‘Overlooking’ Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers


[With Sitakanta Mishra]

Mark Fitzpatrick’s argument for “nuclear rehabilitation of Pakistan” in his bookOvercoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers reminds one of a scene from a famous Bollywood movie Sholey. Jai, one of the male protagonists goes to meet the female protagonist’s (Basanti) aunt (Mausi) to ask her consent for the marriage of Basantiand his friend Veeru. Upon enquiry by Mausi regarding Veeru’s character, Jai gives a very quirky response with numerous contradictions. He says that Veeru is a commendable person despite the fact that he does not win every time he gambles. Despite of this, Veeru will surely begin earning responsibly once his gets into a marital alliance. He adds that he is a nice guy but once he drinks he loses control; however if Basanti marries him, he will also stop such activities and would also put an end to his practice of going to brothel. Upon more enquiries regarding Veeru’s ancestral origin, Veeru says that he will inform her once he becomes aware of it. He periodically praises Veeru despite all bad habits he has. Mausi, shocked by the responds, retorts that it is surprising how Jai is appreciating his friend who seems to possess no great quality of a respectable groom. To this Veeru responds, “kya karu mausi, mera toh dil hi kuch aisa hai!” (What to do aunt, my heart is such).

Similarly, Fitzpatrick seems to acknowledge all the problems with nuclear Pakistan – track record of proliferation, a lowered nuclear threshold, command and control prone to human error, warheads not one-point safe, inability to control the terrorists – and still vouches for Pakistan to be recognised “as a normal nuclear state” especially when some may say that Pakistan itself is not a normal state. His compassion is discernible when he says “how long Pakistan must pay the price” for the Khan nuclear proliferation network – “a solitary event.” Drawing a parallel to India’s performance, Fitzpatrick argues that “the time has come to offer Pakistan a nuclear-cooperation deal akin to India’s”.

At the outset, his thesis suffers from the ‘India parity syndrome’, which has in fact drained Pakistan for more than six decades now. The author warns that preferentially accepting India’s NSG membership is “likely to drive Pakistan further away from the West”. However, he has overlooked the repercussions of rewarding Pakistan.

Most disturbing is how the author equates Pakistan’s proven nuclear proliferation record with baseless allegations against India’s without substantiating it with convincing facts. He further says, “India must realise that Pakistan does not control all groups that perpetrate terrorism”. In this context, an observation by George Perkovich is worth noting. He deftly states that in the larger context of deterrence stability, “a state cannot be a responsible possessor of nuclear weapons if it does not have sovereign control over organized perpetrators of international violence operating from its territory”.

Fitzpatrick’s advocacy of treating Pakistan as a normal nuclear state and rewarding it with similar treatment like India by “mutually reinforcing adjustments” is based on a few contested nuclear norms. Firstly, on restraint in declaratory policy, the author maintains, “Pakistan’s stated policies of minimum deterrence and no pre-delegation of launch authority are indicators of nuclear responsibility”. It is interesting to note that even after one and half a decade, Pakistan has reserved the first-use option and has been unable to lay down in black and white a nuclear use doctrine. Even Pakistan’s “nuclear redlines” have been only pronounced by retired military officials, which may be subject to individual interpretation and whims. While Pakistan may propose strategic restraint at both nuclear and conventional levels, it conveniently overlooks restraints at the sub-conventional level.

Secondly, on practices that ensure safety and security, the author argues that “Pakistan quietly cooperates with Western partners” and has taken some meaningful steps to secure its nuclear infrastructure. It is natural to assume that nuclear normalisation cannot be based solely on the current work or professionalism of an organisation, but has to consider the security situation of the country in general. Just like nuclear security has to continuously evolve (in light of growing threats), the performance of an organisation would have to be continuously assessed in terms of the future threats that may plague a country. While SPD may be able to manage the situation currently, it would be impossible for anyone to ensure the same in case of extreme threats. This is particularly so given the on-schedule American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the possibility of increasing non-state threats to the sub-continent at large and Pakistan in particular. In view of the uncertain future, it would be imprudent to treat Pakistan as a normal nuclear country.

Thirdly, on institutional compliance with the global non-proliferation regime, Fitzpatrick identifies that its entire civilian nuclear facilities are under safeguards and it has adhered to a number of global treaty arrangements. As a matter of fact, Pakistan has not yet ratified the amended CPPNM (2005).

Interestingly, Fitzpatrick points out that “the danger of onward proliferation appears to have receded after the detention of black marketer A.Q. Khan”. This argument fails to impress especially when considering that even today, many aspects of his dealings are shrouded in mystery. It is not publically known how many such clandestine networks are still in operation. If Khan is solely responsible, not the Pakistani state, what meaningful actions have been taken against him? House arrest, restricting him to interact with the outside world! Considering Pakistan’s continued reluctance to come clean on the issue, it would be a dangerous precedent to regard it as a normal nuclear country. It will further embolden other potential nuclear powers like Iran to continue its nuclear-related activities.

In addition, one would be hard-pressed to get convinced by the author’s assertion that “Pakistan’s stated policies of minimum deterrence and no pre-delegation of launch authority are further indicators of nuclear responsibility.” It is evident that the ‘minimum’ in deterrence is never static and is subject to a country’s threat perceptions. Pakistan’s paranoia about India and its growing conventional military power is likely to ensure that its stated policy evolves into adding more numbers to the nuclear stockpile. Even Pakistan’s assertion regarding ‘no pre-delegation’ deserves attention. Pre-delegation (partial at best) is an operational requirement when dealing with nuclear weapons, and particularly the newly introduced tactical nuclear weapons (TNW). It is likely that no pre-delegation would make its TNW more vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike and even render the weapon system useless during a war. Statements that point out a possibility of pre-delegation to Corps Commanders (who are not in Pakistan’s nuclear command authority) only add to the concern of unauthorised or accidental use, thereby not acting as any indicator of nuclear responsibility.

Other indicators which point out to Pakistan nuclear ‘irresponsibility’ is its idea of full spectrum deterrence, i.e. applying deterrence to all level of military conflict. While the idea may seem plausible on paper, in practical terms, it may only make the region more prone to war-fighting owing to reduced thresholds and quick spiraling of a major conflict to a potential nuclear exchange. With such risky nuclear ideology, a wrong message would be sent to the world if Pakistan is regarded as a normal nuclear state.

Fitzpatrick states “Pakistan should be treated as a normal nuclear country if it adopts policies and practices associated with global nuclear norms.” Pakistan’s nuclear dealings with China, wherein China is openly flouting global norms under the pretext of ‘grandfather’ clause does not paint a positive picture either. What is worrisome is that the Sino-Pakistan nuclear deals are opaque in nature without any details of the specific terms unlike the Indo-US nuclear agreement (a non-starter in itself). Also, Pakistan’s veto on Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) negotiations further strengthens the argument that it is not likely to toe the global-nuclear-norms-line.

It is germane to imagine what ‘nuclear normalisation’ for Pakistan would result in. A ‘normal’ nuclear status is quite likely to convince Islamabad and for that matter even Beijing that they can get away with their nuclear dealings. Other possibilities include the relative ease with which Pakistan may be able to get access to nuclear fuel, which is an urgent requirement for Pakistan in view of their dwindling uranium supply. Access to nuclear fuel will further allow Islamabad to enlarge its nuclear assets and result in greater proliferation as evident in the past.

Fitzpatrick’s ideas and arguments seem interesting and unconventional in academic terms especially when compared to the plethora of studies currently available on the topic. However, there are many factors in his argument that cannot be ignored, especially at a time when the future is uncertain and stakes too high.

Source: South Asian Voices, April 9, 2014,


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