Recently a lot of media hype was created on Pakistan’s nuclear program and its presumed relentless and reckless expansion. The Stimson and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace papers by Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon, reporting by David Ignatius and the inevitable editorials of the New York Times were all aimed at creating alarmist concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. Media leaks were also employed to test Pakistan’s resolve to safeguard and maintain the thrust and momentum of her nuclear program.
The desired end state and common thread running through all of the above was ostensibly to ensure a “cap” on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missile programs or at least seriously stunt its further growth and expansion. These institutions and individuals took it upon themselves to perceive and assess the threats to Pakistan and to lay down for it the perimeters within which its nuclear program ought to develop, function and flourish or otherwise. The Stimson Center’s paper had the audacity to suggest five unilateral measures which could somehow convert a “rogue” Pakistan into a “Normal Nuclear Pakistan”. They averred that Pakistan ought to shift its declaratory nuclear policy from “full spectrum” to “strategic deterrence”, commit to a recessed deterrence posture and limit production of short range delivery vehicles and Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs), lift Pakistan’s veto on FMCT negotiations and reduce or stop fissile material production, separate civilian and military facilities and finally sign the CTBT without waiting for India. It appeared to be a rather presumptuous attempt to promote converging Indo-US interests in South Asia at the cost of Pakistan’s vital national interests.
Furthermore, the US and India apparently intend to challenge China’s evolving ascendancy in this region. The US appears all geared up to help India emerge as the truly dominant and hegemonic power in the region, strong enough to counterbalance China. A major impediment to that end seems to be Pakistan, its Armed Forces and most importantly its nuclear and missile programs. They keep India distracted, pegged to and limited to the subcontinent only. India needs desperately to break free of Pakistan, elevate itself to the next level and then challenge China. US and Indian interests would thus be enormously served if Pakistan were to become subservient to India, caps, rolls back and eliminates its nuclear program and submits to total Indian supremacy in the region; the thrust and apparent raison d’etre of these rather meaningful studies.
This is the point of departure where US and Pakistan’s national interests in the region diverge conclusively and decisively.
These studies have misinterpreted the nuclear issue as a purely bilateral one between India and Pakistan. It is rather far more complicated with regional and extra regional dimensions and includes China. The US-led West’s build up of India as a counterweight to China has enhanced its nuclear, missile and military prowess substantially. By default, India thus acquires corresponding and increasing numerical and technical superiority over Pakistan. This drastically increases the differential in force ratios between the two, creates a critical strategic imbalance and seriously aggravates Pakistan’s threat perceptions. It consequently sets in motion a perpetual, vicious and repetitive cycle of arms acquisitions and developments where India endeavors to match China and Pakistan moves to maintain strategic balance with India.
Pakistan is faced with a “double jeopardy” too. Not only is the US-led West busy in enhancing India’s nuclear and military might but is also trying simultaneously to circumscribe Pakistan’s ability to defend itself. This is exemplified by the US-led West’s incomprehensible demand that Pakistan give up its defensive capabilities (TNWs, for example) without “helping to eliminate the very threats against which these defensive weapon systems were developed in the first place.”
The conflict of interests of the major players in the region will force a persistence of the status quo. Pakistan will continuously feel compelled to “equalize the differential in conventional forces with India by relying increasingly on her nuclear assets to bridge the gap and maintain strategic balance”. This inevitable arms race is likely to continue perpetually with no logical end in sight unless all issues between India and Pakistan, especially Kashmir, are resolved amicably and justly. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, peace will continue to be assured through a veritable “balance of terror”.
India is developing and expanding her own nuclear triad along with nuclear submarines thus effectively precluding any Pakistani move from “full spectrum deterrence” to “strategic deterrence”. Pakistan’s TNWs are there to counter India’s ambitious and fanciful Cold Start Doctrine. As long as the threat persists the counters will do so to, though Pakistan’s National Command Authority will exercise total control of all strategic assets in peace and war. Pakistan cannot lift its veto on the FMCT as India’s existing stocks of fissile material would thus cement its superiority over Pakistan in perpetuity. Pakistan’s military and civilian nuclear programs are already separated with the latter placed under the supervision of the IAEA. Pakistan already has an undeclared moratorium on nuclear testing and by not signing the CTBT it will actually exercise an effective though indirect check on India’s future nuclear tests as well.
Pakistan does not need to get into the Nuclear Supplier’s Group at any unacceptable cost. That can wait. In the meantime, Pakistan must concentrate on acquiring civil nuclear technologies for power generation from China and building large hydro power projects like the Bhasha, Dasu, Bunji and Kalabagh dams.
The international community, meanwhile, needs to re evaluate the prevailing international nuclear regimes and make them more judicious, just, equitable, fair and practical. These must be impervious to unilateral exploitations by any power, too. Unless these regimes dispense a fair and just international nuclear order they will continue to breed injustice, resentment, defiance, proliferation, conflicts and wars. There is a need to streamline and mainstream these international regimes first, before requiring or expecting states like Pakistan to submit meekly to their inequitable diktats! That might also make Pakistan’s strategic compulsions more acceptable and understandable for the international community and take the “abnormality” out of its nuclear program!
The writer is a retired Brigadier, a former Defense Attache’ to Australia and New Zealand and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).