Foreign policy is the extension of domestic policy. Thus goes a Marxist cliché that keeps reappearing with reference to situations seemingly different from each other such as parading nuclear weapons on Independence Day and an American drone strike killing the Afghan Taliban chief in Pakistani territory. On the surface of it, building a nuclear arsenal is necessitated by our (lack of) foreign relations with India and Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death is an effect of our (lack of) foreign relations with Afghanistan. Where is the domestic policy here?
The question has an awkward answer: the two events, indeed, are not as much about the nature of ties we have with our next-door neighbours as they are about what kind of state and society we are or want to become. Building atom bombs and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan is more about how we feel about ourselves than the insanity of having prolonged conflicts with states on either of our flanks. It is our internal insecurity that is projecting itself onto our external policy.
Why are we so doubtful about our survival that we need the protection of the most lethal – and also the most expensive — weapons that human beings have developed so far? Why do we feel so unsure of our existence that we seek safety in the embrace of a militant religious movement that has an unparalleled track record of committing the most horrific atrocities mankind has ever suffered?
To answer these questions is the domain of experts but that still leaves space for looking into whether weapons of mass destruction can be used as weapons of mass protection and whether a violent, extremist ideology can be relied upon to foster neighbourly love and affection.
Building atom bombs and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan is more about how we feel about ourselves than the insanity of having prolonged conflicts with states on either of our flanks.
The latter first: we saw the Taliban shun and spurn us with effortless ease when they were ruling Afghanistan; even more dangerously, they provided a safe haven to sectarian militants and trained and armed them so that they could launch attacks in Pakistan with impunity. Even as a dislocated guerilla movement, they utilise our territory and our identification documents to remain hidden from their enemies and yet have never stopped their Pakistani franchise from committing mind-numbing acts of violence in our markets and shrines.
Now the former: since the 1980s, we have endured economic sanctions at least twice as a result of our pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our economy has been suffering all these decades because we needed undisclosed – but certainly stupendous – amounts of money to keep our nuclear programme going; and the costs have not been economic only.
Twice since our nuclear tests in May 1998 (an anniversary which we just celebrated albeit in a low-key fashion), we have almost gone to war with India. In one instance, Kargil in 1999, we actually did go to war though we continue to deny that fighters on our side were army regulars. We have bestowed the highest military honours on two army officials for losing their lives in that very war but we also insist that, since 1948, it is only the irregulars – ex-soldiers and jihad-inspired civilians – that fight on our behalf in Indian-administered Kashmir.
What prevented the Kargil episode from exploding into a full-scale war was not our nuclearised long-range missiles but mediation by the United States.
A nuclear deterrence to a full-scale war is premised on a crazy notion: Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD for short. When two states armed with nuclear weapons have the capability to annihilate each other entirely is when they desist from launching the first attack. This looks terrifying even on paper.
It suffices to say that almost everyone understands that the two countries are engaged in an unwinnable – and highly expensive – race ...
In practice, MAD requires perpetual parity between nuclear weapon capabilities of the two states: if one side upgrades or diversifies its arsenal, the other side must match that with similar ability to inflict nuclear horror. If India deploys a nuclear armed submarine, Pakistan should have tactical nuclear weapons; if India toys with the idea of developing a second strike capability then Pakistan must build multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs).
For a Pakistani selling onions on a cart in Lahore or for an Indian purchasing pani puri in Mumbai, it is well nigh impossible to understand what these vehicles do and what advantages a second strike capability can confer. It suffices to say that almost everyone understands that the two countries are engaged in an unwinnable – and highly expensive – race to acquire more tools for annihilating each other out of existence. What a horrible idea to even contemplate!
The only thing on par with it in terms of naivety is the assumption that sovereignty is something material which gets breached by an American drone but remains intact when the leader of a foreign guerilla movement roams around carrying identity and travel documents provided and endorsed by us.
Can we vanquish our enemy on our east and our hostile Muslim brethren on our west so that we can then focus on such domestic issues as economic and social development? The answer is an obvious no. It is about time to reprioritise. Peace and harmony within could induce peace and harmony without. Foreign policy, after all, is an extension of domestic policy.
This was originally published in the Herald's June 2016 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.