Saturday, May 28, 2011

For own safety, is it time to give up nuclear weapons?

by Salman Hameed

Today (May 28th) is the anniversary of Pakistan's nuclear tests in 1998. In the wake of attacks by the militants on GHQ in Rawalpindi, and just this past week on Pakistan's Naval base in Karachi, I think it is justifiable to raise the question of the safety of the nuclear bomb. The whole point of having the bomb was to have a deterrent. The point was to protect Pakistan. But what if the Pakistani bomb becomes dangerous for Pakistan itself? Now I know some people will immediately start huffing and puffing after reading the last sentence. After all, this bomb (I'm using a singular - but the number is now estimated to be close to a hundred) has now attained the status of a sacred object. But at this time, the danger to Pakistanis (my family and friends included) comes from the use of this bomb within Pakistan. Yes, we have heard of the arguments about how safe the bomb is. But then we have also seen breaches of security at some of the most secure military sites. Emotions aside, this is unchartered territory: A nation with multiple nuclear weapons facing a serious threat from militants who use suicide bombings as part of their tactics.

On this anniversary of Pakistan's nuclear tests, the question to ponder is this: What if militants are able to penetrate the defenses of Kahuta or some other nuclear plant that we are not really aware of? I know, the general belief is that even if the militants get the bomb, they won't have the know-how to put together all the components of the bomb. But what if there is some inside help? Or what if they get a handle on the fissile material and use it as a dirty bomb? Obviously, these militants have shown little compunction against killing Pakistanis. Just look at the daily reports of attacks inside Pakistan. Will they hold back in using a dirty bomb?

If the goal is to create chaos in the country, then this would be the perfect way to do it. Some of these facilities are not too far from major Pakistani cities (Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta are located about 15 miles from Islamabad). Jingoism aside, isn't this a threat to Pakistan's own population? This not about rights or the hypocrisy of other nuclear states. I think one can easily point to the double-standards of US, and Iran has constantly done just that. In addition, the US holds the shameful distinction of being the only country to have actually used nuclear bombs in a war.

But this is not about the US. It is about Pakistan. What if having this bomb is like having shaking hands syndrome and keeping a loaded gun in the bedroom? Most of the times it would be okay - but one moment of neglect can prove to be costly.

I know that there is no way that Pakistan will give up nuclear weapons. At least we can stop increasing the stockpile (how many do we really need??). I hope - and I really hope - we do not end up serving as an example.

For our own safety, lets be vocal about the threat of nuclear weapons - both in Pakistan and abroad. 
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