How We Wasted Our Nuclear Achievement
By Shireen M Mazari
May 28, 1998 was a proud moment for Pakistan. After defying discriminatory sanctions and Western pressures including veiled threats, the national leaders and scientists gave the nation its nuclear capability – reflecting a major scientific achievement against all odds. Both our leaders and our scientists paid heavily to reach their target. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto defied the US, while our scientists from Munir Ahmed Khan onwards worked around the increasing technology denials to push ahead in the nuclear field. Teamwork was essential to the nuclear achievements, but as always happens, some individuals stand taller than the rest within this teamwork. For us it was Dr A Q Khan, who finally brought the technical know-how of uranium enrichment and allowed the country an alternative to the plutonium reprocessing path to nuclear achievement – given that the US had persuaded the French to renege on the reprocessing deal with Pakistan.
For his audaciousness in the service of Pakistan, Dr Khan has and continues to suffer in the wake of our leadership's capitulation on this issue before the US post-9/11. Dr Khan's continuing captivity and maltreatment is a national shame and a testament to the declining stature and confidence of our leadership. When we did not have the capability our leaders boldly defied the Western world; now we have the capability our leaders have fallen victim to temerity and fear that is unfounded except in their minds. While NROs can be readily fashioned to wash the slate clean for politicians and bureaucrats, the real heroes like Dr Khan and Chief Justice Chaudhry continue to be subject to political machinations and victimization. With the 10th anniversary of our nuclear achievement today, the nation needs to reflect, with shame, on the continuing incarceration of Dr Khan and the continuing marginalisation of Chief Justice Chaudhry. Is it any wonder the US and Europe feel they can push our leaders any which way? Certainly this is no country for heroes.
In seeking to understand why the US and the West were so opposed to our nuclear capability, we need to understand the psychological trauma for the US and Europe in having a Muslim nation achieve nuclear weapons' capability. The Crusades' mindset has always been there in the Christian West; it simply became kosher to give it overt expression post-9/11. After all, when India tested in 1974, no one in Europe and the US showed any concern whatsoever and no punitive measures were taken against India. Ironically, even at that time, the punitive measures targeted Pakistan – for example, the Canadians simply walked out of the KANUPP cooperation despite the fact that this civilian reactor was subject to IAEA safeguards.
But the tragedy is that we as a nation not only failed to move forward with the May 28 scientific achievement, we made sure that those in the forefront of the achievement were eventually punished. From the start, the distrust between civil society and the government came to be reflected in the erroneous decision to freeze the foreign currency accounts. Our ruling elites wavered from being reckless in their nuclear bravado to being almost apologetic for having tested the nuclear device. Of course, had we not taken that critical decision, India would have immediately been given de jure recognition as a nuclear weapon state. As it is, over the years, the US has manipulated and maneuvered to give India nuclear legitimacy while denying Pakistan the same and it has eventually succeeded in creating the delinkage between the two South Asian nuclear programs through the Indo-US nuclear deal.
There are many "could-haves" that would have allowed us to take advantage of our nuclear achievement in a substantive and sober manner. The first requirement was to have initiated a long-term assessment of the impact of nuclearisation on our defense and foreign policy goals. How we could build in this new advantage into our policies and undertake immediate damage control that was bound to follow in the immediate short term. Soon after testing we could have signed the CTBT while withholding our ratification of the same – to earn political mileage and put India on the defensive. In any case, the CTBT is a dead treaty with US rejection, since an essential part of the treaty requires the ratifications of not only the P-5 but also India, Israel and Pakistan. So we would not have had to declare a linkage with India in the case of this treaty – it is already there. However, now the moment has been lost and politically it would be unacceptable domestically to add our signature to the CTBT. Also, internationally we would now gain no substantive advantage.
We could also have used the opportunity to restructure our country to becoming more self-reliant given the massive sanctions we were already subject to. It was a time to have a more nationalist approach to all aspects of public life including the economy, education, defence and so on. The problem was that though we had entered a qualitatively different status as a state, our mindsets had not moved beyond the pre-nuclear days. So we failed to restructure our defense in a substantive manner. We simply saw the nuclear capability as an added capability rather than a central component of a restructured military where conventional power could have undergone major reorientation to focus on dealing more with unconventional and Low-Intensity threats which are going to be the main conflict in this region. That is why we now have a largely conventional military confronting a set of unconventional low intensity threats.
Even now we have not moved on into redefining ourselves in the post-nuclear mode which would require a more pro-active and confident national strategy to deal with issues, both domestically, regionally and globally. A quiet but firm approach would have fared better than dithering between the bombastic and the timorous – a hallmark of our post-nuclearisation behavior. Our floundering and confusion was a central feature of the Kargil conflict.
Even when we made the right move, as in the case of establishing solid command and control structures as well as export control laws, our projection of the same was dismal partly because we failed to use our own non-official sources and experts for this purpose. Also, when a strong statement was required from the state, as in the A Q Khan case, we chose to buckle under for the self-interest of a few and penalized a man, who for all his faults, brought a technology to this country that even now the Indians are having problems with. The worst of it is that we actually sought to undermine even this aspect of Khan's contribution.
We never chose to highlight the Indian record of proliferation at the level of the state although it has been public knowledge for some time now. Instead, we succumbed to Western propaganda against our own. We volunteered all manner of concessions (remember the sending of our old centrifuges) which were not necessary in the vain hope that we would stop being a target for the US and Europe on the nuclear count. Had we understood the basis of why these powers were opposed to our nuclear capability, we would have spent less energy and even fewer national resources in trying to satisfy them. Now while Dr Khan continues to suffer, all others of his so-called network are free souls and the Swiss government has actually destroyed the records involving their countrymen since they felt this was a threat to the country's defense and security. If the US is presently riding roughshod all over our national life it is because we have allowed them to do so. Today, as our leaders quiver like pygmies, our nuclear achievement lies wasted and the achievers' are either incarcerated or killed. (The writer is a defense analyst. Courtesy The News)