There is something very falsely mawkish and diabolically insensitive about celebrations and chest-beating at the end of a week which suffered multiple terrorist attacks, including one on an important naval base. The venue was Lahore on May 28 and the cause for this sloppy jubilation was the Yaum-e-Takbir, i.e. the anniversary of the ‘Islamic atomic bomb’. A disgracefully and wilfully ignored anniversary falling on the same day was the wanton murder committed in the Ahmadi places of worship, one year ago. The irony here is agonising. If there is one item that brings moral and political certainty in the otherwise grim flux, it is the bomb. The bomb allows for a complete suspension of reason across the political spectrum. The ritualistic solidity of the opinion regarding the bomb is completely apt at some level, given its theological nature. Revelry regarding an instrument of mass destruction, which can kill millions of people in a matter of seconds, defies rationality and decency.
It is evidently imbecilic to ascribe a religion to an inanimate object. Yet, at some level, the bomb is anything but inanimate. It has the ability to violently and explosively kill millions, and that, too, indiscriminately. The technology, at this point, is such so as not to permit the bomb to make the distinction between potential victims on the basis of age, sex, gender and, ironically, religion. Hence, we have miniature versions of the Islamic bomb on an almost daily basis, maniacs blowing themselves up without discrimination. To concede that the atomic bomb is a terrible idea has become treasonous. There is practically no argument about the rationale of the bomb (barring the sparkling examples of Dr Hoodbhoy and very few others). The buoyancy with which the use of the bomb is generally discussed in our national discourse is bizarre.
The primary argument for the existence of the bomb is that India did it first and hence left us with no option. It is absolutely unjustified for any country to possess these hideous weapons. And it was incredibly stupid of India to conduct tests, but we should have been able to resist the temptation of stooping to their level and conducting the corresponding explosion, and then some more by baptising the bomb as ‘Islamic’. Our military experts and their hawkish friends in the intelligentsia have made the argument of ‘nuclear deterrence’ and the utter indispensability of the bomb very vehemently and consistently, the only problem with the argument is that it is not really an argument. It is an argument which does not allow for a counterargument, i.e. it is an argument designed to survive all reason and evidence. And anyone opposing the sacred bomb is likely to be labeled as a foreign intelligence operative. The case against the bomb is beautifully simple, you cannot use it without being annihilated, hence its only utility is in the event of a mass, state-level suicide bombing.
Freud believed the visualisation of guns to have a direct and inverse relationship with a man’s potency. Hence, the more inadequate a man felt; the bigger and meaner the gun would be in his dreams. He loosely termed the phenomena as a ‘phallic complex’. Pakistan suffers from a phallic complex of an unprecedented proportion in history. The immeasurable inadequacies are offset by the possession of a vulgarly outsized gun. We are paranoid that the world covets our bomb, since at a subconscious level we are terrified at the prospect of facing up to our poverty, militancy, and ignorance, which we will be compelled to, once the gun is taken away. The obsession with our apocalyptic weaponry falling in the hands of the messianic forces is excruciatingly sardonic. We are now left to guard with paranoia the object whose only ostensible utility was to defend us, so much for the deterrence argument.
The reluctance of the supposedly liberal to attack and confront this visible absurdity is probably due to some furtive, ingrained notion of ‘patriotism’. This is a particularly salient example of letting an atrociously inane argument go unexamined because it is garbed in ‘national security’. In my opinion, it is shamefully unpatriotic to allow for a weapon capable of exterminating ‘us’, within our midst. We compel ourselves to love an object that is designed to hurt us; this is the very definition of sadomasochism. To glorify an apparently pedestrian scientist and more significantly a self-confessed thief, an exposed trickster now pathetically seeking to recant as a fractious juvenile, is dishonorable. Words like ‘national hero’ have been cheapened by overuse.
Orwell in his essay You and the atomic bomb, observed that since the atomic bomb was not something as cheap and easily manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, but rather a costly object, similar to a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a ‘peace that is no peace’. This is applicable to Pakistan with remarkable precision. The bomb has brought misery, not peace. Orwell’s other point about the pricey nature of the bomb is also relevant. The bomb is like the generals in Pakistan in many ways, i.e. they are expensive to make, even more expensive to maintain and once made, not easy to get rid of. Hence, even if we need to make our ‘peace’ with the bomb’s existence for now, we at least have to subjugate it to democratic control.
A question conspicuous by its absence on this discreditable anniversary, immediately following the Abbottabad and Mehran base incidents, is why shouldn’t parliament control our nuclear weapons. One is compelled to refer to Georges Clemenceau’s statement, almost a cliche now, that “war is too important to be left to the generals”, especially to those with records of irresponsibility. The reluctance and inability to have that debate is as significant and telling as whatever the substantive conclusions may be. The military establishment cannot and should not be allowed to play God and decide the timing of the Armageddon.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2011.