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Pakistan’s nuclear weapons

What’s at stake and who should be worried.

Foreign Policy ran a piece by SWJ’s Robert Haddick on recent disclosures about Pakistan’s increasing nuclear arsenal.  Pakistan’s single-minded pursuit of destabilizing the subcontinent should not come as a surprise to those that have followed Pakistan’s weapons program.  However, this article, like many others in the West, perpetuates the notion of an “arms race” in the subcontinent that Pakistan is swept helplessly into.  This blogger finds such narratives very disturbing, and hence the rebuttal.  Mr. Haddick’s first paragraph on Pakistan reads thus:

The most obvious and enduring explanation for the continuing buildup in Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile is the inescapable demographic and economic superiority enjoyed by India. India’s economy is nearly nine times larger than Pakistan’s, it spends 7.6 times more per year on its military and can mobilize 6.8 times as many military-aged males. Absent the arrival of previously unknown trust between the two countries, nuclear weapons are the only way for Pakistan to reassure itself about this unfixable strategic imbalance.

No, the explanation is neither the most obvious, nor enduring.  Because it presupposes and rationalizes the argument that Pakistan must gain strategic parity with India under all circumstances.  This, of course, is misleading because there simply is no reason for a country one-ninth that of India to try and gain parity with it, especially when India has never provoked conflict with it.

Let us also be careful about throwing about numbers on defense spending.  Yes, India does spend considerably more than Pakistan does in absolute numbers.  However, India’s defense spending, firstly, isn’t Pakistan-centric.  And second, when considered as a percentage of GDP, Pakistan’s defense spending is at about 5%, while India’s is below 2.5%.  This does not even factor in the $2 billion the U.S. provided Pakistan in overt military aid, which in and of itself amounts to about 1.2% of Pakistan’s GDP.  That should put Pakistan’s defense “spending” at 6.2% of GDP for FYE11.  And let us not even get into discussions about the misappropriation of aid provided to Pakistan.

Next, the article attempts to draw parallels between Pakistan’s increasing nuclear arsenal and the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement:

The completion of the civil nuclear agreement between Washington and New Dehli was no doubt highly disturbing to Pakistan. With India’s nuclear technology and expertise fungible, the civil nuclear agreement allowed India to divert resources to its military nuclear program. Pakistan likely concluded that it had to respond to a potentially much larger Indian nuclear program at some point in the future.

Again, a very convenient excuse.  No doubt, the civil nuclear deal between India and the U.S. does disturb Pakistan.  But not because it “allows India to divert resources to its military nuclear program” but really because it negates the parity that Pakistan imagines it has with India.

If India really wanted to produce more nuclear weapons than it already has, it can, since it has sufficient fissile material reserves (as opposed to Pakistan).  The fact that India hasn’t weaponized its reserves amply demonstrates that it is committed to maintaining minimum credible deterrence (something that Pakistan has never been committed to).

But here’s the kicker in the article:

The latest round of nuclear news out of Pakistan demonstrates that South Asia has not found a way out of the security dilemma it has long been in.

Excuse me, “South Asia?”  Let us not equate the actions of a rogue state with one that has been a constructive participant of several nonproliferation and disarmament discussions, including the FMCT talks.  Let us not also assume that Pakistan has no option but to add more weapons to its stockpile because of India.  If Pakistan was concerned about deterrence, it should revisit the unfolding of events subsequent to the December 13, 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament and 26/11.

The question that the West must ask is why Pakistan continues to add weapons to its stockpile, especially when their payloads are unlikely to give India any more of a headache than they already do. Mr. Haddick alludes to one aspect of this in his discussions about Iran — but the key here isn’t Iran per se, it is Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, Rawalpindi sees value in portraying Pakistan to be an unstable and irrational state.  An Islamic state teetering on the precipice while adding nuclear weapons to its stockpile quicker than any other nation is bound to attract Washington’s attention — and benevolence.

Pakistan’s most successful industry today is selling its irrationality to the rest of the world.  Rawalpindi is the snake-oil salesman and Washington, the wide-eyed wonder.  The U.S. has doled out billions of dollars to Pakistan since 2001.  How does it know how the money was spent, and if it ever made it to its intended recipients? What has the U.S. received from Pakistan after 10 years of appeasement?  The answer to these questions should worry D.C. more than it should New Delhi.

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Helping Pakistan

India is uniquely positioned to help Pakistan not through cash, but in kind.

Floods in Pakistan have killed more than 1,500 people and left millions homeless.  The international community, however, has been slow to respond to the disaster.  Several reasons for this exist — from a latent realization of the enormity of the damage to public perception of Pakistan in the context of the war in Afghanistan, and of how aid money may be misused by Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership.

In the context of the natural disaster, India has offered to provide $5 million in aid relief to Pakistan.  The message was conveyed by S.M. Krishna to his counterpart, S.M. Qureshi.  India’s offer has drawn mixed reaction in Pakistan.  Nawa-i-Waqt‘s editorial (اردو) on August 14 effectively advised Islamabad to refuse Indian aid, citing what it called India’s “human rights violations in Kashmir.”  Additionally, it blamed India for the natural disaster in Pakistan, saying that India exacerbated the problem by releasing water from rivers Beas and Sutlej into Pakistan.

These disasters occur at a time when India is trying to play a bigger role within its own region and internationally.  What’s more, India happens to be  uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in assisting Pakistan, a country within its own region.  Charity, they say, begins at home.  The challenges Pakistan faces today are tremendous.  Quite simply, this is what India must do.  It must offer to provide aid to Pakistan, not so much in cash as in kind.  The month of Ramadan is upon the Muslim world; the Daily Express’ August 16 editorial (اردو) highlights the plight of ordinary civilians in Pakistan, who have nothing to break their fasting to each day, apart from water.

India must offer to provide not cash, but food-grain to Pakistan.  India has land access to Pakistan, something that no other country capable of delivering aid to Pakistan has, with the exception of China.  Aid-in-kind mechanisms provide two main benefits.  First, they remove process inefficiencies and allow expedited access of aid to those most affected by the calamity.  Second, they limit the ability of those in positions of power to misuse the aid, something that Western governments and international donors are most concerned about.  India’s offer of aid-in-kind should contain two options.  India can air drop aid to affected areas in Pakistan with the permission of the Pakistani government.  If this is unacceptable, given the India and Pakistan’s history, India can offer to deliver food-grain to Pakistan’s forces or Pakistan’s NDMA at Wagah, who can then directly distribute them to the affected areas.

Of course, Pakistan’s government may still choose to refuse food-grain donations from India and effectively tell its citizens to eat cake instead. But in the month of Ramadan, the act of charity, or sadkat al-fitr is connected with the sacred act of sawam (fasting) itself.  If the Pakistani government chooses to rebuff India’s offer, it had better have a pretty good explanation for its refusal to the international community and more importantly, to its own people. Hopefully, better sense will prevail in Pakistan.

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