A Bomb at All Costs
By Ahmad Faruqui, PhD
Is the bomb necessary to Pakistan ’s survival? And is Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, widely credited with being its creator, the mastermind of the global nuclear weapons proliferation ring?
These two questions have surfaced yet again because Dr. Khan gave an interview over the telephone to the Washington Post earlier this month. He stated that it was Pakistan’s humiliating defeat in the 1971 war with India that sparked his desire to help Pakistan build the bomb.
Saying that the development of a nuclear weapons program was a proud accomplishment for Pakistan, he added that the two longtime rival nations had not gone to war since the atomic explosions took place in May 1998.
Dr. Khan also withdrew the confession that he made on national television in 2004. He says he was coerced into it by people who said, “No one will believe it. This statement has no legal value. Everyone knows you are a national hero.”
Emboldened by Musharraf’s slipping power, Dr. Khan has taken the offensive and declared that the Musharraf government was culpable in the proliferation of weapons to Iran, Libya and North Korea. In due course of time, he promised, “The truth will come out.”
Dr. Khan seems to have left the door open to having disseminated nuclear weapons technology legally because he claims to have only carried out the government’s bidding and to have briefed then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto regularly. He denies that any laws were broken since Pakistan did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Dr. Khan endorsed the most enduring myth in Pakistan’s strategic culture: that survival depends on having (but not using) the bomb since India is Pakistan’s inveterate enemy and the war of 1971 is living proof of its malevolence. But this fable does not stand up to the test of history.
It was not India that precipitated the civil war in East Pakistan but General Yahya’s myopic policies. The civil war precipitated a mass exodus of refugees into India which ultimately invited artillery shelling from across the border.
Even then a full-scale war could have been averted. But after Pakistan bombed Indian airfields in the western theatre on the 3rd of December, defeat in the eastern theatre was a matter of time. The fact that it came in less than two weeks was simply a comment on how martial law had sapped the fighting will of the Pakistani army.
Going further back in time to August 1965, we find the same symptoms. Based on a misreading of India’s intentions and an exaggerated assessment of its own capabilities, the army precipitated a guerilla insurgency in Indian Kashmir hoping to stir up a revolt. That never happened. Some of the guerillas were turned over to the Indian authorities by native Kashmiris and spilled the beans on All India Radio.
The full scale war that came when India retaliated against Lahore in September was initially touted as a victory by the generals in Rawalpindi. But with the passage of time, as one Pakistani general after another penned his memoirs, it emerged as a military debacle of the first magnitude, one in which all the mistakes of the misadventure of 1947-48 were repeated on a grander scale, with armor and jet fighters.
Contrary to Dr. Khan’s assertion, the bomb simply makes the Pakistani establishment even more war prone. How else does one explain the misadventure in Kargil?
Instead of contributing to the nation’s survival, the bomb is inexorably contributing to its decline.
On the one hand, national sovereignty has been compromised by the West’s myriad interventions to ensure that nuclear weapons do not fall into the evil hands. On the other hand, the political culture has been destroyed as suicide bombings have been employed to effectuate political change.
As to the second issue of Dr. Khan’s role in the proliferation ring, we still don’t know the truth and may not live to know it. The topic continues to spawn debate across the world. The latest contribution comes from Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark who have written a copious book, “Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy.”
Levy and Scott-Clark state that contrary to popular perception, Pakistan’s search for nuclear weapons was not hidden from the US. President Ronald Reagan simply looked the other way so that the covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan would not be compromised.
The authors allege there were people in the US government who wanted to blow the whistle on Pakistan’s nuclear program but they were silenced by a bevy of American defense contractors and their counterparts inside the Pentagon. Decades after President Eisenhower warned of the existence of a military-industrial complex, it was very much alive and well.
They argue that when aid was cut off by (the first) President Bush, Pakistan had already acquired bomb-making materials and that it resorted to selling its technology and know-how to other countries as a means of financing its ever-expanding nuclear program.
It was in a nuclear arms race with India from which there was no exit. The doom’s day scenarios kept on getting scarier and scarier. Because of the continued tensions, conventional weapons spending did not diminish either. There was no “nuclear dividend.”
The book suggests that Dr. Khan could not have set up and carried out an international proliferation ring without the full knowledge and encouragement of the GHQ. To back up their assertions, the authors cite numerous interviews that they conducted with senior American and Pakistani officials. But this information is hard to verify.
Few would deny that Dr. Khan was instrumental in bringing the bomb to Pakistan. He richly deserves whatever accolades such an accomplishment generates. Whether he was responsible for global proliferation or not only time will tell. Until such time it is unfair to accuse him.
But on one fundamental issue, Dr. Khan is not only wrong but a danger to Pakistan ’s future. He has confused cause and effect in history when he argues that the bomb has made Pakistan stronger. It has made it weaker. It would be best if he stayed out of military strategy, a subject which is clearly not his province. Surely he does not want to be immortalized in a future Hollywood production as the Dr. Strangelove of Pakistan.
(The writer is an associate of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford. Faruqui@pacbell.net.)