Nuclear Capability an Inexorable Option for Pakistan
Pakistan is one of the seven countries in the world that are formally known to possess nuclear weapons with an indigenously developed credible delivery system. Owing to its economic woes and tremendous international pressure, Pakistan has been paying dearly to acquire and safeguard its nuclear assets, which the entire Pakistani nation considers inexorable to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their motherland by deterring the belligerent designs of its potential enemies. Our adversaries have been overtly and covertly trying to undermine Pakistan’s existence as a sovereign state since its independence on August 14, 1947. Pakistan, in fact, was compelled to embark upon highly ambitious and challenging programme of acquiring nuclear weapons in response to the role played by India in the creation of Bangladesh after bisecting Pakistan into two halves, and after demonstrating its regional and global ambitions by carrying out nuclear tests; “Smiling Buddha”, in 1974.
Despite financial constraints, Pakistan decided to fast-track efforts to acquire nuclear weapons after the nuclear tests conducted by India in 1974. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto tasked the Chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) Dr Munir Ahmad Khan to develop a nuclear device by the end of 1976. Since PAEC, which consisted of over twenty laboratories and projects, was falling behind the schedule and having considerable difficulty producing fissile material, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan (A Q Khan), a metallurgist having the experience of working on centrifuge enrichment in Urenco, Netherlands, joined the programme by the end of 1974. As pointed out by Houston Wood, “The most difficult step in building a nuclear weapon is the production of fissile material”; Dr A Q Khan played a pivotal role in producing fissile material as the head of the Kahuta Research Laboratories (renamed as Khan Research Laboratories in 1984 by late General Zia Ul Haq) to develop the capability for detonating a nuclear bomb by the end of 1984. He pushed for the feasibility of highly enriched uranium (HEU) fissile material. Under his supervision, KRL succeeded in obtaining the necessary material technology and electronic components for developing uranium enrichment capabilities for the boosted fission weapon designs that were eventually used in the Chagai-I tests in 1998.
Though Pakistan had fully acquired the capability for detonating a nuclear bomb by the end of 1984, it detonated five nuclear devices in the Ras Koh Hills in the Chagai district, Balochistan on 28 May 1998, a few weeks after India’s second nuclear test (Operation Shakti). This operation was named Chagai-I by Pakistan. The last test of Pakistan was conducted at the sandy Kharan Desert under the codename Chagai-II, also in Balochistan, on 30 May 1998. A Washington-based Nuclear Watch think tank of Boston University, reported that Pakistan has also acquired capacity to produce plutonium at its Khushab nuclear facility. Pakistan has been reportedly developing smaller, tactical nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield. This is consistent with the statements issued from time to time by the National Command Authority (which directs nuclear policy and development) saying Pakistan is developing “a full-spectrum deterrence capability to deter all forms of aggression.”
Right from its inception in 1947, Pakistan has been faced with challenges to its existence due to certain inherent, inherited and self-perpetrated vulnerabilities. At the time of its creation, Pakistan comprised two wings, viz; East Pakistan and West Pakistan, which were located one thousand miles apart in the extreme northeast and northwest ends of India; the arch-enemy of Pakistan, which has not reconciled with the creation of Pakistan even to this date. Unlike West Pakistan, where Muslims constituted 95% of the total population, in East Pakistan population comprised about 75% Muslims and 25% Hindus, who were more loyal to India than to Pakistan. Even after the conversion of East Pakistan into Bangladesh in 1971, the west wing that became Pakistan, continued to face challenges to its existence, primarily due to its geographical location. Though Stephen Cohn described Pakistan’s geostrategic significance as; “while history has been unkind to Pakistan, its geography has been its greatest advantage”, most of the challenges to Pakistan’s security have emanated from its geographical location. Besides being the focus of attention of global and regional powers, Pakistan is surrounded by some hostile states except China.
After independence, Pakistan opted to join the US camp against the (erstwhile) Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Pakistan’s significance was further enhanced for the US after the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. But immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1988, the US and its allies withdrew the support they were providing to Pakistan. However, Pakistan once again became important for the US in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, and the subsequent war on terror. Pakistan suffered the most during and after the Afghan “Jihad”. Lately Pakistan has assumed tremendous importance for China, because Gwadar, a deep-water port, has special attraction for the Chinese. To contain the ever-expanding influence of China, the US is trying to rear India as a major power to protect its interests in the region as a strategic partner. Pakistan’s nuclear capability also helped India to team up with the US, Israel and the UK against Pakistan.
In this age of hybrid warfare (5th Generation Warfare [5GW]), Pakistan offers a fertile ground to its adversaries, who have been bleeding the country by exploiting its geographic, sectarian, ethnic-cum-provincial, political and economic fault-lines since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Pakistan can neither change its neighbours nor alter its geography to defuse its inherent vulnerabilities. However, the India-US-Israel-UK nexus against Pakistan can be diluted to some extent by establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, and by addressing the concerns of the US, the West and Israel about the safe custody of Pakistan’s nukes.
After Narendra Modi, a war mongering maniac, assuming the charge as the Prime Minister of the nuclear armed largest secular democratic state, the tense scenario of South Asia is fraught with the real chances of catastrophic clash between two most densely populated nuclear powers of the world. It is very well known to the Indian military commanders that their current military presence on the western border is far below the level to intimidate Pakistan. To create a real alarm for Pakistan, India requires moving its operational formations from southern and eastern regions to deploy them along the Pakistani border which requires time and colossal expenses. Such a move by Indians would afford sufficient time to Pakistani political and military leadership to weigh its unconventional military options to thwart Indian’s belligerent designs. In 1986, statements issued by Dr AQ Khan, on behest of Pakistani rulers, coupled with a few words reportedly whispered in the ear of the then PM of India, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, by the Pakistani ruler, late General Muhammad Zia Ul Haq, (who had gone to India to convey this message under the pretext of watching a cricket match), ringing alarm bells in Mr Gandhi’s ear, compelled him to withdraw Indian troop from Pakistani border.