Going nuclear came at a cost for Pakistan(Ten Years On)

May 11th, 2008 - 10:53 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif
By Zofeen T. Ebrahim
Karachi, May 11 (IANS) Weighing the implications of the nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan 10 years ago, many experts believe that while they may have contributed to stabilising bilateral relations somewhat, Islamabad still continues to pay a price for it. Pointing out that the two South Asian countries witnessed a new balance of power in 1998, Lahore-based defence analyst Hassan Askari-Rizvi says: “Nuclear weapons have given greater confidence to the Pakistani security establishment and, to a great extent, neutralised India’s superiority in conventional defence.”

But he adds that it has also “contributed to increasing internal insecurities for Pakistan” and lower spending on human development.

Physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy told IANS: “Our nukes have given us the ability to destroy India, but that’s about it.

“While we slowly regress, India forges ahead in science, space and computer technology, industry, education, governance, social mobilisation, nation-building, and international outreach.”

Back in May 1998, India carried out the first three tests May 11 and then two more May 13, leaving the world stunned. Not to be cowed down, and to show its own nuclear prowess, then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif told the nation he had “settled the score” with India by carrying out an equal number of explosions.

Sharif blamed India for pushing Pakistan “into this position” and said it had to carry out the exercise to protect itself.

Ten years on, the nuclear programme no longer remains an irritant in Pakistan-US relations, says Askari-Rizvi, because “counter-terrorism has become the most salient issue”.

The US, however, seems more worried about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Hoodbhoy says: “The US has accepted India’s nukes, not ours! The world is terrified of Pakistan’s nukes going loose and rightly so too. It is quite possible that some day the jehadists will seize the nuclear weapons or nuclear materials.”

A.H. Nayyar, a peace activist and a physicist, agrees: “In the year 2008, Pakistan stands miffed because the world seems ready to recognize India as a nuclear weapon state, not Pakistan. The lead in this case is being taken by the US, a staunch ally of Pakistan. It is ready to grant India the coveted status, albeit in a veiled way, but not to Pakistan.”

So what has Pakistan gained by going nuclear?

“For a while Pakistan’s reputation shot up internationally. More accurately, many thought it did. The assumption was that a big stick commands respect. This is false, and the gain was strictly temporary,” says Hoodbhoy, giving an example of famine-stricken North Korea.

To Nayyar, the hope that nuclear weapons would lead to reduced expenditure on conventional defence also proved “illusory” as the figure has increased manifold.

“An extremely euphoric Pakistan undertook the Kargil adventure (in Kashmir in 1999), only to learn the bitter lesson that in spite of nuclear weapons, the enemy can react resiliently in a conventional conflict and that nuclear weapons cannot possibly provide any guarantee against humiliation before the world,” Nayyar told IANS.

Going nuclear may have cost Pakistan’s exchequer but, if you ask Hoodbhoy, the real damage was psychological.

“Our society became still more militarised and Pakistan’s foreign policy became aggressive,” he says citing the Kargil and the Afghan wars.

“Our generals fantasized that covert jihad under the nuclear shield would cause the Indians to scamper out of Kashmir, but nothing of that sort happened. Instead, those jehadists turned against their masters. So today we are stuck with the war in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and Swat, a direct consequence of delusional nuclear fantasies,” he says.

And that’s not all. After trading nuclear secrets, Pakistan earned a bad name for itself. “We are almost a nuclear pariah”, says Nayyar.

The man behind the 1998 nuclear tests was Abdul Qadeer Khan. But his confession that he clandestinely transferred nuclear technology to Iran and Libya shocked the nation that had until then revered him as a national hero.

Nayyar says Khan made use of the network of international suppliers in sensitive material, and had no difficulty in using it to export sensitive technology from here to other countries. “I am still open on the question of whether he did it for personal greed or as ordered. But he certainly had the means to export illicit technology.”

Says Hoodbhoy: “The real paradox is that Khan is a nice man who worries about ordinary people, feeds hungry animals and is upset about the horrible state of education in Pakistan. Yet, whether for profit or good, he sold knowledge and weapon materials that may kill millions some day. This is a crime against humanity.”

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