Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have a narrow security focus of protecting Pakistan’s national security and policy options against India’s superiority of conventional security apparatus, its flourishing nuclear weapons and the delivery system. Had India not opted for nuclear explosions and weaponization in May 1998, Pakistan was expected to continue with its policy of not going for nuclear explosion despite the fact that it had acquired nuclear weapon building capacity long before May 1998.
The competition between Pakistan and India is now taking a new turn. Of late, some of the BJP hard liners and the champions of ultra-nationalists belonging to the “Sangh Parivar” are talking of abandoning India’s No First Use nuclear policy. They want that India should not hesitate from a pre-emptive nuclear strike, if and when needed. Some of them have also toyed with the idea of reviving the Cold Start strategy against Pakistan. Pakistan’s policy makers never took India’s No First Use policy as a credible declaration. However, the attempt by religious extremists in India to influence its nuclear policy is a matter of grave concern.
Despite the limited agenda of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, India’s official and non-official circles and some western security analysts have traditionally attributed extended political agenda to Pakistan’s nuclear programme that went beyond India. This was a part of a diplomatic campaign against Pakistan in order to make sure that Pakistan was not acknowledged as a responsible nuclear weapons power. Pakistan was accused of working on an “Islamic Bomb” that would be made available to some Middle Eastern countries, jeopardizing the security of Israel. In the mid-1980s, there were media reports of a possible India-Israel joint air raid on Pakistan’s nuclear installations to destroy Pakistan’s programme before it produced a nuclear weapon. The clandestine nature of Pakistan of Pakistan’s nuclear programme was also targeted for criticism as if other countries produced a bomb through transparent programmes. Some analysts raised the question if they could trust Pakistan for possessing such a devastating power. In the post September 2001 period, there was a persistent propaganda that Pakistan’s nuclear installations could be penetrated by religious extremists or the Al-Qaeda people who could get weapons, fissile or radio-active material or take-over some nuclear installation. The United States applied first series of sanction on Pakistan in October 1990 on account of its nuclear programme.
Pakistan’s diplomatic and academic response to such propaganda could be divided in two phase. The First Wave of Pakistani response pertained to the pre-explosion (pre-1998) period. The response in this period was weak and slow, comprising articles published in journals/magazines and edited volumes. Two books by Akhtar Ali dealt with the dimensions of nuclear power rather than responding to international criticism of Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
The second wave of academic work on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme began to take shape soon after the explosions in May 1998. The initial articles focused on justifying Pakistan’s decision to go for nuclear explosions, including the debate on who deserved to claim greater credit for this achievement. Some concern was also expressed that India and Pakistan might get into bilateral competition in the nuclear domain that could complicate the management of strategic stability and diplomatic normalcy in the region. By the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, a good number of young scholars, based mostly in Islamabad, cropped up who published research papers, newspaper articles and political commentaries addressing different aspects of Pakistan’s nuclear programme as well as provided a spirited defence of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile delivery system. Most of these writings were characterized by homogeneity of arguments and responses to questions raised by non-Pakistani analysts about Pakistan’s nuclear programme.
Several books and monographs were published by Pakistani analysts. However, only three books deserve a special mention because these make a valuable attempt not only to provide a historical overview of Pakistan’s journey on road to nuclearization but also link their studies with the diversified theoretical formulations and global discourse on nuclear weapons. Feroz Hassan Khan’s book entitled “Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb” (2012) is a remarkable contribution to the study of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Two books have been published by Dr. Naeem Salik. These are “Genesis of South Asian Nuclear Deterrence: Pakistan’s Perspective” (2009) and “Learning to Live with the Bomb: Pakistan: 1998-2016” (2017). One may not share all the narrative and findings of the books, their academic excellence in terms of arguments, comparative analysis and documentation makes them valuable contributions. Naeem Salik’s latest book “Learning to Live with the Bomb: Pakistan’s Experience” (2017) makes a singular contribution by undertaking a critical and comprehensive review of how Pakistan learnt over the years the handling of different aspects of nuclear weapons capability. He is right to assert that the learning experience is a graduated process and it is non-uni-linear in nature. He talks about 8 nuclear learning typologies and that 4 types of elite are expected to learn. They include military, political leadership, civilian bureaucracy, academics/security analysts. This learning manifests in the change in their disposition towards the issues of nuclear security as well as the setting up of institutions and processes for articulation of the nuclear doctrine and policy measures, command and control and management of several other aspects of nuclear weapons.
Pakistan has demonstrated strong learning in nuclear safety and security arrangements for securing weapons, fissile and radioactive material and nuclear installations from terrorists groups and unauthorized or miscalculated use. Similarly, Pakistan has strengthened export control for nuclear related material and created an elaborate nuclear regulatory arrangements in the form of laws and regulations, institutional arrangements and strong monitoring and control institutions and processes. All these arrangements enabled Pakistan’s Advisor on Foreign Policy, Sartaj Aziz, to reiterate in an international seminar on March 14, 2017, Pakistan’s commitment to work with the international community “to ensure that the nuclear weapons do not get into the wrong hands of hostile non-state actors.”
Whereas Pakistan can confidently claim that its external security has been strengthened by learning to address all aspects of its nuclear programme. However, nuclear weapons by them do not necessarily ensure the resolution of entrenched political problems. There is now a stalemate like situation with reference to the major problems between India and Pakistan, especially the Kashmir issue Therefore, the new third wave of the literature on Pakistan’s nuclear programme and national security must focus on two inter-related issues. First, how Pakistan can strengthen its diplomacy and build a soft image at the global level in order to generate enough diplomatic pressure for resolving the major problems between India and Pakistan. The role of positive and active diplomacy increases after the assumption of nuclear weapons.
Second, the policy makers and security analysts need to recognize that nuclear weapons are not relevant to addressing some internal security issues, i.e. extremism and terrorism, internal political disharmony and socio-economic inequities. The states possessing nuclear weapons will have to address these areas of internal security and strengthen societal resilience in order to secure the state. Nuclear weapons alone do not address these two sets of issues. The third wave of nuclear and security scholarship must focus on articulating solutions to these internal problems. This will contribute to increasing Pakistan’s confidence as a nuclear weapon state.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. He is also the author of several books, monographs and articles on Pakistan and South Asian affairs. A version of this piece appeared in the Express Tribune.