Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hoodbhoy on the possibility of a Saudi bomb

by Salman Hameed

Here is an article that provides a nice context of the nuclear programs of Pakistan and Iran, and the potential of a Saudi bomb in reaction to a possible Iranian nuclear test. Despite the rhetoric of Saudis, I doubt that they will be able to do that. A big reason is that their military and security is tightly linked to the US, and any help from Pakistan would be under a severe scrutiny. Nevertheless, here is an excerpt from The Sunni Bomb:
What if Iran chooses to cross the threshold? Among other likely consequences, an Iranian bomb would be a powerful stimulus pushing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to follow and seek the first Sunni bomb. The first, yes. Though also a Sunni-majority state, Pakistan built its bomb not for Islamic reasons, but to counter India's nuclear arsenal. In fact, Shiite-majority Iran enthusiastically hailed Pakistan's 1998 test of an atomic device. Clearly, the Iranian leadership did not see Pakistan's bomb as a threat.
But Sunni Saudi Arabia sees Shia Iran as its primary enemy. The two are bitter rivals that, post-Iranian revolution, have vied for influence in the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia has the world's largest petroleum reserves, Iran the second. Saudi Arabia is the biggest buyer of advanced US weapons and is run by expatriates. It is America's golden goose, protected by US military might. But fiercely nationalist Iran expelled US oil companies after the revolution and is building its own scientific base.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are theocracies, with their respective theologies locked in an irresolvable conflict that began with the death of the Prophet of Islam some 15 centuries ago. Saudi Arabia is Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the birthplace of Islam. It is the leader of the Sunni world, culturally conservative, and Arab.
On the other hand, Iran is a Persian, Shia-majority state that, after its revolution, sought to be the leader of all Muslim revolutionaries, both Shia and Sunni, who wanted to confront the West. Iran has a large class of educated and forward-looking young people who enjoy more cultural freedom than most Arab countries allow. But Iran is run by a backward-looking Guardian Council of clerics who, although their initial revolutionary ardor has gone, still seek to project Iranian power in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.
Here is bit about the Pakistan-Iran connection:

Pakistan made its first nuclear weapon in 1985 and now has many. Nevertheless, it is difficult, if not impossible, to envisage it -- or any Muslim state -- using an Islamic bomb for defense of the ummah against the United States or Israel. Although Khan has acknowledged transfer of nuclear materials and knowledge from Pakistan to other countries, his actions were not inspired by religion. In 2011, to get even with opponents, he made available documents showing that he personally transferred more than $3 million in payments by North Korea to senior officers in the Pakistani military, who subsequently approved his sharing of technical know-how and equipment with Pyongyang. If the released letter is genuine, then this episode demonstrates corruption, not ideological sympathy.
While revolutionary Iran supported the notion of an Islamic bomb, it never benefited from the concept. The main sectarian division within Islam -- between Sunni and Shia -- was too big a hurdle.
There were times when Iran was considered among Pakistan's closest allies. It was the first country to recognize the newly independent Pakistan in 1947. In the 1965 war with India, Pakistani fighter jets flew to Iranian bases in Zahidan and Mehrabad for protection. Iran's pro-US Shah was a popular figure in Pakistan, and Iran opened its universities wide to Pakistani students. Although it is 80 percent Sunni, with only a 15-20 percent Shia minority, Pakistan once considered Iran as a brother Muslim country.
In 1979, Khomenei's Islamic revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan set realignments in motion. As Iran exited the US orbit, Pakistan moved close to the Americans to fight the Soviets. With financial assistance from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the US created and armed the mujahideen. The CIA placed advertisements in journals and newspapers across the world, inviting the most hardened of Islamic fighters to participate in holy war against communist infidels. Although this worked brilliantly, the dynamics that eventually led to 9/11 had been put in place.
Iran too supported the mujahideen. But it supported the Northern Alliance while Pakistan supported the Pashtun Taliban. As religion assumed centrality in matters of state in both Pakistan and Iran, rifts widened. In the wake of the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan, the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996. An initial selective killing of Shias was followed by a massacre of more than 5,000 in Bamiyan province. Iran soon amassed 300,000 troops at the Afghan border and threatened to attack the Pakistan-supported Taliban government. Today Iran accuses Pakistan of harboring terrorist anti-Iran groups on its soil and allowing Sunni extremists to ravage Pakistan's Shia minority.
On the nuclear front, Pakistan has always publicly defended Iran's right to nuclear technology and secretly helped Iran's nuclear weapon program until the mid 1990's. But even at that time, subterranean voices within the Pakistani establishment spoke against giving nuclear support to Iran. The discomfort during the Musharraf regime was confirmed by confidential American cables, revealed by Wikileaks and highlighted by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. The cables detail Pakistan's efforts to dissuade Iran from pursuing its weapons program. In late 2006, the cables say, former Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri told the Americans, "We are the only Muslim country [with such a weapon] and don't want anyone else to get it."
But Iran may acquire the bomb, Pakistani desires notwithstanding. Then what?
Pakistan has close ties with Saudi Arabia, and has helped set-up Saudi Air Force and other military facilities. So it is quite plausible (and perhaps the only route for the Kingdom) that Pakistani engineers and scientists will be the source of any Saudi nuclear efforts. But as I said above, with so much scrutiny on Pakistan, I don't see this going much further. But how should we look at the broader issue of nuclear weapons? I agree with Hoodbhoy on the fact that we need fewer nuclear weapons, and that the US has no moral authority on this matter. But it is unclear how any de-nuclearization will take place. We may simply have to live with more nuclear weapons and knowing that many of us are capable of unleashing unimaginable catastrophe on fellow human beings:
Any solution is deeply complicated by one unfortunate fact: The world's pre-eminent power, the United States, lacks the moral authority to act effectively in the domain of nuclear proliferation. Whereas it has periodically threatened Iran with a nuclear holocaust for trying to develop nuclear weapons, it has rewarded, to various degrees, other countries -- Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea -- that developed such weapons surreptitiously.
The US has tried threats and coercion with Iran, but never the power of humility. Had American leaders acknowledged having wronged Iran in 1953 by engineering the coup which brought back the Shah, Iranian nuclear nationalism might have been significantly weakened. It is now probably too late for this tack.
Short of war, every attempt must be made to dissuade Iran. But nuclear nationalism and Persian pride could still override the pain of sanctions. And what if Iran does make the bomb or get close to it? Well, then the international community must accept this state of affairs as just another nasty fact of life. The world will have yet another nuclear state, surely a bad, but not catastrophic, thing. One can see Iranians becoming steadily more pragmatic and less revolutionary since 1997; in time their nuclear weapons will become like everybody else's.
The world needs fewer nuclear weapons, not more. But attacking Iran is not an option. This rash step would unleash dynamics over which the US and Israel will have little control. Sunni-Shia divisions will be pushed aside; Muslims will unite against a common enemy. However unwelcome Iran's bomb -- and the Sunni bomb that could someday follow -- may be, it is far better to live with potential danger than to knowingly create a holocaust.
Read the full article here.


Anonymous said...

If anyone should be banned from writing political analyses, Hoodbhoy would get my first vote for a ban. This is yet another signature shit piece of writing from him, sorry to say. The use of the phrase 'Sunni bomb' rather than 'Saudi bomb' is certainly an outcome of a pernicious hateful mentality.

Peter said...

I completely agree with Anonymous on this. Call Pakistan.

Salman Hameed said...

Dear Anonymous,

There is zero argument in your comment. This is a classic definition of an ad hominem. Please try to engage with the argument. I actually think that his analysis of the development of Pakistani and Iranian nuclear programs and the historical context is actually quite accurate and non-controversial. Similarly, in his article he traces the origins of the phrase "Islamic" bomb, and that is also well known. So even if you disagree with the term "Sunni" bomb, there are numerous things that are relevant and presented quite astutely. Nevertheless, I also thought that "Saudi" bomb would be a better way to talk about it, so I used that in the title. But Hoodbhoy's analysis here is mostly on the mark here.

Akbar said...

"Sunni bomb"...haha now that is hilarious. Looks like a desperate attempt to demonize the military ambitions of the Kingdom. Not nice though. Keeping in view Dr Hoodbhoy's affiliation to Ismaili Shia (I guess so) community, I would have expected worse from him regarding anything Saudi. Afterall, we all have a wicked side, so why not him?

Cool. Looks like I 've got company. Keep it up :-)

Atif Khan said...

Once again... Hoodbhoy nailed it well. Keep posting his writings.