BY S.M. Hali
May 28, 1998 was a Red Letter Day for Pakistan, because on this day, at 3:16 pm it crossed the nuclear threshold becoming the world’s 7th nuclear power and the first nuclear weapons state in the Islamic World. Perhaps Pakistan’s nukes would have remained in the closet if the Indians had not tested their nuclear devices first on May 11, 1998 and then in a fit of euphoria assumed that Pakistan did not possess the bomb hence taunted it with jingoistic saber-rattling, thus forcing its hand. During the 17 days following the Indian tests, The US President Bill Clinton tried his best to deter Pakistan from conducting the tests, offering incentives as well as threats. The incentive package comprised the repeal of the Pressler Amendment and releasing $600 million dollars worth of F-16 fighter-bombers that Pakistan had ordered and paid for but never received; additionally, financial assistance was offered. The threats encompassed the imposition of a total embargo like that imposed on India, but it was envisaged that Pakistan, with a more fragile economy would not be able to sustain the sanctions.
Credit goes to the Pakistani political leadership that despite the intimidation and cajoling by the US, it remained steadfast in conducting the nuclear tests. Pakistan had been facing pressure due to its nuclear programme since its inception. As early as 1979, the United States cut off aid to Pakistan under section 669 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA) on the plea that Pakistan had broken the taboo of going nuclear and had secretly begun construction of a uranium enrichment facility. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan changed the circumstances and aid to Pakistan was restored since the US needed Pakistan as an ally to defeat the USSR in Afghanistan. Throughout the1980s, there were various reports in the international media, discrediting Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Israel, India and elements in the US joined forces to criticise and target Pakistan. During the same period, the book “Islamic Bomb” and a BBC documentary by the same title were released, citing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons endeavour.
The US government continued to turn a blind eye due to its strategic need of Pakistan. In 1985 the Pressler Amendment [section 620E(e) of the Foreign Assistance Act] was approved by US government, necessitating a total cut-off of US aid to Islamabad unless the US President can certify that Pakistan does not possess a nuclear weapon, and that continued US aid will significantly decrease the probability of its developing one in the future. President Reagan and his successor, Bush (senior) continued providing the requisite waiver, but the moment the USSR was routed from Afghanistan, the US government slapped the Pressler Amendment, imposing embargos on Pakistan.
The Indian nuclear tests, euphemistically called “Pokhran-II” and Pakistan’s tit for tat tests have exposed the entire South Asian region to the horrors of a nuclear holocaust but also Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability has deterred Indian adventurism contributing to détente in the Sub-Continent.
Pakistan’s scientists and defence planners must be credited that in spite of India’s head start; they caught up and perhaps surpassed it in developing nukes. The paradox of nuclear weapons is that being a weapon of mass destruction, it is abhorred by peace loving nations, who quote the devastation and havoc wreaked by the US bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet opt for nukes as a deterrent.
The Occident and India, not forgiving Pakistan for committing the cardinal sin of acquiring nukes, heaped further sanctions on it when Pakistan indulged in Kargil adventurism and later when General Musharraf removed the democratically elected Mian Nawaz Sharif and usurped the seat of power. Pakistan’s status changed overnight with 9/11 and General Musharraf’s complete submission to the US. When the going got tough for the allies in Afghanistan, pressure started mounting on Pakistan to “Do More”; one of the leverages being used was Pakistan’s nukes. First it was the disclosure of nuclear proliferation through “Khan Network”, followed by a media tirade on the security of Pakistan’s nukes and the threat they posed if they fell in the grasp of terrorists, followed by organised and well choreographed attacks on Pakistan’s defence installations like the GHQ, Naval War College, Air Force facilities and most recently, PNS Mehran.
There is method in the madness because Pakistan has traversed this route earlier. Using the “Khan Network” as a millstone around Pakistan’s neck, pressure has been applied whenever the need arose to blackmail Pakistan into submission and action. According to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the five officially declared nuclear weapon states US, Russia, UK, France and China are signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Four more states, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea, have developed nuclear weapons outside the treaty. Iran has a nuclear power programme, which is alleged to hide a nuclear weapons programme. South Africa destroyed its nuclear weapons in 1991, while Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, inherited nukes from USSR but surrendered them to Russia under US/UN pressure. To further pressurize Pakistan, the 123 Agreement was signed between the US and India to provide India civil nuclear energy but the same was denied to Pakistan citing Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation case as an excuse. Two wrongs do not make a right but the fact is that nearly all the world’s nuclear powers have the origins of their nuclear capability shrouded in proliferation, technical know how bought clandestinely or stolen from others. Indian nuclear scientists Doctors YSR Prasad and Surendar Chaudhry under close watch of the IAEA, following sanctions imposed by US State Department for their provision of nuclear know how to Iran are specific examples of Indian nuclear proliferation. Yet it is Pakistan’s nuclear programme that faces slander. One of the nightmare scenarios painted in the western media, egged on by the combined Indian-Jewish lobby is Pakistan being over-run by terrorists, who would get access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and pose a major threat to the world. They forget that nuclear weapons are not Rugby balls that one would pluck it and carry in one’s arms pit. Many state of the art high class technologies are involved in their construction as well as their employment mode/trigger mechanism. Their employment necessitates sophisticated training and competence hence rustic and semiliterate Taliban/Al-Qaeda launching these sophisticated and state of the art artefacts should be precluded.
Pakistan’s Nuclear Command Authority through its Strategic Plans Division, undertakes measures for the safety and security of strategic assets including: development of a strategic C4I2SR; over watch and regulates the movement of its scientific manpower through Personnel Reliability and Human Reliability Programs; weekly, monthly and quarterly intelligence reports; sensitive material control and accounting; transportation security and specialist vehicles; two man rule, codes and Permissive Action Links (PALs). This infrastructure rules out any doubts regarding the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
Raking up old issues and flogging the dead horse of “Dr. Khan-network” is an old ploy and will not help the western propaganda machinery to discredit Pakistan’s nuclear programme and force it to roll it back. A country like Pakistan that has sacrificed so much to develop its nukes is also capable of defending them. Pakistan’s nukes are here to stay despite the machinations of its detractors.n