VIEW: Pakistan’s nuclear dilemma —Haroon R Siddiqi - Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pakistan should have known better before embarking on a nuclear programme that atomic empowerment cannot precede economic development. A nation has to be self-reliant before it shakes the earth with nuclear explosions

Pakistan is the only atomic power in the world whose nuclear arsenal is under constant threat from within and outside. We are apprehensively protecting our deadliest weaponry from the Islamic fundamentalists as well as the US, which is deviously getting closer to establishing its sway over the nukes in our custody. It is ironic that instead of feeling secure under the impregnable nuclear deterrence, Pakistan is getting jittery with the mounting hostilities from various directions and appears to be wilting under pressure. We frequently face intransigence by India. Even Afghanistan does not shrink from behaving overbearingly with us. And, of course, our sovereignty is dismissed at whim by the US every now and then.

Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had undauntedly resolved after the 1971 war with India that Pakistan would make the atom bomb even if the nation has to survive on eating grass. I wish Bhutto had lived long enough for realising his dream of an invincible Pakistan. However, his economic policies were retrogressive as industrial growth suffered immensely due to unbridled nationalisation across the country during his regime. Much later, Nawaz Sharif showed impulsive courage as he turned down the unprecedented economic and conventional military aid offered by the US president, Bill Clinton, for showing nuclear restraint. Pakistan defiantly chose to conduct tit-for-tat atomic explosions in response to the initiative taken by India.

Today, Pakistan possesses nuclear bombs but as a country we are in a state of acute despondency owing to an uncertain future, political instability and economic woes. Pakistan should have known better before embarking on a nuclear programme that atomic empowerment cannot precede economic development. A nation has to be self-reliant before it shakes the earth with nuclear explosions.

Nawaz Sharif missed the rare opportunity of obtaining the maximum economic and defence-related aid from the US had he shown nuclear restraint in 1998. He could have thought of taking Pakistan on the path to sustainable prosperity as his first priority. Nawaz Sharif’s decision to unleash the atomic explosions was largely based on popular sentiments rather than any sound judgment. Consequently, foreign currency accounts were frozen in the country as sanctions were imposed by the West. In recent history, the fragmentation of the USSR is an apt example of the importance of economic stability, as stockpiles of nukes failed to keep the superpower intact on the world map.

The critical phase of our history begins with the happening of 9/11, which radically changed the psyche of the world. A new world order driven by the rage and ferocity of the US engulfed the world, especially the Muslim countries. Pakistan had to sever its longstanding and strategic support of the Taliban when Mullah Omer refused to expel foreign elements (al Qaeda) from his patronage. Pakistan was left with no other choice but to adhere to the US demand, which was threateningly imposed. It remains an analysis of academic interest only what would have happened to Pakistan had it refused to side with the Americans when an intimidating conclusion was drawn by the US: “You’re either with us or against us.” One thing is certain that our nuclear arsenal would not have halted the US from pounding our tribal belt like Tora Bora. The long-term consequences would have depended on the courage and capacity of the nation to survive under stringent circumstances. Diplomacy would also have played a key role, an area in which Pakistan is always found wanting.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistan maintained an apologetic posture towards the US, which deeply undermined our sovereign status. India saw a window of opportunity and took a highly belligerent and offensive stance in its bilateral relationship with Pakistan. Today India is not even willing to discuss Kashmir and other issues with Pakistan but is unreasonably fixated on keeping the Mumbai incident alive to hold us in a tight corner. That is why an invitation to our leadership for watching cricket at Mohali created ripples of joy in our political and diplomatic circles.

The friendship with the US since our independence has remained bedevilled. Pakistan was never given the slot of a worthy friend. To dispel this perception, Ayub Khan had written his book Friends not Masters. No one would disagree that, despite the passing of so many decades, the Pak-US relationship today is much more dismal, distrustful and one-sided. The US continues to be our biggest donor but is extremely ruthless regarding the enforcement of its unpalatable policies aimed at eliminating the Taliban and other jihadis from our society. This actually means pushing Pakistan towards complete disarray and balkanisation.

The Americans are actually fighting the war on terror just to ensure that Pakistan is ultimately left with no other option but to compromise on a joint control and command mechanism of its nuclear arsenal with the US. Pakistan is now seen as a terror-breeding country around the globe. We are literally surviving on the charity of those who are keen to see us as a failed state. Even God has been unkind as Pakistan encountered floods of unprecedented scale in 2010. Perhaps our deeds as a nation are unpardonable any more.

I wish our leaders had earnestly worked towards making a factionalised Pakistan into a unified nation by rising above the politics of vested interests. This is the only remedy for any country in the world to achieve progress and strength with dignity and self-belief.

The writer is a retired senior executive from the oil and gas sector and has a passion for writing. He can be reached at

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