not ‘bakhshish’ (as Chris Mathews says) is operative. That again is an issue of governance.
    Anyways this is a long discussion and I am not very adept at typing and cannot for too long”

  8. MB

    i had posted a comment yesterday but it’s not there!!

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