Babur's Perfect Timing
By Dr Shireen M Mazari


The successful testing of Pakistan's first cruise missile, Babur (Hatf VII), has come at a most appropriate time, on many counts. First, coming in the wake of the Indo-US ten-year defense agreement and the Indo-US nuclear agreement, it sends a signal that Pakistan is prepared to counter the US transfer of ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems to India.
Second, even though more needs to be done, the psychological impact of the Pakistani test is tremendous, both at home and abroad. Within Pakistan's domestic milieu, the successful Babur test will restore confidence that the government of Pakistan is going to sustain its nuclear deterrence, even if it means raising the level of deterrence to a higher arms level. The US decision to equip India with BMD had undermined our commitment to nuclear restraint and minimum nuclear deterrence, especially since India had already acquired some of these systems, including the Israeli Phalcon system and some Russian aerial platforms. It was clear that Pakistan would, at the very least, need to acquire more warheads and missiles to counter the Indian BMD. Now, the development of the cruise missile, with an initial range of 500 kilometers, is a welcome bolster for the credibility of our nuclear deterrence. The cruise missile is an amazing weapon system, not only because of its ability to evade radar detection but also because of its precision in terms of a very low circular error probability (CEP).
Again, within the domestic context, there have been concerns regarding our nuclear intent in the face of our going the extra mile in terms of cooperation with the IAEA on the centrifuge and Dr Khan issues, and in the face of claims made by American commentators in books such as America's Secret Wars, which had seen no counter from the Pakistani side. The testing of the cruise missile does go some way in reassuring us that we are intent on sustaining and strengthening our nuclear capability.
However, the US factor in the context of our nuclear capability will always be a major issue of concern especially with the US having delinked India's nuclear status from that of Pakistan. With India effectively having been recognized by the US as a nuclear weapon state, with a right to separate its nuclear weapon facilities from its civilian facilities, in terms of international safeguards, Pakistan will now be treated differently on the nuclear issue -- with continuing pressures and sanctions.
Already US allies like Britain have altered their posture on nuclear cooperation with India -- despite earlier statements to the contrary. Although the news reports have stated that Britain will ease nuclear curbs on both Pakistan and India, the British Foreign Office spokesman only referred to India when he stated that the British government has notified Parliament about important changes in its laws relating to the dual-use nuclear technologies to India. As he was quoted: "We will be again opening doors to Indian nuclear scientists and research organizations, academics and nuclear industry officials to come to the UK.... India is a key international partner in the UK's efforts to work towards a world safer from global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction." No such cooperation has been cited for Pakistan. Instead, for us there have only been tirades with Mr. Blair and the British media indulging in a blame game with Pakistan, in the aftermath of the acts of terror carried out in London on July 7 and the foiled attempts later in that month.
Which is why the cruise test also carries a significant message to the international community. It shows Pakistan's intent and capability to sustain a credible nuclear deterrent. It also sends a message that if the US is hell-bent on undermining deterrence at a minimal level in South Asia through upsetting of the strategic balance, then Pakistan is capable of meeting the challenge and restoring the balance through its indigenous scientific resources. India should also take note of this.
Mercifully, we have not been hoodwinked into believing that a few old F-16s would be compensation enough in the face of the massive US military bolstering of India. I say "mercifully" because our national dignity demanded that we tell the US to keep the two old refurbished F-16s, which we are going to get with much fanfare in December! It really is an insult to us as a nation with a competent indigenous nuclear deterrence capability. According to one of my retired PAF fighter pilot friends, these old refurbished F-16s are merely "sophisticated junk". But the head honcho sitting in Scherezade Hotel is smitten by personal calls from Ms Rice, so we should just be grateful that we have not gone overboard in hyping the impending arrival of these old planes!
With the British and Norwegians simply ignoring their proliferation role vis-a-vis Israel, we are now entering an era where the global nonproliferation agenda has been all but destroyed by the American recognition of India as a nuclear weapon power. Instead, what we are going to see is the targeting of specific countries and their nuclear programs. The IAEA has already passed a resolution against Iran's resumption of uranium conversion. This before Iran has undertaken any renewal of its enrichment program. At the moment it has simply decided to convert yellow cake into UF 4 (hexafouride 4), which is a few stages away from uranium enrichment. And all these activities are allowed under the NPT, with many European NPT signatories, along with Japan, indulging in these activities, so as to have complete control over their nuclear fuel cycles. But it seems that Iran cannot carry out an NPT-permitted activity, despite the fact that the latest IAEA resolution declared that in 2004 the IAEA found that "all the declared nuclear material had been accounted for, and that such material had not been diverted to prohibited activities."
But Iran is seen as part of the "axis of evil" so it cannot be allowed its NPT rights like other signatories. US efforts to push the issue to the UNSC did not work, which should be a relief for Pakistan since it could also be a victim of such a development at a later time --now that the US has de-hyphenated nuclear India from a nuclear Pakistan.
In fact, it should be a source of concern for us that the media campaign against Pakistan continues unabated in the US. From the sublime to the ridiculous, we are the villains all around and are condemned, as a national collectivity, to being evil. As if to prove this point, a Hollywood producer is going to make a film showing Pakistani terrorists out to kill the US President! Given the proclivity of US presidents historically, to get killed by their own countrymen, there hardly appears to be any rationality but we are now fair game to be abused at will. So we should stop trying so hard to sell ourselves in a mode that the West is not prepared to buy and focus more on strengthening our own polity and its indigenous resources. The cruise test was a step in this welcome direction.
(The writer is Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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