Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Nuclear Pakistan - ten years after the tests

On May 28, 1998, Pakistan tested five nuclear devices in Chagai, Baluchistan. I was in grad school in New Mexico at the time, and I remember well the tension over the tit for tat tests between India and Pakistan that May. On this depressing anniversary, we can ask what did Pakistan achieve from those tests? Here is an opinion piece by Pervez Hoodbhoy, looking at a nuclear Pakistan, ten years on:
IT’S May 1998 and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulates wildly cheering citizens as the Chagai mountain trembles and goes white from multiple nuclear explosions. He declares that Pakistan is now safe and sound forever.

Bomb makers become national heroes. Schoolchildren are handed free badges with mushroom clouds. Bomb and missile replicas are planted in cities up and down the land. Welcome to nuclear Pakistan.

Fast-forward the video 10 years. Pakistan turns into a different country, deeply insecure and afraid for its future. Grim-faced citizens see machine-gun bunkers, soldiers crouched behind sandbags, barbed wire and barricaded streets. In Balochistan and Fata, helicopter gunships and fighter jets swarm the skies.

Today, we are at war on multiple fronts. But the bomb provides no defence. Rather, it has helped bring us to this grievously troubled situation and offers no way out. On this awful anniversary, it is important that we relate the present to the past.
And the threats that developed turned out to be so different from the ones envisioned at the time:
Terrorism and fanaticism, not India, shall be the real threats to Pakistan in the forseeable future. The writ of the Pakistani state has already ceased to hold in parts of the country. Terrorists have repeatedly targeted Pakistani officers and soldiers and their wives and children. Even their fortified residential compounds are not safe. Officers are now understandably afraid to drive in official vehicles, to wear uniforms in public, or even to stop at traffic lights.

It was a lie that the bomb could protect Pakistan, its people, or its armed forces. The bomb cannot help us recover the territory seized by the Baitullahs and Fazlullahs. Our nukes certainly give us the ability to destroy India — and to be destroyed in return. But that’s about it. The much-vaunted nuclear dividend turned out to be empty.

Read the full article here.