The denuclearisation threat

Published: August 14, 2012

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

There is a fear, bordering at times on paranoia, in certain sections of our society that the US has plans to denuclearise Pakistan. These apprehensions are repeatedly reflected in seminars, television ‘talk shows’ and other forums and add to the prevailing distrust between the two countries. Even repeated American assurances have failed to put these fears to rest.

Mutual distrust between the US and Pakistan on nuclear issues has a historical, political and strategic connotation. The United States has been opposed to Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons from the very beginning and has even pursued coercive policies in this regard. It has imposed sanctions, cut off financial and military aid, and exercised diplomatic pressure and only looked the other way when its immediate strategic interests took priority. It ignored Pakistan developing nuclear capability during the 1980s, when it was a key partner in supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan against the erstwhile Soviet Union, but as soon as the insurgency was over, the US came down hard by invoking the Pressler and Symington Amendments. Grudgingly, as a quid pro quo to Pakistan acting as a front-line state in the war against terror, the US once again lifted the sanctions and reconciled to the reality of a nuclear Pakistan.

Initially, Washington was as much opposed to India’s nuclear build-up, but over the years, its policy dramatically changed as the strategic interests of the two countries converged. The Indo-US nuclear deal and strategic partnership turned out to be another source of mistrust between the US and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the revelation of the AQ Khan odyssey created new tensions between the US and Pakistan, further aggravating the distrust between them. Pakistan’s cooperation, however, in providing access to the IAEA and to the US to investigate AQ Khan’s proliferation network and the SPD’s (Strategic Plans Division) subsequent serious effort of strengthening the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets largely contributed to restoring, both the US and the international community’s confidence. Senior officials of the US have since publicly acknowledged that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and material are safe and secure.

But the with the growing power of the insurgents — the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and other militant groups — and the government’s inability to counter them effectively has once again given rise to fears in Washington and Western capitals about the dangers of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons or fissile material falling in their hands. From their perspective, prospects of nuclear terrorism, though remote, cannot be ruled out. Pakistan’s response has been that these are exaggerated fears, dictated by ulterior motives. The US fears, in turn, give rise to Islamabad (read the SPD) probably taking precautionary measures and further tightening the security of nuclear assets not only against militants but against any potential US move to denuclearise it. If this involves any physical movement within Pakistan, it is most likely captured by US satellites, causing anxiety and feeding each others’ insecurities.

More to the point, Pakistan’s nuclear capability is essentially to countervail India’s nuclear power. It poses no threat to the US or any other country. In any case, with such overwhelming US superiority in nuclear weapons and means of delivery, it would be hubris for Pakistan (or any country) to contemplate such aggressive scenarios. Domestically, Pakistan’s nuclear programme has the full support of the military establishment, political and religious parties and scientific community and is perceived as a central pillar of the country’s security. There is also a certain romance and emotionalism associated with the nuclear capability and successive governments in Pakistan have made psychological investment in the programme that supposedly serves to cement national unity and pride. For all these reasons, Pakistan’s leadership has done everything possible to keep nuclear assets safe and secure. With all the sacrifices and investment to acquire a nuclear status, Pakistan will not let them fall in the hands of the militants.

At the same time, it serves no US interest to take up Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Even if it were to try this, it would be a highly risky and dangerous undertaking with no chance of success. Moreover, we need to remind ourselves that knowledge is indestructible and no one can take it away.

The conspiracy theories need to be discarded.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2012.  

on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Reader Comments (37)

  • Aug 14, 2012 - 11:38PM

    “Pakistan’s cooperation, however, in providing access to the IAEA and to the US to investigate AQ Khan’s proliferation network and the SPD’s (Strategic Plans Division) subsequent serious effort of strengthening the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets largely contributed to restoring, both the US and the international community’s confidence. Senior officials of the US have since publicly acknowledged that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and material are safe and secure.”

    Pakistan only “cooperated” in the investigation only when it was caught via information Western intelligence agencies didn’t have to make public, like Gadafi’s public revelations. The crime wasn’t spreading weapons themselves but nuclear weapons equipment and know-how. There were no criminal prosecutions, either of AQ Khan’s network or of the high-ranking Pakistanis who encouraged him to do it, so international disgust of Pakistan has remained high and confidence in Pakistan remains low: Pakistan was a nuclear proliferator until caught and remains unrepentant.

    Waving the security of Pakistan’s own nukes is a “red herring” meant to distract people from the above failings.

    Recommend

  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Aug 14, 2012 - 11:44PM

    “Domestically, Pakistan’s nuclear programme has the full support of the military establishment, political and religious parties and scientific community and is perceived as a central pillar of the country’s security. There is also a certain romance and emotionalism associated with the nuclear capability and successive governments in Pakistan have made psychological investment in the programme that supposedly serves to cement national unity and pride”. You said is all but somehow WMD in Iraq remind me of American adventurism and there are congressmen abound in the US congress who will be happy to denuclearise Pakistan because of the fact that it is an Islamic country.

    Recommend

  • Mahmood
    Aug 15, 2012 - 12:16AM

    The Bomb was supposed to buy us some security with a resultant decline in conventional military spending, the savings going to education, health and other population welfare heads. None of that happened, and today we are even more insecure than before the bomb. And even more illiterate, sicker and poorer. The military is healthier and richer, and plans to keep increasing the amount it spends on itself, damned be the national interest. May I propose a heretical thought: let is denuclearize voluntarily.

    Recommend

  • Observer
    Aug 15, 2012 - 12:56AM

    “More to the point, Pakistan’s nuclear capability is essentially to countervail India’s nuclear power. “

    Pakistan has been the one pursuing aggressive stance with respect to India for the past six decades. It started all the four wars between India and Pakistan. Even the 1971 war started with Pakistan bombing western India. India’s action in Bangladesh was a payback to Pakistan for the 1965 war that Pakistan started. But for the 1965 war, India wouldn’t have invaded E. Pakistan.

    It has been Pakistan that has pursued a confrontational and aggressive strategy against India since 1971 through its support for Sikh militancy and Kashmir militants. Then there is the Kargil invasion by Musharraf. If Pakistan gives up its aggressive stance against India, it wouldn’t need its nukes. Bangladesh has no nukes, yet it has no fear of India taking over that country except in the minds of Pakistan supporters in BD. If BD can live in peace with India without nukes, why not Pakistan? It is not only BD, but Nepal, Bhutan, Srilanka, Burma are non-nuke nations, but they don’t worry about India swallowing up their lands.

    The bottom-line is that it is the Pakistani establishment elite that has been responsible for the “scary” India propaganda and brainwashing of the public on the need to spend disproportionate national wealth on the military and the nukes. If Pakistan wanted peace, it could have done so a long time ago and saved its citizen all the misery that has been happening.

    Recommend

  • Lala Gee
    Aug 15, 2012 - 1:11AM

    @Solomon2:

    “The crime wasn’t spreading weapons themselves but nuclear weapons equipment and know-how.”

    India is one of the beneficiaries of nuclear proliferation. Had USA and Canada not established nuclear facilities and provided her the fissile material along with the necessary technical know how, though for peaceful purposes, India would have yet doing laboratory experiments to extract fissile material from ore, let alone having enough highly enriched Plutonium for their peaceful nuclear explosion, aka “The Smiling Buddha”. I wonder why no one talks about the lies and deceits of the Indian nation.Recommend

  • Lala Gee
    Aug 15, 2012 - 1:26AM

    @Author:

    Until USA officially accepts Pakistan as ‘Nuclear State’ or extends a deal similar to India, the US intention about Pakistan’s nuclear assets and program will always remain suspicious. Period. If you think promises made on personal level are enough to judge US intentions then I would suggest you go through the history of promises made by US from 1962 to to-date.Recommend

  • Mr X from Bombay
    Aug 15, 2012 - 1:29AM

    @naeem khan Manhattan,Ks: Why do muslims always give any issue a religious angle ? Ask any psychiatrist about it, and they will point out that this is a classic example of deep rooted complex and paranoia which perpetuates by the victims own’s deeds of past, and present. Because muslims (not Islam ) are intolerant towards everyone non-muslim, they feel that non muslims are plotting against them. It is difficult for them to comprehend that the world is not reactionary as they think. Infact it is quite patient and tolerating with muslims, with Muslims in the world take it for granted and never show any reciprocation by allowing as much social tolerance against non muslims. This can be examplified by every day to day events which has now become part of life for many muslims. 1) Detest hindus , 2) Call India a Hindu country even though there is a considerable muslim population, 3) for every thing bad happening in their society they blame of Jews, christians and Hindus ( very important to note that they dont blame individual but the whole community ) , 4) They like citizenship of succesful countries which is always a infidel westerners , but they hate their people , their lifestyle and they demand special treatment for themselves. 5) They think it is their right to follow and impose their customs even if it is at cost of broader social harmony. take for example muslims in Houston enjoy a “paid” holiday for ramzan while for non muslims such extra holidays beyond what is prescribed by company’s policy is not possible. Jews don;t get paid holiday for their religious days, neither does hindus or buddhist. 6) They even request Shariah law for them in host country and it is simply irritating on why they are not under uniform law of country.
    Even with above listed and more exceptions made for muslims in non muslims world, muslims like you Naeem will always see their act as “plot against Islam”. Grow up.

    Recommend

  • faraz
    Aug 15, 2012 - 2:06AM

    The only real threat to nuclear bombs is through an Islamist coup within the army; some delusional officer wanting to become global caliph would definitely provoke a universal opinion against our bombs, bringing hard economic sanctions

    Recommend

  • G. Din
    Aug 15, 2012 - 2:14AM

    ” Even if it were to try this (to take up Pakistan’s nuclear assets), it would be a highly risky and dangerous undertaking with no chance of success. “
    This after UBL was turned into a cadaver and whisked away from a military compound right from under the nose of Pakistan High Command? Think again, General! You initiated all your wars with India on the assumption of “high chance of success”. None of those panned out. With that kind of a success rate, why do you think your assumptions have any validity now? It may be advisable to temper your optimism a little!

    Recommend

  • Raja
    Aug 15, 2012 - 4:38AM

    Paranoia must give way to reason. As the General has correctly pointed out, Pakistan’s nuclear assets are meant only to countervail Indian nuclear capability. But, is it hard to understand Mr. Mahmood’s immensely sensible suggestion above?

    India has declared its policy of ‘No first strike”. If Pakistan were to rid itself of its nuclear assets, nuclear war between the two nations is near impossible. Harsh that it may appear, the fact remains that Pakistan has nothing of importance that India would want from it.

    Pakistan needs to understand India’s own insecurities emanating from China’s insatiable appetite for expansion. A recent report put the number of diplomatic conflicts China has with other countries at about 20. Not only will denuclearized Pakistan earn tremendous goodwill from the rest of the world, but it will also have an unprecedented opportunity and freed up resources to devote to the betterment of all Pakistanis.

    Recommend

  • sabi
    Aug 15, 2012 - 5:04AM

    Author,
    “There is a fear, bordering at times on paranoia, in certain sections of our society that the US has plans to denuclearise Pakistan”. These certain sections are ghairat brigades of deep stat in pakistan who felt existantional threat from america and launched a comprehensive compaigne against allied forces to mislead the nation.Since ignorance prevails these groups succeded in keeping america away from them
    By the way why we need pile of nuclear bombs do we have mountains of golds or do we have all the potentials to become a super power or do we have substantional trade with the whole world with our ships plying on trade routs day and night and because of huge size of our economy we are dependant on all the energy sources any where in the world.If the answer is yes then we need nuclear weapons.
    Regards

    Recommend

  • Cautious
    Aug 15, 2012 - 5:10AM

    Taking away Pakistan nukes ranks right up there with other Muslim fantasies like the 911 conspiracies, invading Iraq for oil, and other anti American blather that doesn’t stand up to logic. If the USA was as obsessed with your nukes as many Pakistani’s believe they could readily destroy most of them as well as your ability to produce more nukes, delivery systems or just about anything else they chose. In short – if the USA determines that Pakistan is a credible threat then your nukes are the least of your concerns.

    Recommend

  • Vikas
    Aug 15, 2012 - 6:43AM

    Thanks for being in nuclear race with India. We beat you as we have got nuclear deal for fuel supply and you are left only with the bomb.
    But why you guys need nuclear fuel. You can run them on water

    Recommend

  • prashanth
    Aug 15, 2012 - 7:02AM

    A Q Khan’s nuclear Walmart came to light well before US’s nuclear treaty with India. That is part of the reason why Pakistan was denied a similar treaty. Bush said that India and Pakistan have different needs and so Pakistan cant get the treaty. That was a diplomatic way of saying “We don’t trust Pakistan”.Recommend

  • asim
    Aug 15, 2012 - 7:51AM

    The more serious issue is an economic default.The existing government got record loans from IMF/WB so total debts now stand at 120b$ plus (internal+external).
    Snatching nuclear assets by US is less likely, risky for the whole region and not possible also.Its a matter of life and death for pakistan.I think a consenses has been reached how to react in case of forcible possession.

    Recommend

  • Falcon
    Aug 15, 2012 - 8:07AM

    Writer is quite right in his assessment over the state of paranoia regarding nuclear weapons. Insiders like him talking more often about it will ease the nerves of the people.

    Recommend

  • John B
    Aug 15, 2012 - 8:11AM

    Even N. Korea stopped talking about N. Weapons, whereas in PAK the nukes appear to be bread and butter for all. The nukes are the biggest liability for PAK, from within. Please secure the naval bases, military compounds, high security jails, elected governors and ministers, the borders and the world will believe that PAK weapons are safe.

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Aug 15, 2012 - 8:56AM

    “Domestically, Pakistan’s nuclear programme has the full support of the military establishment, political and religious parties and scientific community and is perceived as a central pillar of the country’s security. “

    Great. So now Pakistani people feel secure – Correct

    Recommend

  • Prakash
    Aug 15, 2012 - 9:46AM

    Pakistan’s nuclear capability is essentially to countervail India’s nuclear power. It poses no threat to the US or any other country.
    A nuclear weapon likely to fall in terrorists’ hands is a threat to the entire world.

    Recommend

  • Hamood
    Aug 15, 2012 - 9:56AM

    @Cautious, Like the author said, knowledge is indestructible, we can make it again. May be you were reading a different article. US is not all powerful as evident from its defeats in Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan. What makes you think it will succeed in Pakistan where every civilian is armed?

    Recommend

  • Raw is War.
    Aug 15, 2012 - 10:04AM

    anyway Pakistan can get more of them from where they got it- China.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Aug 15, 2012 - 10:23AM

    A. The United States has been opposed to Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons from the very beginning and has even pursued coercive policies in this regard.

    B. It ignored Pakistan developing nuclear capability during the 1980s, when it was a key partner in supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan against the erstwhile Soviet Union

    As muddled as ever.

    A simpler narrative is that US encouraged and in fact bankrolled the Pakistani nuclear programme. Presidents of US kept on falsifying the reports of their own investigative organisations and kept on certifying that Pakistan has no nuclear ambitions.
    US became apprehensive when Pakistan started exporting nuclear technology to anti-US powers such as Libya and Iran.

    Recommend

  • Feroz
    Aug 15, 2012 - 10:27AM

    Pakistan has a large Jihadi community and a significant section of people who condone a violent form of Jihad. This section of sympathizers are fairly dispersed among the various arms of the State – Military, Bureaucracy, Politicians, Clergy, Judiciary and Police. Add to this many groups of non State actors patronized by the above state organs who have spread violence not only in the country but the region.
    When Nuclear arms are added to the above the cocktail is lethal needing just a spark to to set off a conflagration. A million debates can be held on irrelevant issues but we must understand that storing combustible fuel in an Arms depot is an recipe for disaster. Nuclear arms will keep the militant movement focused and motivated for a considerable period of time, to the detriment of common citizens.
    Lastly, a country that threatens to use its nuclear arsenal at the drop of a hat is unlikely to be trusted by the International community.

    Recommend

  • Sexton Blake
    Aug 15, 2012 - 11:12AM

    @Cautious:
    Dear Cautious,
    Why do you have to keep getting it wrong so often. The US/UK/NATO/ZION combo are cowardly and only attack countries who do not have the capability to attack back. Pakistan has that capability and America may try to bluff, but will not attempt to upset Pakistan any time soon. Try to get with it. Everybody knows that America is rapidly becoming a failed state.

    Recommend

  • Mozart
    Aug 15, 2012 - 1:20PM

    @Observer:
    India intervened in Sri Lankan civil war. India and Nepal have a pressure point in the form of Sikkim. India also has problems with Bangladesh and China. You will be able to find details if you care to do a little research on internet before you turn to Pakistan-bashing.

    @Pakistanis who blame Pakistan
    Pathetic!

    @author
    Our nukes, which are by the way imperative for Pakistan, face major threat from far-right and far-left groups of Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • antony
    Aug 15, 2012 - 3:16PM

    @sexton Baked , “America is rapidly becoming a failed state” …Well with the same scale can you measure pakistan and tell us where pakistan is ?

    Recommend

  • Lala Gee
    Aug 15, 2012 - 3:28PM

    @Mahmood:

    “May I propose a heretical thought: let is denuclearize voluntarily.”

    @Observer:

    “If Pakistan gives up its aggressive stance against India, it wouldn’t need its nukes.”

    You guys have amazing reasoning capabilities. Nukes are good for India, bad for Pakistan. Thanks but no thanks for your unsought advice. We know better what’s good for us.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Aug 15, 2012 - 3:40PM

    @Mozart

    India intervened in Sri Lankan civil war. India and Nepal have a pressure point in the form of Sikkim. India also has problems with Bangladesh and China. You will be able to find details if you care to do a little research on internet before you turn to Pakistan-bashing.

    And Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and Nepal and Sikkim all are somehow involved in Pakistani nuclear story?

    Pray, HOW???

    Recommend

  • Lala Gee
    Aug 15, 2012 - 3:42PM

    @Observer:

    “It has been Pakistan that has pursued a confrontational and aggressive strategy against India”

    Let’s Pakistan occupy some India territory and see if India still observes non-aggressive policy against Pakistan. We have seen how non-aggressive and non-preemptive India was during the Kargil and Siachen episodes, even in case of internationally accepted disputed areas. Concoction and fact twisting is a discipline Indians are the undisputed champions.

    Recommend

  • Aug 15, 2012 - 4:11PM

    @Lala Gee:

    Thats the beauty isn’t it. India is such a big power nobody dare question it.

    That is why big toys belong to big boys.

    Its not to say that the world did not punish India for moving material from the Canadian reactors, it did. They sanctioned India and set up NSG and NPT came into the picture.

    India got everything it wanted from the nukes- Security, Recognition, Power, Status and even Acceptance. The World recognising its folly even modified NSG guidelines and gave a waiver, so did the IAEA.

    Pakistan achieved none of the objectives. It thought it has prevented war with India, then Kargil happened. India was never interested in attacking Pakistan anyway so that was a dud from the start. Pakistan thought by investing in nukes will enable it to reduce its spending on conventional arms. We all know that didn’t happen and will not happen. Is Pakistan more secure? Not since Nukes have entered the picture, no!

    So, dude, I’ll say again, “Big toys belong to big boys”. When smaller countries get them, they turn into North Korea or, worse, Pakistan!!

    Great strategy to get the weapons, eh, @Lala Gee? lol

    Recommend

  • G. Din
    Aug 15, 2012 - 4:53PM

    @Lala Gee:
    “Let’s Pakistan occupy some India territory and see if India still observes non-aggressive policy against Pakistan. “
    Well, you tried it four times (which confirms Observer’s observation), you got the answer. India has never said that it will not defend its sovereignty unlike Pakistan which talks and talks and goes on talking about it as it keeps losing it in dribs and drabs everyday. The discussion here is about nukes. India has a “No first strike” policy. That does not mean when it has been struck, it will not retaliate in an equal manner. One nuclear strike and Pakistan becomes “neist-a-nabood”! Do not ever repeat the Ayub blunder of expecting India to desist from striking where it thinks it will hurt most! Do not also expect that we will have a petticoat PM for ever!

    Recommend

  • Sexton Blake
    Aug 15, 2012 - 7:06PM

    @antony:
    Dear antony,
    You seem to think, for some misguided reason, that America is not failing, and therefore has the capacity to fight wars against the big guys, something it has not done in the last 65 years. You explain it all to me why America is not failing. So far they have failed to win, for the last eleven years, against a bunch of hill-billies on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Another unimportant detail is that American banks have to be periodically rescued, the US Current Account deficit, in round terms, is about 160 trillion Pakistan Rupees, and the US overall debt is about 1,600 trillion Pakistan Rupees. These are just a few reasons or facts which affect my judgement on the matter, but they may help you. If you are not convinced please advise me and I will give a few more facts.

    Recommend

  • Lala Gee
    Aug 15, 2012 - 7:08PM

    @BruteForce:

    “Big toys belong to big boys”

    Well Pakistan is certainly bigger than Israel, but that is not the real point. Pakistan has proved what he is and doesn’t need recognition at least from India. The rest of your comment is all rants of a desperate person. We have witnessed the effectiveness of these ‘toys’ in 2002 when a million men posturing of your brave army turned into shameful retreat. Before that and just after ‘Operation Shakti’, we were contemptuously listening to the slogans of your ‘Hindutva’ leaders and the rants chanted by their followers to run down over Pakistan and teach us unforgettable lessons.

    Recommend

  • Lala Gee
    Aug 15, 2012 - 7:30PM

    @G. Din:

    “Well, you tried it four times …. and Pakistan becomes “neist-a-nabood”! Do not ever repeat the Ayub blunder of expecting India to desist from striking where it thinks it will hurt most! Do not also expect that we will have a petticoat PM for ever!”

    What a rhetoric? What a rant? Do you guys know anything else? We tried and got something in our first attempt now known as Azad Kashmir – remember POK, contrary to the Indian maps. However, you are right about Ayub and his blunder. Had he had accepted the Chinese offer in 1962 and not trusted the USA assurances, there would have been no issue of Kashmir today, and the region and the world would have been much better and peaceful place. The answer to the rest of your comment is preserved in the history logs of year 2002. However, there are no restrictions on dreams and no limits imposed on the level of desperation. So please keep doing what you are best at.

    Recommend

  • Sexton Blake
    Aug 15, 2012 - 8:33PM

    @Lala Gee:

    Dear Lala Gee,
    I could not have said it better. Keep up the good work.

    Recommend

  • G. Din
    Aug 16, 2012 - 5:39PM

    @Lala Gee:
    I am still waiting for the moderators to publish my response to you!

    Recommend

  • Cynical
    Aug 19, 2012 - 7:28PM

    @sabi

    Well argued.

    Recommend

More in Opinion