‘The bomb’ and ‘the weak state’

Published: February 11, 2012

We made the bomb because we felt ‘weak’ in the face of India. Peace, we thought would come from a mutually balanced threat called deterrence. But events show that since we became ‘nuclear’ in 1998, we have become more insecure. Our relations with India have deteriorated. Also, the world is more scared of our bomb than India’s.

What is odd is that we, too, are scared of our bomb. We think America and India, in tandem with shadowy Israel, will try and ‘take it out’. India, against whom we made it, is less scared of it than the world. The world thinks that al Qaeda and its minions, the Taliban, will get hold of it.

An excellent brave book titled Nuclear Pakistan: Strategic Dimensions, Edited by Zulfiqar Khan (OUP 2011) showcases our expert understanding of the bomb and the implications of having it. Editor Zulfiqar Khan says: “India being the strongest country in the region would naturally look forward to maximise its share in the world affairs, which as a result would increase the weaker state — Pakistan’s insecurity and vulnerability against India” (p 29).

The confession that Pakistan as the weak state will become weaker after India gets international stature doesn’t focus on the many non-nuclear countervailing options available to the so-called weak states. Instead, my favourite scholar Zafar Iqbal Cheema warns: “The minimum credible deterrence posture needs to be re-examined against organisational flaws, ideational incongruities, escalatory pressures, instability syndrome, risks of being technologically outpaced and the adversary’s strategic responses: all of which may unilaterally or cumulatively impinge upon its future functioning, adequacy and credibility” (p 76). He is actually saying: give up!

How do weak states survive? You can answer this question effectively if rivalry is not the irreducible option. The Cold War nuclear confrontation led to the breakup of the Soviet Union. The rivalry was mutually exclusive despite rational governments on both sides. Soviet economic collapse ensured collapse of confrontation. Will that happen in South Asia too?

When an IG police explains terrorist attacks in Lahore as work of the CIA, Mossad and RAW, he is touching base with the following observation: “India’s strategic partnership with the United States has a definite impact on Pakistan’s posture of minimum credible deterrence. What began as minimum credible a decade ago may not be credible tomorrow” (p 78).

Since the bomb is de facto in the domain of the army, ‘slavery’ can be removed by preventing the elected government from embracing such ‘enslaving’ instruments as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid legislation. But we are unsafe not only by being slaves: “India, Israel and the US have strategic partnerships under the framework of which they might undertake combined pre-emptive operations. [There are no security plans] against military operations that might originate from the south-western side” (p 78).

Zafar Nawaz Jaspal warns: “The Indian ballistic missile defence system that is sized and structured to negate the Pakistani nuclear deterrence would shrink not only the zone of cooperation between the belligerent neighbours, but also trigger the dangerous arms race between them” (p 112). Can we understand the threat from Jamaatud Dawa against the MFN status to India in the light of this predicted breakdown of cooperation?

Is our bomb Islamic or is it a Kashmir Bomb? A very perceptive Shaheen Akhtar writes: “The recurrent crises in the wake of the India-Pakistan nuclear tests show that there is a deep linkage between the Kashmir conflict and deterrence stability between India and Pakistan” (p 151).

Muhammad Khursheed Khan anticipates the coming reductio ad absurdum of our bomb by saying: “The NPT is at a crossroads: failing to address current challenges could catalyse contagious acceleration of reliance on nuclear threats and acquisitions of nuclear capabilities among states and non-state actors alike, dramatically increasing the risk of its use” (p 257).

The concept of the ‘weak state’ comes to the fore in the book. It is obvious that a weak state-with-a-bomb still remains weak in the conflictual paradigm. How does a weak state become weak? The answers are many, including flaws of the political system, including an ideological state that flounders on the way to becoming totalitarian.

Since we feel closer to the Arabs, will Arab money then remove our ‘weakness’ and make our bomb effective? Or is it wiser to normalise relations with India through free trade without letting go of Kashmir and without letting go of the bomb but securing it against the non-state actors?

Weakness is felt by those who think in terms of combat. Weakness can be removed through economic activity too. And that can be ensured if we get rid of the non-state actors who scare away our own and external capital. Juxtaposition of the bomb and non-state actors is more dangerous than radioactivity.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • faraz
    Feb 11, 2012 - 11:18PM

    I supported the nuclear bomb technology believing that the drama of external security threats will come to an end once and for all. But the propagandists keep cooking up new fantastic conspiracy theoriesRecommend

  • Talha
    Feb 11, 2012 - 11:31PM

    These nuclear bumbs area a curse, lets sell them to other countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Libya etc.

    The money raised can be used for education and modernization of Pakistan.

    I can guarantee that India would never invade Pakistan, it does not have the intention, nor the capability to deal with an aggressive and broken neighbor.


  • Socrates
    Feb 12, 2012 - 12:12AM

    Interesting analysis. Well said overall.


  • Javed
    Feb 12, 2012 - 1:05AM

    Very well put as usual. Thanks


  • Cynical
    Feb 12, 2012 - 1:22AM

    “Weakness is felt by those who think in terms of combat.”
    Well said. That’s why India is always scared of Pakistan.


  • Javed
    Feb 12, 2012 - 1:29AM

    You just proved the author’s point. Thanks


  • Max
    Feb 12, 2012 - 2:39AM

    Manmohan Singh is a man of peace and is not given to bellicose policies. But this could change, when he is replaced by government of hawks. This could easily happen, and this could bring about a situation of confrontation. Then there will be a stalemate between the two States, and possibly leading to an all out war. What is desperately needed now is for the Pakistan Army and ISI to come down to earth and become an instrument of the State and not the other way around.


  • M. Suleman Shahid
    Feb 12, 2012 - 2:49AM

    True we must concentrate on our economic growth, but if we give up the bomb then can we get rid of extremists or terrorists? what are the linkages between non-state actors and bomb? is it directly proportional that if we make bomb then NSA will be created? if yes, how? will they grab it? no way


  • Zeta
    Feb 12, 2012 - 5:41AM

    Its the bomb keeping india at her limits, otherwise there would have been plenty of more wars


  • Feb 12, 2012 - 5:59AM

    The book is full of lies… Read Indus to Oxus by Zaid Hamid to know all the “truths” you would like


  • A.Raja Rao
    Feb 12, 2012 - 8:46AM

    An article which fleshes out a scenario as to what would have happened if Pakistan did not have the bomb would be interesting to read.


  • Wasil Arien
    Feb 12, 2012 - 8:57AM

    The creation of Pakistan was based on an ideology underscored by Hinduphobia. It is the raison d’etre for its existence and root cause of all the problems real and imagined marring the relations between these two countries. If Pakistan let go Hindophobia its ideological foundation is likely to collapse, as such it will continue to cling to the same for some more time. Pakistanis may delusively perceive and proclaim to be a formidable adversary of India but real strength past and present pre and post nuclear deterrent remains feeble . Under such circumstances the improvement in relations starting with trade can is the only way for Pakistan to loosen up the mindset and eradicate Hinduphobia.causing it so many sufferings.


  • Zalim singh
    Feb 12, 2012 - 9:03AM

    @ Khales sir,

    good article. your observation: India, against whom we made it, is less scared of it than the world is really valid. Nobody here cares how many bombs Pakistan holds. We are not into neuclear arms race with your country. 100+ atomic weapons are not nescessaty. A couple of good ones will bring the world to a standstill.


  • PS
    Feb 12, 2012 - 9:39AM

    You missed the whole point. Just read the first line again.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Feb 12, 2012 - 10:05AM

    Having the most nuclear bombs could not save the erstwhile Soviet Union. The weight of its military machine, not the threat from neighbors destroyed it. India is by far the cleverer State because it knows that Pakistan will keep spending more and more of its resources to match its defense spending. Nice and effective way of making Pakistan bankrupt without firing a single bullet. History would have taught Pakistan not to follow the path of the Soviet Union, but emotion has won over Wisdom. Hope the bankruptcy of ideas does not lead to a Bankruptcy of the State.


  • Abid Saleem
    Feb 12, 2012 - 10:50AM

    Cynical….a true cynical is cynic of every concept if you got near Diogenes.(the cynic)..while your comment suggest you take the national line, hook, line and sinker.i.e honour and brave nation.


  • Jat
    Feb 12, 2012 - 11:33AM

    A bit over-simplistic – what about the close proximity of population centres – and what about the tendency of the weaker state to follow “use it or lose it”. Another strange observation of the author is “wiser to normalise relations with India through free trade without letting go of Kashmir and without letting go of the bomb “.

    As an Indian, let me assure you there will be no normalization of relations without letting go of both. The way to peace lies with the weaker state (which is India as per many enlightened Pakistanis), to strive for mutual defense and no-war pacts (as equals).

    My own understanding of the whole situation is, that Pakistan has already lost half of its nation and it will lose the rest if it does not change the policy it has followed for the last six decades. It is a one-way downward slide from here on. You have been forewarned !


  • Altaf Hussain, Mumbai
    Feb 12, 2012 - 12:47PM

    “Weakness is felt by those who think in terms of combat.”
    Well said. That’s why India is always scared of Pakistan.

    So true. That is why all nuclear weapon sites of India are well marked and monitored, whereas Pakistan needs to keep their nuclear weapon sites more secret than the holy grail.


  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Feb 12, 2012 - 12:51PM

    Pak’s bomb was supposed to make it secure.
    But now, Pak’s insecure about the bomb itself!!


  • Falcon
    Feb 12, 2012 - 1:21PM

    Agree with the thesis of the article. Furthermore, I also feel that Pakistan is facing another issue of over-commitment syndrome; which is when a group of people realize they are going to lose by following a specific path, they continue to burn more resources into it hoping to turn around the situation and being egoistic enough not to realize that more can be saved by stopping today than stopping tomorrow. As a whole, we need to re-define security. Military technology based deterrence paradigm is an outdated concept in the age of globalized economies.


  • Feb 12, 2012 - 2:11PM

    Powerful states derive power and prestige from the bomb, the weaker ones only derive instability and isolation. Pakistan is the only Country which protects the bomb than the other way around.

    Soviet Union collapsed even though it had thousands of bombs. North Korea is considered backward, poor and a failed state even though it has better war machinery than Pakistan.

    Soviet Union derived power out of its bomb but failed to capitalize on that strength and neglected its economy and internal fissures. Hence, it collapsed.

    North Korea on the other hand, being a weak state, cannot derive any sort of strength from its bomb, just like Pakistan. It is sanctioned and isolated from the World and is broadly considered a failed state. Well, so is Pakistan!

    You need to have stability and be among the top economies in the World to truly get an advantage with Nuclear Weapons. Smaller states and economically inconsequential states like North Korea and Pakistan will suffer when they acquire technology that they are not ready to digest..


  • wonderer
    Feb 12, 2012 - 2:15PM

    A very well researched and very well written article; full of wisdom and good advice.

    It should be a must-read for all army officers and bureaucrats.

    I wonder if, in Pakistan, such an article will get the reception it deserves. I am sure Indians will learn a lot.


  • Riaz Khan
    Feb 12, 2012 - 2:49PM

    Excellent article! Well done Khalid.


  • Feb 12, 2012 - 6:31PM

    Khalid Saheb,preaching to the choir.All who understand Geo-politics understand nuclear weapons are useless without political,economic and the will and clear scenario under which their use is contemplated and the political will to use it.Any one who witnessed the collapse of USSR is well familiar with them.The present day situation in the state of Pakistan is today as worse if not more.Parallel also very similar.Then what is way out?There are many logical way out of the log jam.But,for any one of them to succeed ,there has to be a political edifies in place with clear road map which ,the country must understand and follow.For best of circumstances for it to bear fruits,the first criteria is clear and concise support of the people and next is time factor,in brief,64 years of unremitting,unyielding hostility can not be wished away by good will declaration ,however sincere.I do not think,it is either possible,or probable,in near future for either Pakistan or India,in fact with next general election in India,I’m afraid it will get worse,in all probability.I have a reasonable knowledge of Hindu/Muslim history,I base entirely on situation on ground never on illusion,delusion or emotion never on baseless concept of’Bhaichara”(we are brothers,cut from same cloth etc,etc) but on cold facts of national interest and well being.Mr Jinnah was 100* right when he demanded clear and on writing safe guards for Muslim community and separate nation,but what got screwed up was inability of right policy by and large by Pakistan,India merely reacted to what Pakistan dished out,this is a fair assessment,few nuances apart.The die is still cast,bad tiding for both.No clear way out,very pessimistic,but I’m not given to self deception, nor any one should be.A very few have clarity,but Khalid Janab is mostly right.


  • Harry Stone
    Feb 13, 2012 - 12:45AM


    That is just plain silly. If PAK does not invade India then surely India would never invade PAK because it would serve no purpose. The only thing India and the rest of world wants from PAK is to stop being a base for terrorism. To accomplish this you do not need nuclear weapsons.


  • Ahmed H Khan
    Feb 13, 2012 - 8:50AM

    Excellent analysis of West’ thinking regarding Pak Atomic Bomb. Khaled, wishful thinking that Arab Nations will remove Pakistan’s weakness, because they are closer to India and West than
    Supporting Pakistan. I agree, financially stable Pakistan will be Respected with more safe foreign investments.


  • Zalmai
    Feb 14, 2012 - 2:15AM

    @Zaid Hamid
    You are a troll for reading your namesake. Indus to Oxus…you make me laugh.


  • wasim
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:16PM

    @Harry Stone:
    Been there done that, what did Pakistan gained from Aman KI Aasha and other peace initiatives, they were all unilateral steps and Pakistanis haven’t seen any reciprocity from the other side, there has been active support of Baloch groups from India, the Afghan insurgents who every now and then launch there activities inside Pakistan are getting trained in India. On economic front we opened our economy for Indian imports gave it MFN status but the other side is not even willing to play a cricket match. On the military front while we are told to disarm but the other side is actively pursuing the deadliest of weapons from all corners of the world.
    Time has ran out for Aman ki Aasha it has become a Nirasha and Indians will regret it the most.


  • Dr Jamil Chaudri
    Mar 4, 2012 - 5:56AM

    ET is essentially trying to undermine the resolve the Paki people. Look at the way it publishes articles from people against Pakia being a Nuclear Power. Are there no Pakis or friends of Pakia who hold opposing views? Is ET not aware of the fact that journalistic fairness requires it to give voice to views that favour Nuclear Defence for Pakia.
    I am a Paki-American, if ET wants I could write an article favouring advancement in Paki Nuclear Efforts.


  • Irshad Khan
    Mar 12, 2012 - 9:46PM

    Indians are not fools to invade us and capture any part of Pakistan as their forces can not face our militant and tribal society till dooms day and will loose every thing what ever they have achieved. Why do we spend so much money on bombs and arsenals?


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