Britain has a tradition of ‘diaries’ in which former public office holders reveal the big secrets that remained hidden during their tenures. A communications director of former prime minister Tony Blair in 2001, Alastair Campbell, has revealed in his diaries titled The Burden of Power that during a dinner in Islamabad, a five-star Pakistani general told him that Pakistan “could launch a nuclear strike on India within eight seconds”.
This happened in October 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the US, and the writer got this gem at a dinner flanked by two Pakistani generals who harangued him on the atrocities unleashed by India in Kashmir, “killing their own people and trying to blame freedom fighters”. The book notes that “they were pretty convinced that one day there would be a nuclear war because India, despite its vast population and despite being seven times bigger, was unstable and determined to take them (nukes) out”.
Thinking that the British politicians would be meeting the Indians too, the talkative Pakistani general asked Campbell to tell the Indians that “it takes us eight seconds to get the missiles over”. This kind of bravado can only be understood as a psychological episode assaulting the Pakistani military-mind after the Kargil operation in which General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and his cohorts had been trounced by India, throwing Pakistan into an isolationist trough in the world, which Mushrarraf could climb out only by assenting to be a partner in the UN-mandated invasion of Afghanistan.
This was October 2001. In December, an attack was staged on the Indian parliament, killing seven people. India put the blame — and the world nodded in agreement — on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad groups for the assault. Pakistan cannot forget those days and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif continues to keep the memory alive by telling the nation how he as prime minister was close to reaching a peace deal with his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee when then army chief scuttled it by misbehaving with Mr Vajpayee.
There was a time when Indian and Pakistani generals thought it was good for the health of the two nations to be hurling threats at each other. There are still ‘security first’ analysts who think that the Pakistan military should, as a routine, threaten India with destruction. But the environment in south Asia has changed — and it includes India — for the consideration of those who think that the latter has not reconciled to the existence of Pakistan. The change has come, not only in the Indo-Pak equation, but also with New Delhi’s relations with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The threat now is from Afghanistan and it is not India that will threaten Pakistan from Kabul.
Pakistan is threatened from within and it is not Israel, India and the US who are working in tandem to undo it. If that were the case, we would be much worse off than we are. The state in Pakistan is receding from the people it is supposed to serve. The people are suffering, not because of any Indian threat, but because of an energy crisis that afflicts India equally but not to the same extent. Institutional decay and dangerously diminishing service delivery is pushing the common man to suicide; and it is not because of what India is doing to people in Kashmir but what we are doing to the people of Pakistan.
Despite possessing the nuclear bomb, we are hardly better off than the non-nuclear neighbours of India. In fact, we are worse off because of the obligation of preventing the nukes from falling into the wrong hands and — and if our spooks are to be believed — from being “taken out” by the Americans. There is a real threat, despite our denials, that the terrorists led by al Qaeda and the Taliban might get to them in their pursuit of world domination. Whoever it was in 2001 who delivered the threat of nuclear strike in India in “eight seconds” must now be realising that nuclear weapons are finally of no use.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2012.
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