Playing the patriotic card

On May 28, 1998, Pakistan became the world’s seventh nuclear weapons state. Yesterday, while commemorating the 13th anniversary of the nuclear tests, there were many self-congratulatory messages from our leaders and officials. In all this chest-thumping, we forgot to ask ourselves one question: have we secured our country by going nuclear? Back in 1998, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the military decided that it was time to declare ourselves a nuclear-armed state weeks after India’s nuclear tests while ignoring the fact that India actually went nuclear in 1974. The argument given in favour of the tests was that it would serve as a deterrent and make our defence impregnable. Those opposing the tests were of the view that nuclear ambiguity was itself a deterrent. The sanctions and international isolation that followed, apart from the local foreign currency accounts being frozen, could have been avoided. On top of that, nuclear proliferation made us a pariah state while India came out smelling of roses, despite the fact that it was the first in the subcontinent to make its bomb clandestinely.

Nuclear weapons are inherently unusable, whether against another nuclear-armed state or a non-nuclear one. The world will not tolerate it after what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which demonstrated that they are essentially weapons of mass massacre. The logic of our defence paradigm is that since we are the weaker force, we cannot allow India to defeat us through conventional means. All-out wars between India and Pakistan may have been ruled out due to both going nuclear, but our strategic defence doctrine could not stop a localised war like Kargil from occurring. The world had to intervene to prevent a dangerous escalation.

It is beyond comprehension why we are stockpiling nuclear weapons when we already have second-strike capability, especially at a time when our country faces a grave economic crisis. This shows that acquiring the bomb does not prevent a nuclear arms race. Deterrent or not, these weapons are the currency of power. The structure of the UN Security Council has formalised this perception. But before indulging in a nuclear arms race, we need to stand on our feet. Pakistan is caught in a classic debt trap.

The nature of the threat to the Pakistani state cannot be met by nuclear weapons as has been demonstrated in the ongoing war on terror. What will nuclear weapons do against the asymmetrical warfare of the once-pampered jihadis who have turned on us? The real current threat to Pakistan is not from India. It is internal. The jihadi game that we have played for decades must end now if we want to survive. Wasting precious money on nuclear weapons is no use. And for good measure, the whole jihadi enterprise has to be shut down.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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