Today is May 28 – Youm-e-Takbeer - a fateful day for Pakistan. On this day in 1998 Pakistan successfully exploded six nuclear devices in a tit-for-tat response to India’s five nuclear explosions, which it had done a few days earlier. Any lingering doubts that Indian leadership had about Pakistan’s nuclear capability were laid to rest for good. In the security calculus of the two countries it had been the greatest equalizer. No longer could the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Indian Armed forces could threaten our security, as it once did so blatantly in breaking away our eastern wing.

This is the day to eulogise all those who made “Youm-e-Takbeer” possible. Both our civil and military leadership particularly the father of our Atom bomb, Dr. Qadeer Khan, deserve nation’s greatest gratitude. He will always be our national hero regardless of the indignity and the incarceration he was made to suffer by those who put self-interest above the national Interest.

India had a head start on us. It started perusing her nuclear ambitions since independence. It took India almost 27 years (of nuclear research &thievery) before its “peaceful nuclear explosions” in 1974. Dr. Qadeer Khan’s team started belatedly in 1976 in response to India’s nuclear challenge.

And it took, some say, just seven years for Pakistan to catch up. That showed the stuff Pakistanis are made off only if firm direction and support is provided by the civil and military leadership as it happened in this case.

Pakistan’s nuclear capability is a constant eye sour for India, Israel and the West – each for its own reasons. India and Israel even contemplated Air attack against Kahuta in 1980’s. I was heading the PAF’S Air Defence command at the time and was personally briefed by, Air Chief Marshal MA Shamim about the Indian and the Israeli Air forces joint plan to attack our nuclear complex at Kahuta. I was given specific instructions to make the Air Defence of Kahuta impregnable, as the top most priority. I met Dr. Qadeer Khan several times during that period and soon we had every Air Defence element from radar to high and low level missiles and fighters on alert to meet the Indo-Israeli challenge.

However, the Indian PM Indira Gandhi cancelled the plan at the eleventh hour to the extreme disappointment of the Israeli high command. She possibly had learnt that it was too late as Pakistan had already developed the nuclear device. Also, the head of our Atomic Energy Commission issued a stern warning to India that in case of any misadventure against Kahuta, Trombay – India’s nuclear facility near Bombay – would be decimated by the PAF in retaliation.

Today, by the grace of God and the efforts of our scientists and soldiers, Pakistan has a well-established nuclear capability along with necessary means of delivery. Now, India, Israel and the Western media, their Think Tanks and even some of their political leaders have resorted to spreading utterly malicious propaganda against the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets that they could fall in the wrong hands of “Jehadis”. They cite the turmoil in the country (to which they are the party and aiding, abetting the insurgency and militancy in Pakistan). USA has even put together a special force – reportedly based in Afghanistan - for the purpose of taking over/ neutralizing Pakistan’s nuclear assets, in case of such an eventuality.

It may be pertinent to mention that allowing India, a non signatory to NPT (non-proliferation treaty), to become member of the nuclear suppliers group and thus have access to nuclear fuel and dual purpose Technology (while denying it to Pakistan), America & the West, the so called standard-bearers of the “civilized world”, have indulged in the worst possible hypocrisy and have torn the NPT to shreds. It would allow India to rapidly stockpile its nuclear weapons and quite obviously be able to acquire the high             yielding “Hydrogen Bomb,” all presumably against China which is perceived as the West’s future rival. Yet, as in the past, the enhanced nuclear (and conventional) capability of India would always be deployed and employed against Pakistan. For India can never challenge China even in 1000 years.

The fact is that Pakistan had created a Nuclear Command Authority (three years ahead of India) and had put in place the strategic plan’s Division (under Lt. General Khalid Ahmed Kidwai) to plan, coordinate, and establish a fool proof command - control - communication and intelligence (Cᶟi) network to protect our nuclear assets. A strong force comprising thousands of Pak Army soldiers, trained for the purpose, had been deployed to safeguard the assets round the clock. So in spite of the incessant propaganda to the contrary, the nuclear assets of Pakistan are in absolutely safe hands.

Now, for credibility of the nuclear deterrence, first and foremost, the security of the assets would be ensured through hardened sites and wide dispersal and by developing second-strike capability. And for credible response, we must follow the Doctrine of “flexible response”. That is to have the capability to deal with variety of threats – from the low intensity Covert operations (as we have already witnessed in FATA & Baluchistan), to limited conventional war such as that at Siachin, to an all-out conventional war like the 1965 war, for which Pakistan must develop tactical nuclear weapons of sub-kiloton variety (if it has not already done so) to be used in the battle field against the superior odds. The ultimate strategic capability (counter city / counter force) should be the weapon of the last resort as it would end up in MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).

Variety of the means of delivery would further enhance the credibility of the deterrence. It would not only involve different ranges of missiles (preferably based on solid fuel for quick reaction) but also the types of missiles i.e. Ballistic VS cruise missiles, to defeat the enemy’s anti- missile system. Above all, be able to launch the nuclear weapons by land, Air and by sea especially by submarines. It would be well-nigh impossible to neutralize or to defend against such a widely dispersed force and variety of weapon systems which would threaten every major urban centre of the enemy mostly situated along the long and vulnerable coastline.

History is witness to the fact that freedom, peace with honour and prosperity can only be ensured through credible defence and deterrence. It would be well to remember that security and economic prosperity are the two sides of the same coin – inseparable and interdependent – one cannot be achieved without the other. n

The writer is a

retired Air Marshal.