By: Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi

Nuclear weapons figure prominently in the security and diplomatic competition between India and Pakistan. The policymakers and security analysts in Pakistan view nuclear weapons as a protection for Pakistan’s security and foreign policy options against India’s superiority in conventional security, its flourishing nuclear weapons and the delivery system.

The competition between Pakistan and India is now taking a new turn. Of late, some of the BJP hardliners and the champions of ultra-nationalism belonging to the “Sangh Parivar” are talking of abandoning India’s No First Use nuclear policy. They want that India should not hesitate from a pre-emptive nuclear strike, if and when needed. Some of them have also toyed with the idea of reviving the Cold Start strategy against Pakistan. Pakistan’s policymakers never took India’s No First Use policy as a credible declaration. However, the attempt by religious extremists in India to influence its nuclear policy is a matter of grave concern.

Pakistan’s nuclear programme has a limited agenda focusing on India. However, India’s official and non-official circles and some Western security analysts have traditionally attributed extended political agenda to Pakistan’s nuclear programme that went beyond India. Pakistan was accused of working on an “Islamic Bomb” that would be made available to some Middle Eastern states, jeopardising the security of Israel. In the mid-1980s, there were media reports of a possible India-Israel joint air raid on Pakistan’s nuclear installations to destroy Pakistan’s capacity to produce a bomb. The clandestine nature of Pakistan’s nuclear programme was also targeted for criticism. In post-September 2001 period, there was a persistent propaganda that Pakistan’s nuclear installations could be penetrated by religious extremists or al Qaeda fighters get hold of Pakistani nuclear weapons, fissile and radioactive material or take over some nuclear installation.

Pakistan’s diplomatic and academic response to this propaganda could be divided in two phases. The First Wave of Pakistani response pertained to the pre-explosion (pre-1998) period. The response in this period was weak and slow, comprising articles published in journals/magazines and edited volumes. Two books by Akhtar Ali dealt with the dimensions of nuclear power rather than responding to international criticism of Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

The second wave of academic work on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme began to take shape soon after the explosions in May 1998. The initial articles focused on justifying Pakistan’s decision to go for nuclear explosions, including the debate on who deserved to claim greater credit for this achievement. Some concern was also expressed that India and Pakistan might get into bitter competition in the nuclear domain, complicating the management of strategic stability and diplomatic normalcy in the region.

By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a good number of young scholars, based mostly in Islamabad, cropped up and published research papers, newspaper articles and political commentaries addressing different aspects of Pakistan’s nuclear programme as well as provided a spirited defence of the country’s nuclear and missile delivery system. Most of these writings were characterised by homogeneity of arguments.

Several books and monographs were published by Pakistani analysts. However, only three books deserve a special mention because these make a valuable attempt not only to provide a historical overview of Pakistan’s journey on road to nuclearisation but also link their studies with the diversified theoretical formulations and global discourse on nuclear weapons. Feroz Hassan Khan’s book entitled “Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb” (2012) is a remarkable contribution to the study of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Two books have been published by Dr Naeem Salik. These are “Genesis of South Asian Nuclear Deterrence: Pakistan’s Perspective” (2009) and “Learning to Live with the Bomb: Pakistan: 1998-2016” (2017).

Salik’s latest book “Learning to Live with the Bomb” makes a singular contribution by undertaking a critical and comprehensive review of how Pakistan learnt over the years the handling of different aspects of nuclear weapons capability. Pakistan has demonstrated strong learning from others’ experience as well as from undertaking the actual task of building nuclear weapons. This learning process was not a uni-linear process and Pakistan acquired the skills to address the dimensions of nuclearisation in a graduate manner.

The areas for learning and moving ahead with its own policies included nuclear doctrine and policies, the command and control issues and mechanisms, safety and security of the nuclear programme, nuclear export laws and administrative measures, and the making of the nuclear regulatory arrangements. The strides in these areas have helped to project Pakistan as a responsible nuclear power.

Pakistan can confidently claim that its external security has been strengthened by learning to address all aspects of its nuclear programme.

However, nuclear weapons by them do not necessarily ensure the resolution of entrenched political problems. As war is no longer an option for
India and Pakistan, there is now a stalemate like situation with reference to the major problems between India and Pakistan. A low level of conflict now characterises India-Pakistan relations since Narrendra Modi became India’s prime minister in May 2014.

Therefore, the new third wave of the literature on Pakistan’s nuclear programme and national security must focus on two inter-related issues. First, how Pakistan can strengthen its diplomacy and build a soft image at the global level in order to generate enough diplomatic pressure for resolving the major problems between India and Pakistan. The role of positive and active diplomacy increases after the assumption of nuclear weapons.

Second, the policymakers and security analysts need to recognise that nuclear weapons are not relevant to addressing some internal security issues, ie, extremism and terrorism, internal political disharmony and socio-economic inequities. Nuclear weapons alone do not address these two sets of issues. The third wave of nuclear and security scholarship must also emphasise articulating solutions to these internal problems so as to strengthen societal resilience. This will contribute to increasing Pakistan’s confidence as a nuclear weapons state.