Pakistan: Following India into the Pit

01 August 1998


Pakistan's hawks won the day. In most places around the world, hawks tend to be die hard empiricists who offer cold facts about strategic balance, tactical benefits, and weapons systems to justify their preferences. In contrast, a striking feature of Pakistan's current crop of hawks is a near total absence of facts and analyses. The emotional quotient is high instead. These hawks gave apocalyptic warnings that if Pakistan did not immediately conduct nuclear tests, it would cease to be sovereign state, become a dependency of the United States and a vassal of India. Not surprisingly, from India come their reinforcements. Only the most gullible or the most frightened failed to see how Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and his BJP allies tried so desperately to get Pakistan to perform its own nuclear tests. It is pathetic how hawks here took the bait. On May 28 Pakistan joined India in a dance of death by testing its own bomb.

The BJP leaders, frantic to push Pakistan into exposing its secrets and joining India in bearing the world's opprobrium, counted upon Pakistan's hawks and demagogues to join them in their nuclear escalation. Consider this: On the second day after the Indian test, Mr. Vajpayee said Pakistan had a right to test its weapons. Day three, calculated rumors were put out that Pakistan had tested a weapon. Day six, Indian Interior Minister L.K. Advani said Pakistan 'should realize the change in the geo strategic environment' of the region. Day eight, Advani threatened action in Kashmir. Day nine, Mr. Jaswant Singh made noises about why they can understand Pakistan wanting to test its own weapons. Day nine, India tested the Pinaka, a Pakistan specific, multi barreled rocket with a range of 40 km. All this, at a time when India was trying also to defuse the negative international reaction to its five nuclear tests. India's hawks had never needed their Pakistani counterparts so desperately. Such are the ironies of international politics.

Casting the Die

India's mindless right wing leaders who started it all and then proceeded to goad Pakistan into baring its nuclear capabilities may never acknowledge that they have committed a crime against India and its neighbors, and that not one good strategic or tactical, political or economic - can accrue from their blunder. An Indian scientist, Dr. Vinod Mubayi, rightly says that the right-wing RSS party has now killed Gandhi twice: his body in 1948, and his legacy 50 years later. India shall suffer for some time to come from the effects of these killings. It had enjoyed what the French call a prejuge favorable in world opinion, a mystique of being uniquely ancient and pluralistic, a land of Hindus and Muslims, Christians, Budhists and Zoroastrians, the spiritual home of Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, Father Daniel Berrigan, and Martin Luther King. In a single blow, the BJP government has destroyed India's greatest asset.

Each historical time has had its own temper. But one factor has been common throughout history to the attainment of progress and greatness. Historians of culture describe this one factor variously as syncretism, openness, pluralism, and a spirit of tolerance. Where ideas do not clash - diverse influences, knowledge, viewpoints, and cultures do not converge - civilization does not thrive and greatness eludes. The rightist environment of religious chauvinism and intolerance which the BJP and its allies promote in India - which also pervades Pakistan for other reasons - is deeply harmful to India's future. Nuclearization of nationalism has further degraded this environment, and worsened xenophobia. Reaction - no less than a habit of emulation among fundamentalist adversaries - will undoubtedly reinforce right wing sentiments and excesses in Pakistan. In the weeks after the tests, BJP supporters stormed a meeting of anti nuclear scientist, attacked artist M.F. Hussain's home and destroyed his paintings, assaulted trucks carrying Pepsi and Coca-Cola in retaliation of US sanctions, and disrupted a concert by Pakistani musician Ustad Ghulam Ali. 'The atmosphere of intolerance has been gaining ground recently', said an editorial in the Hindustan Times. 'Such actions will break up the very fabric of this country' warns Ambika Sen, a leader of the Indian National Congress. In Pakistan, government owned television darkly and repeatedly suggested that opponents of a nuclear test were foreign agents. And the right-wing press has begun a witch hunt of prominent secular intellectuals.

Domestic Demagogues

As for our politicians, most of them sense in this crisis an opportunity to win popularity, despite the undue and irresponsible pressure on the government at a time when national security demands serious deliberation and diplomacy. Pakistan's opposition leaders - all except Ghinwa Bhutto, Air Marshall Asghar Khan, and Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari - were in the streets taunting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to 'explode' a nuclear bomb. Facing charges of grand larceny of national wealth, Benazir Bhutto returned from abroad to lead the pack. She seems to have sensed in this national crisis an opportunity to restore her flagging fortunes. I know of few gestures in the ugly repertoire of Pakistani politics as revolting as her demagogic toss of bracelets at Mr. Nawaz Sharif. She questioned his manhood, advising people to send him bracelets by mail. She speaks brazenly of 'failure of leadership' and demands that Mr. Sharif resign. The All Party Conference gave the government a deadline of May 30 to 'explode' a bomb. And so it went.

Professor Khurshid Ahmed, a leading light of the Jamaat i Islami, asserted that 'Pakistan has no option but to come up with a matching response and acquire an atomic (sic) status'. He offered no argument, only the assertion. What would constitute a 'matching response', one, two, four, five tests? Plutonium or Uranium model; tactical or thermonuclear; clean or dirty; or should we, could we make it all of them? And, what may I ask is 'an atomic status?'

Rather than facts, we were expected instead to uncritically digest his diatribe against 'the creed that is Hinduism', and against America - the newly discovered, post Afghanistan jihad bete noire of the 'Islamists'. The US, he disclosed, seeks to dominate the world, build India into a world power, establish Israel's hegemony in the Middle East, encourage civil war among Muslims and û get this one û promote in Pakistan the forces of globalization, secularism, and feminism. The latter force, he claimed, aims at breaking up the family bond. Even if all that were true - what did that have to do with nuclear weapons testing or strategy? In one argument in support of the nuclear tests, Mr. Ahmed quoted the Qura'n (al Anfal:60). (His use of a holy verse to justify a weapon of mass extermination is nothing short of blasphemous; but then I deem the blasphemy law too defective to invoke it against the good professor.)

Our military figures fared little better. General K.M. Arif (Dawn, May 16, 1998) argued that the Indian tests gave 'Pakistan a one time chance to demonstrate its nuclear capability here and now. Many a tomorrow becomes too late'. No further explanation was offered of what kind of 'capability' would be demonstrated, why was it so essential to do so 'here and now', what made it a 'one time chance', and most crucially, how, by what mechanism would it serve Pakistan's security interests. I am constrained to say that coming from a soldier who once held a key decision making post, his statement betrayed a shocking absence of discipline of detail - a fundamental requirement for strategic planning. (Therein may lie one insight into how we got into the Afghanistan mess, a prime example of 'feel good' make hay-while-the-sun-shines policy, the price of which several generations of Pakistanis and Afghans will continue to pay.)

In the United States, jokes used to circulate within the military about the civilian cold warriors' tough minded lack of concern with costs - human or financial. 'They know war from books', Admiral Eugene Larocque once said to me, 'We know war as an awful reality. So we tend to be more cautious'. Although it is not a similar situation, I have thought of Larocque's remark while reading the Pakistani hawks' advocacy of nuclear tests. Mr. Afzal Mahmood, for instance, (Dawn, May 17, 1998) made the familiar argument that twice - in 1987 and 1990 - India refrained from invading Pakistan because there was 'nuclear deterrence' between them. Yet immediately following this statement he claimed that 'The stark reality is that a non weaponized nuclear device is no deterrence at all'. I, for one, could not put his one and one together. Similarly, Farooq Hasnat posited two options for Pakistan: carry out a nuclear test, or 'accept western dictates'. With much frightening exhortation but without any facts, citation of historical precedence, or reasoning based on empirical projection he predicted that if it 'accepts western dictates', Pakistan 'will loose its independence and sovereignty and would become an Indian vessel (sic)'.

Ambiguity vs. Arms Race

In going forth with the tests, Pakistan behaved reactively. This translates as: the government listening to people like Benazir Bhutto who, either out of ignorance, or more likely crass unpatriotic opportunism, advocated immediate nuclear tests. The Pakistani tests quickly relieved the pressure on India and shifted it to Pakistan with consequences surely worse for us than for India. Islamabad took Delhi's burden upon itself rather than mounting diplomatic initiatives and international campaigns that would put pressure on India both within South Asia and worldwide, and reap some rewards for Pakistan's statesmanlike posture.

Certainly Pakistan's motive in developing nuclear weapons was different from India's. Delhi's nuclear program, however misguided, is linked to the quest for power. Islamabad's program was related to security - what Pakistan sought was a shield against India's nuclear power. That required the achievement of sufficient deterrent which Pakistan already possessed. India's five tests did not change the existing balance. The question remains: Are we safer today than we were before the tests? I don't think any honest person can answer in the affirmative.

I, and many others, had argued that Pakistan's best option was to let ambiguity serve the purposes it had served for a decade. There is no way to prove now whether we were right or wrong. The deed is done. But history demands that it be noted now that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's initially good instincts were overwhelmed by forces in and outside of Pakistan. Our knowledge of the factors that led to Pakistan's decision to carry out the tests is not complete, but enough is known to identify the main factors: The most important was the provocations of BJP leaders. Although there were too many to recount here, some of these included: a warning by L.K. Advani, India's Interior Minister, that Pakistan should note a change in South Asia's 'strategic environment'; Prime Minister Vajpayee's statement that his government might forcibly take Kashmiri territory under Pakistan's control; the Kashmir affairs portfolio being handed over to the hardline Home Minister who had so enthusiastically overseen the destruction of Babri Mosque; and, an escalation of the limited but live conflict along the Kashmir Line of Control. Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff returned from the front line with an assessment that we may in fact be witnessing the slow beginning of a conventional war. To my knowledge, Delhi did little to reassure Islamabad.

These developments greatly reinforced among Pakistani officials a sense of foreboding. This was accentuated by what a decade of embargo (under the US Congress' Pressler Amendment) had done to the weapons sustainability of Pakistan's armed forces. During the decade of Mohammed Ziaul Haq, our defense forces reverted to heavy reliance on US arms. In the last decade these have suffered not merely from obsolescence but also from a paucity of reliable spare parts. Pakistan could find itself unable to sustain a war with India without soon running into serious supply problems. In a military environment such as this, army leaders are likely to put a high premium on an assured deterrent capability. This much is known to interested military analysts the world over. It is astounding that under these circumstances, and after testing their nuclear device, India's leaders would engage in further provocations both verbal and military. Officials and legislators in Washington might also note that their ostensibly anti nuclear sanctions actually compelled a speedier development and testing of nuclear arms.

Weapons Without Utility

India's leaders have long viewed nuclear weapons as a currency of power. They will soon realize that this is counterfeit. Indian leaders generally and the BJP in particular view nuclear weapons as the key to a private club - a club to which India does not belong, and should not enter with a population of half a billion illiterate and four hundred million under nourished citizens. Pakistan, with a population of some 140 million (100 million of whom are illiterate), also enters the nuclear age at the expense of its poor. It is illusory to search for global power through nuclear weapons, for the nature of power changes in accordance with shifts in modes of production, knowledge and communication. In our time these shifts have been revolutionary. Power has changed in ways least understood by those who in many countries formally hold the reins of power.

When nuclear weapons were first invented, they were viewed as a weapon of war, and wantonly dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their development and possession coincided with the rise of the US as a global power, a coincidence which confirmed the bomb as a modern component of power. The strike on Hiroshima also proved that it was a weapon of total annihilation, therefore not usable - notwithstanding the crackpot claims of 'realists' like Henry Kissinger and Herman Kahn. After the USSR tested its hydrogen bomb, nuclear weapons became weapons of terror, and of deterrence against war between the two giants of a bipolar world. They also served as an umbrella for covert, proxy warfare. Given these facts and their association with the superpowers, the identification of nuclear weapons with power became total by the 1950s. It was in the interest of both the US and USSR to perpetuate this image. But change has its own inexorable logic.

Three events helped devalue nuclear weapons as a component of power. There were first the cases of Cuba and Vietnam. Together, the liberation movements of these two small nations reduced the world's most awesome nuclear power, in the words of Senator J. W. Fulbright, to 'a crippled giant'. Castro's revolution succeeded and survives to this day despite American nuclear power; in fact the possession of nuclear weapons constricted American ability to destroy that revolution. The Vietnamese demonstrated that a nuclear giant can in fact be defeated, even militarily. France offered a second and negative example. It tested and inducted nuclear weapons as a means to challenge the paramountcy of the United States in Europe. It did not work. Instead, France earned the world's scorn for testing its useless bombs in the South Pacific.

For the first time in history a third, related reality dawned: the world was changing as political economy took precedence over military might as a component of power. In Europe the influence of France, now a nuclear power, does not surpass that of non nuclear Germany. Similarly, Japan exercises much greater influence in the world than does China or France. The collapse of the Soviet Union, a nuclear super power, rendered the possession of nuclear weapons largely incidental to the equation of power in world politics. South Africa and Israel offer contrasting examples. South Africa's prestige and influence in world politics increased after it had renounced and dismantled its nuclear arsenal while Israel's considerable nuclear capability - so scandalously tolerated and augmented by the United States - has added not a bit to its influence or security in the Middle East or beyond. Then what in heaven's name were India's rulers seeking by detonating five nuclear devices? And why have Pakistan's leaders insisted that we had no option but to follow India into the dumb pit? That in 1998 our respective leaders still view the possession of nuclear weapons as a necessary element to gain recognition as a world power, speaks volumes about their intellectual poverty and mediocre, bureaucratic outlook.

Good Weapons Don't Make Good Neighbors

Excepting a few interregna, such as the short lived government of I.K. Gujral, India's governments have not been very sensitive toward their neighbors. At regional and international conferences, a participant is often astonished at the antipathy delegates from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh express about India's policies. But I believe nothing had shocked and angered its neighbors more than India's unilateral and surprise decision to carry out its sequence of nuclear tests, thus launching a nuclear arms race and opening the way to a potential holocaust in South Asia. They have a right to anxiety and anger, as nature has willed that they are no more safe than Indians and Pakistanis are from the nuclear fallout.

After decades of bitter squabble, India's relations with China, the world's most populous country and a fast growing economic giant, had been improving for the last six years. The Sino Indian amity had reached a level significant enough for Chinese leaders to counsel Pakistan, their old ally, to resolve its disputes with India. In a conversation with me a few weeks ago, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral cited Sino Indian cordiality as a model for Indo Pakistan relations. A high level Chinese military delegation was in India when Prime Minister Vajpayee proudly announced his first three nuclear tests, but these still both preceded and followed anti China rhetoric. India's greatest single foreign policy achievement of the last two decades was thus buried away like nuclear waste.

It is commonplace in Pakistan to hear that India seeks regional hegemony. A reminder is necessary perhaps that real hegemony requires a recognition of superiority; hegemony requires more consent than coercion. Delhi's latest actions deny rather than affirm the promise of hegemony. Pakistan does not have hegemonic ambition, yet I hope that Mr. Sharif's government was gracious enough to at least inform our neighbors before the tests in Baluchistan.

Robbing the Poor

As any politician and gang leader knows, power grows from the neighborhood. A country that does not command influence and authority in its own region can not claim the status of a world power. India's standing with its neighbors, already low, will now sink further. It tested a fusion bomb which demonstrated thermonuclear capability, then went on to test its ability to produce tactical weapons. This cannot but raise the anxiety of India's non nuclear neighbors while contributing little to its actual military balance with China or Pakistan. Similarly, while the tests may be psychologically satisfying or politically beneficial to the BJP's insecure leaders, the material losses to India may be greater than they surmise.

For nearly four decades, India's rate of growth had remained low at around four percent annually. Economists the world over dubbed this mysterious consistency as the 'Hindu rate of growth'. Then a decade ago, the curve began to move upward reaching a whopping 7.5% last year. Hope had never prevailed so widely in India since independence, and international capital had begun to view it as a grand investment prospect. Economists expected that in the next decade India would maintain a 7% rate of growth, just about wiping out the abject poverty that so assails its people. This expectation too has been buried in the Pokhran nuclear wasteland. International economists now estimate that in the current financial year (ending March 31) India's growth will decline from the projected 7.5% to 5%; these estimates are based not on the effects of sanctions but on the adverse turn in the investment climate. If the international sanctions, including technology transfers, are half as severe as Japan and the US are threatening, India's access to investment capital may be in jeopardy.

With these tests Delhi and Islamabad have put their countries in the fast lane of the arms race. A third world country can crash more easily in such a race than the second world power did.

Pakistan has played into Delhi's hands by entering a nuclear arms race with India, a country with far greater resources than ours. But we have gotten into the wrong lane. The development of strategic armaments is an expensive business which carries little Keynesian logic. In other words, while the costs are great, the economic multiplier is negligible. The reasons are that the development and production of strategic weaponry is a capital intensive and largely secret activity which means that it rarely yields either the economic multiplier or the technological spin off. It is thus that the Soviet Union and its satellites such as Poland and Czechoslovakia became highly sophisticated arms producers, but remained very underdeveloped economically. As a consequence, their states and societies grew dis-organically and eventually collapsed. For Pakistan to avoid that fate, it must resist falling into the trap of seeking strategic equivalence with India.

The most basic problems facing Pakistan today are economic and social. It is not an exaggeration to say that our future depends on how well we confront the challenges of economic slow down and social fragmentation. Both are expressions of fundamental structural crises of our state and society, and neither is susceptible to simple crisis management. In an environment such as this Pakistan is considerably more vulnerable to international sanctions than India which, whatever its other weaknesses, has been and remains less dependent on foreign aid, loans and technology transfers than we are. The leaders of India and Pakistan have now appropriated to themselves, as others had done before, the power that was God's alone - to kill mountains, make the earth quake, bring the sea to boil, and destroy humanity. Their hubris assures that this blasphemous grasp for power will come at the expense of feeding the hungry, housing the poor, and educating the illiterate - while creeping toward war. I hope that when the muscle flexing and cheering is over they will go on a retreat, and reflect on how they should bear this awesome responsibility.