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Updated: May 5, 2014 22:15 IST

Weak claims on nuclear dynamics

Swaran Singh
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Evolving Dynamics of Nuclear South Asia. Author: Air Commodore Tariq Mahmud Ashraf (Retd.) Pakistan Airforce. Rs. 980.
Evolving Dynamics of Nuclear South Asia. Author: Air Commodore Tariq Mahmud Ashraf (Retd.) Pakistan Airforce. Rs. 980.

A former fighter pilot provides a peek into the mindset of the Pakistani Air Force on Indo-Pak equations

Some titles like Evolving Dynamics of Nuclear South Asia will never go out of fashion. And, if a much-awarded former fighter pilot were to offer a manuscript, most publishers may not even read it before committing to publish it. Such pitfalls are worse in case of authors. Their life is often driven by deadlines; deadlines that can produce still-born scripts with a few flashes that help them survive readers’ intolerance.

The book under review is a collation of sketchy summaries of the author’s, and yes, others’ earlier writings and documents. This makes it spasmodic, excessively repetitive; threatening to kill reader’s interest with unnecessary details, leave alone typographic, grammatical and factual errors. But its few insightful assertions can provide a peek into the mindset of the Pakistani Air Force.

American ambivalence

Its first convincing assertion is on the U.S. role in nuclearisation of South Asia. From the late 1960s, the U.S. is shown as aware of Pakistan providing China access to US-supplied military hardware. From the late 1970s, the U.S. has conclusive evidence on the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme. And yet, it chooses to look the other way, as Pakistan is first an ally in SEATO and CENTO and then its frontline state in Afghanistan. Special national intelligence estimates in 1983 record how, following India’s nuclear test in 1974, China gave “verbal consent to help Pakistan develop a nuclear blast capability.” By the 1990s, the U.S. was aware of the Chinese buying equipment from its European allies either directly in the name of Pakistan or indirectly.

In the backdrop of China’s atomic tests in 1964, Secretary to the Prime Minister, L.K. Jha, embarks on a tour of nuclear weapon powers seeking nuclear security guarantees in return for India signing the NPT. The U.S. here is shown ready to give nothing more than a private verbal assurance, that too in the backdrop of some UN resolution sermonising on non-use against non-nuclear powers. In his meeting with Jha, Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara is shown (a) warning India against overreaction to perceived threat from China, (b) downplaying the significance of U.S. military supplies to Pakistan and (c) suggesting that India cut her defence budget by 25 per cent and reduce military manpower by 200,000.

The second point the author brings out is the underlying cause of divergence in Indo-Pak nuclear policies and perceptions. For him, while Pakistan’s motivations flow out of military considerations, India’s motivations emerge from political considerations. This implies that Pakistan sees its nuclear assets as a military weapon while India sees them as instruments of political power.

Therefore, while Pakistani nuclear decision-making has been controlled by the military, remains shrouded in secrecy, focuses on a defined enemy (India), and is happily restricted to a nuclear ‘dyad’ believing that Pakistan will be the first to use nuclear weapons, India has demonstrated strong political control, transparency with a published doctrine that prescribes a ‘triad’ capability and one that sees self-defence as its purpose and believes that nuclear weapons only deter nuclear weapons.

For Pakistan, nuclear weapons are not only meant to deter the onset of war but, if war becomes inevitable, also deter possibility of devastating defeat. The nuclearisation of South Asia, for the author, has not just enhanced the strategic stability but significantly reduced the possibility of an all-out conventional war. But he believes that this strategic stability remains premised on both sides enhancing transparency. He also exhorts that, given the rudimentary nature of their nuclear weapons and delivery systems, both India and Pakistan should abstain from thinking about counter-force or counter-value targets and contemplate only counter-space (sparsely populated) targets or naval assets on high seas.

As his third useful assertion, the author re-enforces how the Strategic Planning Division (SPD) has become inordinately powerful. Khalid Kidwai, head of SPD for over a decade, virtually single-handedly controls Pakistan’s nuclear establishment more in his personal capacity. Also, SPD continues to be manned almost exclusively by Pakistan Army officers who formulate not just Pakistan’s nuclear policy but even arms control and disarmament postures. The SPD has its own command of 10,000 troops to ensure the security of all nuclear institutions and installations.

Though designed originally to act as staff for National Command Authority (NCA), “the SPD over the years has assumed significant executive authority.” What is interesting is that Services Force Commands are shown as falling directly under the SPD’s administrative control. These Service Commands have authority limited only to training, technical and administrative matters. The operational planning and control rests with SPD as it functions in name of the NCA under the overall direction of Prime Minister.

The author reiterates how even while the NCA has overwhelming participation of politicians, “none of these political entities can be expected to overrule the military.” Leave alone politicians, he says, even the Pakistan Army does not take the Air Force and Navy into confidence in undertaking its major (mis)adventures.

Nuclear terrorism

Terrorists gaining access to Pakistan’s nuclear material, even assets, has been another constant concern. The spread of technology and expertise indeed makes it possible that these may fall into the wrong hands. However, terrorists getting a ready-made nuclear device and having the expertise and wherewithal to detonate it remains a far-fetched proposition. They may obtain minor quantities of fissile material and use these to produce a ‘dirty bomb’ but this is not likely to help their cause. Instead, they may be tempted to try and sabotage or occupy nuclear installations to bargain for their demands, but nuclear assets are normally protected far too well.

Though terrorism remains a serious threat inside Pakistan, the state remains equally worried about threats from outside. These include possibilities of surgical strikes by India, Israel or even the U.S., or strangulation by the sheriffs of non-proliferation. The author assures that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are secure in view of their secret locations, screening of personnel and frequent changes in manpower.

Substantive contradictions

In the end, most these assertions however must be taken with a pinch of salt because the book is full of contradictions. Chapter five condemns Pakistan Army exercising “an inordinate percentage of control over the nuclear potential… [which] is unacceptable and must not be allowed to materialise” and then Chapter seven scorns “the mess that the politicians and the bureaucrats have made of this country” and justifies as “rightly so” that the military “trusts neither the political leadership nor the bureaucracy” and that “armed forces will continue to dominate in all aspects.”

Similarly, while Chapter eight says “Israel cannot be eliminated as a focal point of our nuclear employment doctrine”, Chapter nine declares “Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine would not envisage any threat other than India.” Then in chapter nine itself, while at page 132, the author wants Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine “to be a ‘living’ document which is amenable to rapid modifications and adjustments”, on page 135 he wants “suitable legislation to be enacted to preclude any arbitrary.” One can list many more contradictions but hopes that authors and publishers will be far more responsible before readers reject them altogether.

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