In his impassioned speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Imran Khan, apart from presenting the gross human rights violations by India in Kashmir, raised the specter of a nuclear conflict. He maintained that India could attack Pakistan to divert attention from its inhuman clampdown.
It is debatable whether the Prime Minister or Pakistani officials should highlight the dangers of a nuclear exchange in the present context. For there is a view that it takes the focus away from Indian brutalities and suffering Kashmiris, to the dangers inherent for South Asia and the world if it were to occur. This is not to say that we should lower our deterrence capability or conventional readiness in any way.
The reason being, Pakistan would have pleaded the just cause of the Kashmiris irrespective of whether it was nuclear-armed or not. In fact, Pakistan has been advocating for the rights of the Kashmiris ever since independence and even fought the limited war in 1948, a full-fledged one in 1965 and serious military engagement in Kargil — all specific to Kashmir. The Kargil conflict took place while both countries were operationally nuclear-capable. It was the danger of a nuclear conflict that invited the United States’ intervention and president Clinton advised Pakistan to pull back its troops and militia so that the status quo is restored. Kargil turned out to be a serious setback for the Kashmir cause.
What we need to remind ourselves is that there are several classic examples where much smaller powers that had no nuclear capability not only defended their freedom but also triumphed against the nuclear-armed superpowers. Vietnam, in recent times, stands out, both against France and later against the United States. No doubt, victory came at a huge cost of lives but it showed that a superpower with the most advanced nuclear armoury was unable to defeat the spirit of the Vietnamese. Similarly, the Soviet Union had to retreat from Afghanistan despite the nuclear and conventional capability at its command. In fact, this acted as a trigger for the USSR’s ultimate collapse.
Cuba has been standing up to the United States resolutely and even the Bay of Pigs, a military invasion was undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in April 1961, failed to dislodge it. Cuba’s defiance is unmatched although it has come at a huge price. The resistance offered by the Afghan Taliban has compelled the United States to ultimately seek a negotiated settlement after 18 years of brutal conflict. The United States and Russia hold nearly 95% of the world’s nuclear arsenal, yet had to bend to the resistance offered by relatively medium and small developing countries.
For us, there is no better example than Pakistan, which was created through the will of its people who found expression in a mass movement. It was no less than a miracle that the strength of a unified people translated a dream into reality despite monumental odds. Our rulers and people generally fail to realise the agony and hardships the new nation had to initially bear.
In the historical context or while looking at the present situation, we find countries adopt different ways of strengthening their defence. Many countries rely on their conventional capability and resilience of their people to ward off aggression. Germany and Japan, after World War II, decided to be under the nuclear umbrella of the United States while focusing on a strong conventional capability and economic prosperity of their people. We also in the 1960s and 70s sought the umbrella of a defence pact with the United States. Certain countries like Finland strengthened their defence by opting to stay neutral. For the last three decades, India and Pakistan have acquired the nuclear capability to defend against their powerful adversaries.
The objective of referring to these conflicts and motivations for nuclear developments is to emphasise that there is much more than acquiring nuclear capability that is needed to defend one’s nation.
This is not to say that the Kashmiri struggle for freedom would be an easy task. India, apart from fielding nearly a million soldiers to subjugate the people, is using technology to monitor, seek out and clamp down on protesters. It is combining the crudest techniques with the latest technology to suppress the resistance movement and the news coming out of Kashmir. Social media in Kashmir and Pakistan has proven to be a powerful tool in partially breaking the Indian control of information. Pakistan should further step up the use of these mediums to bring Indian atrocities and the voice of the Kashmiri freedom struggle in the public eye.
For Pakistan, its close strategic partnership with China is a great asset and CPEC places it on a sound and durable foundation. The recent moves to win the confidence of the United States and assist it in its exit strategy from Afghanistan will add to its overall confidence and image.
Pakistan’s international image will have a significant bearing in garnering international support to counter India’s hostile posture. Prime Minister Khan has contributed to improving the country’s image. But his attitude towards opposition parties and the lack of interest in strengthening state institutions goes against building a firm political foundation for the country. There are short and long term effects of whittling down opposition leaders. The JUI’s protest movement and the prospect of the two major political parties joining arek unnerving the government and casting a shadow on how these developments will unfold. The government has threatened with the strategy of intimidation that will result in raids and arrests. Clearly, these happenings create uncertainty, affect economic growth and dampen prospects of foreign investment that Pakistan so desperately needs. Prime Minister Khan and the cabinet should realise that security; development issues and political stability are closely interlinked and need to be tackled simultaneously. Moreover, if our leaders want to build Pakistan into a modern state it has to be peaceful and not as chaotic and weak administratively. There is no space for authoritarianism and populist governance or for a chaotic opposition.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2019.