The Nuclear Option
By M. Asghar
05 November 2003
India exploded its nuclear bomb, Nawaz Sharif, sent one of his ministers
to seek my advice whether we should also explode a nuclear
device, I advised him not to do so. However the widespread frenzy and
a false sense of pride got the better of him and he took the step that
was acclaimed in the country as an act of statesmanship.
If Pakistan was
a non-nuclear power it would not be necessary for India to attack Pakistan
with nuclear weapons even if Pakistan was the aggressor. It makes no
sense that India should launch a nuclear attack against Pakistan when
it already has three times Pakistan's strength in conventional weapons.
It is Pakistan, a smaller military power that may, in desperation, want
to use nuclear weapons in its defence.
However if it ever
did so, India could retaliate and within minutes destroy three or four
of Pakistan's cities and also Pakistan's main command and control capacity.
Anything comparable that Pakistan could do may damage India in many
ways but it would be nothing compared to the damage that would have
been done to Pakistan. Pakistan would, as a result, be mortally damaged
whereas India would be damaged to a much lesser extent and would still
survive as a nation. It is also possible that in a state of heightened
tension, India could itself explode a bomb or two in one of its lesser
populated or vital areas and then within minutes obliterate Pakistan's
main strategic centres. India could claim that Pakistan had bombed it
first. There would not be many of us left to deny this.
There are other
scenarios that are frightening. India and Pakistan are today the only
two hostile nuclear powers with a common border. The warning
time is less than one minute and in this situation, a misreading of
a warning of a nuclear attack could initiate a reaction and the launching
of a retaliatory strike. This could initiate a nuclear conflict by miscalculation.
After the second
world war there were a number of occasions when the two nuclear powers,
the US and the USSR, misread the warning of a possible
nuclear strike and ordered their interceptor aircraft to meet the 'hostile'
aircraft, assumed to be carrying nuclear weapons. After some time and
before the interceptor aircraft had made contact, it was discovered
that the warning was
false and the interceptor aircraft were called back.
In our situation,
we do not have the distance or the time to correct our mistake. The
few seconds that we have, will not be enough and it is likely
that we will destroy ourselves before the error is recognized. There
is also the danger that some madman on either side, might press the
button in the belief that it was his national or religious duty to do
so. The possibilities are frightening and only fools can disregard this
real danger. It has been true throughout history that an enemy has been
created to infuse unity in a country and indeed sometimes desirable
for it to make progress. The dissolution of the Soviet Union posed a
problem for the United States and it had been faced for over a decade
with the need to invent threats for its progress and stability.
The attack on the
twin towers on September 1, 2001, tragic as it was, has given the United
States the enemy that it had begun to miss. Iraq and other countries
that may follow are required to mobilize the American public to strengthen
the government of the time. This has been true throughout history but
the nuclear bomb has changed the world in the last half century. It
is now necessary that the public should exert its power and influence
to ensure that it is not exploited by its government for its narrow
political purposes. What is true of the United States or other powerful
states applies equally to Pakistan - a country placed in a critical
strategic position. Misleading the public, in matters of survival, could
have disastrous consequences.
I believe that with
the present unsatisfactory international situation with India, Pakistan
would be more secure without nuclear weapons. If Pakistan has no nuclear
weapons and opened itself to inspection to satisfy world opinion that
could no longer use nuclear weapons, it would have only a conventional
threat to its security. India could not use its nuclear power against
Pakistan and would have to rely on its conventional weapons alone. Because
of its heavy investment in maintaining a large nuclear capability, India's
capacity to maintain a large conventional force at the same time would
be limited. That itself would give greater security to Pakistan which
should review its concept of defence.
In this situation,
with the knowledge that India could not launch a nuclear strike against
Pakistan, it should prepare only for a conventional war. Pakistan should
maintain an effective air force with reasonable armoured
strength and should cut down drastically, the defence expenditure on
its regular land forces. With a large reserve of trained manpower it
should have a large territorial reserve force organized in geographical
sectors called up for
periodical refresher training and capable of deployment at 24 hours'
notice. Their weapons should be kept at suitable locations for rapid
Not only would Pakistan's defence thus be strengthened but what is equally
important, the defence budget could be cut down drastically. If other
wasteful and totally unnecessary expenditures are cut down and the fat
reduced, our defence would be greatly strengthened at far lesser cost.
It is however sad
but true that few in power or those aspiring to get into power, will
have the courage to face facts and accept reality. It is more likely
that they will continue to misguide the people and lead the country
misery and possible destruction.