Interestingly, issues related to India and Kashmir are completely absent from political parties campaigning for the 2013 election. This could be perceived in both, a positive and negative manner. Positive because we appear, finally, to be out of that antagonists mindset, where India has to be rivalled at every cost and in every situation. And negative because we seem to be missing out on important developments in our neighbouring country and these developments are going to affect us in the long run.
Ironically, we do witness some glimpses of the nuclear energy issue in the campaigns, but even in this respect, the assertions of our political leaders do not appear aligned with latest developments. The developments have bypassed our political class and therefore have reinforced the perception that our political elite are ignorant and do not contribute to the strategic debate. In fact, watching these political leaders prattle uselessly on nuclear issue compels one to be believe that we don’t have informed debate on the nuclear energy issue in our society and in the process they have left the leave the field open for an obscure and limited group of military officials to make the decisions regarding nuclear energy — and this has fateful consequences for us as a nation.
The glimpses of nuclear issues presented by Rehman Malik, the former interior minister, who, while, addressing a press conference in Lahore (reported by Urdu newspapers) said that it was the military which conducted the nuclear tests in May 1998 and when Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, was informed he felt very scared. Apparently, Malik’s statement was meant to blunt the affects of Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz’s (PMLN) elections campaign, which prominently features Sharif as the statesman’ who conducted the nuclear tests and ensured Pakistan’s entry into nuclear club.
The fact that Malik made this statement after presiding over a meeting of party-ticket holders in Lahore, clearly indicate that Pakistan Peoples Party doesn’t want to let Sharif take credit for five nuclear explosions which were carried out by Pakistan on May 28, 1998. Sharif, on the other hand, has made it a point to include the visuals of nuclear explosions at Chagai in each of his campaign advertisements that are being show on television.
All this clearly reflects one thing: that Pakistan’s political class is still bogged down by the mindset that nuclear explosions are a capability of great jingoistic value. Malik’s statement assumes that carrying out nuclear explosions is a great act of valour which only Pakistan’s military is capable of. At the same time PMLN’s campaign advertisements want to pin this badge of bravery on the shoulder of their leader. It’s true that this is what the Pakistani public – especially the people in the urban areas of Central Punjab – would like to hear from their leaders before they decide who to vote for on May 11. But the character and style of politicians should be different from people from the performing arts (no offense), whose primary purpose is to attract an audience.
A general overview of nuclear developments in the region and in the country will show how out of touch with reality all this prattling is. When Pakistan carried out the nuclear explosions the mantra coming out of corridors of Pakistani security establishment was about how the nation has now attained a weapon which has made its defence “impregnable”. This has now changed. Now many a times will you hear the refrain that Pakistani nation and armed forces are ready to sacrifice their lives for defending their country’s “strategic weapons”. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was the first Pakistani leader who started to “treat the nuclear arsenal as the vital interest to protect rather than the means to protect the Pakistani people.” This was the natural consequence of a situation where Pakistani nuclear weapons were facing twin threats from extremists from within the country and from ‘friendly’ US military forces stationed in Afghanistan, which (as reported by the American media) have carried out mock exercises to snatch weapons from Pakistani strategic forces. If the situation is so grim can the Pakistani political class afford to remain bogged down in the jingoistic mindset of 1990s?
The second and more depressing prospect with regard to our nuclear capability is related to our relations with India. Brigadier (retd) Feroz Hassan Khan, a former eminent member of country’s nuclear establishment, writes in Eating Grass, his latest book, that after coming under military pressure from India in the last 10 years, Pakistani armed forces have started integrating nuclear weapons into conventional war plans. “By the time the second peak of the crisis occurs in May 2002, the Pakistan military had finalised plans for integrating its conventional and nuclear forces … the crisis accelerated the pace of force planning and integration,” writes Khan in his book.
Now both the regional and international security experts are saying that Pakistani and Indian militaries are flirting with very dangerous military concepts and doctrines. Repeated flight testing of short-range tactical missiles, which can be used in the battlefield, by Pakistan clearly indicate its intentions to respond to India’s conventional attack with tactical nuclear weapons. Indian military planners, on the other hand, are flirting with a more dangerous Cold Start doctrine, under which they harbour the belief that they can punish Pakistan with their conventional military superiority and yet stop short of invoking Pakistan’s nuclear response. Indian military, in fact, tried to implement part of this concept in their military exercises close to Pakistan’s border in 2011. On the other hand, it was precisely at this time that our military conducted flight tests of its short range tactical missiles.
Now the question is that if the situation is potentially so unstable then can we afford to remain bogged down in our jingoistic mindset? Can we afford to feed Pakistani public on the same jingoistic jargon that could be so destabilising? Can we afford to leave this issue in the hands of obscure military officials, who rarely share their thoughts with the public? The answers to all these questions are in the negative. Instead, we should be engaging in an informed debate — a debate which can open avenues for making Pakistan more secure and less jingoistic.
And it is because of this reason that I argue that the complete absence of India from our election campaign is not a positive development. In fact I remember the 1997 election campaign when both PMLN and PPP used ‘bettering relations with India’ as the central issue of their election campaign. And it was because of this that the then prime minister gained enough confidence to initiate the normalisation process with India, which brought Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Indian prime minister, to Lahore and Islamabad. Ironically, in the wake of the Lahore Summit, Pakistani and Indian experts were expected to meet regularly to exchange nuclear doctrines and concepts to avoid nuclear brinkmanship.
Unfortunately this process was disrupted as a result of military takeover in Pakistan.