Source: DAWN - the Internet Edition, 17 May 1998 (Sunday)

India's obsession, our choice

By Eqbal Ahmad

YOUNG people to whom the future belongs are often

right when powerful old men in khadis and suits

are not. The Japanese youth who stood the other

day holding a placard in Tokyo was absolutely

right. "Nuclear Test?", the placard asked after

three tests by India, "Are you crazy?" Then there

were five. "Gone berserk", was Pakistan Foreign

Minister's apt description.

It is well known that Indian leaders generally and

the BJP wallahs in particular are obsessed with

projecting India as a big power. They view nuclear

weapons as a permit to the club in which India

does not belong, and should not enter with a

population of half a billion illiterate and four

hundred million under-nourished citizens.

Furthermore, it is illusory to search for power

through nuclear weapons. The nature of power

changes in accordance with shifts in modes of

production, knowledge and communication. In our

time these shifts have been revolutionary. Power

has changed in ways least understood by those who

formally hold the reins of power.

Take the nuclear weapon. When first invented, it

was viewed as a weapon of war, and wantonly

dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Its development

and possession coincided with the rise of the US

as a global power, a coincidence which confirmed

it as a modern component of power. Its use also

proved that it was a weapon of total annihilation,

therefore not usable, notwithstanding the crackpot

realists like Henry Kissinger and Herman Kahn.

After the USSR tested its hydrogen bomb, it became

a weapon of terror and of deterrence against war

between two giants in a bipolar world. It also

served as an umbrella for covert, proxy warfare.

Given these facts and its association with

superpowers, in the 1950s the identification of

nuclear weapons with power was total. It was in

the interest of the United States and the USSR to

perpetuate this perception. But change has its own

inexorable logic.

Three events helped devalue nuclear weapons as a

component of power. There were first the cases of

Cuba and Vietnam. Together, the liberation

movements of these two small nations reduced the

most awesome nuclear power, in the words of

Senator J.W. Fulbright, to "a crippled giant".

Castro's revolution succeeded and survives to this

day despite American nuclear power; in fact the

possession of nuclear weapons constricted American

ability to destroy that revolution. The Vietnamese

demonstrated that a nuclear giant can in fact be

defeated, even militarily. France offered a

negative example. It tested and inducted nuclear

weapons as a means to challenge the paramountcy of

the United States in Europe. It did not work.

A third, related reality dawned: the world was

changing in a way that for the first time in

history political economy took precedence over

military might as a component of power. In Europe

the influence of France, now a nuclear power, does

not surpass that of non-nuclear Germany.

Similarly, Japan exercises much greater influence

in the world than does China or France. South

Africa and Israel offer contrasting examples.

South Africa's prestige and influence in world

politics increased after it had renounced and

dismantled its nuclear arsenal while Israel's

considerable nuclear capability - so scandalously

tolerated and augmented by the United States - has

added not a bit to its influence or security in

the Middle East or beyond. That in 1998 India's

leaders still view the possession of nuclear

weapons as a necessary element to gain recognition

as a world power, speaks volumes about their

intellectual poverty and mediocre, bureaucratic


In effect, these five tests may set back India's

ambitions. As any politician and gang leader

knows, power grows from the neighbourhood. A

country that does not command influence and

authority in its own region cannot claim the

status of a world power. India's standing with its

neighbours, already low, will not now sink

further. It tested a fusion bomb which

demonstrated thermonuclear capability, then went

on to test its ability to produce tactical

weapons. This cannot but raise the anxiety of

India's non-nuclear neighbours while contributing

little to its military balance with China or


Similarly, while the tests may be psychologically

satisfying or politically beneficial to the BJP's

insecure leaders, the material losses to India may

be greater than they surmise. India was expected

in the coming years to achieve a growth rate of 7

per cent. If the international sanctions,

including technology transfers, are half as severe

as Japan and the US are threatening, this may be

in jeopardy. Lastly, with these tests Delhi may

have put India in the fast lane of the arms race.

A third world country can crash more easily in

such a race that the second world power did.

What then should Pakistan do? My advice is: do not

panic, and do not behave reactively. This

translates as: do not listen to people like Qazi

Husain Ahmad and Benazir Bhutto who, either out of

ignorance, or more likely crass opportunism, are

advocating nuclear tests, here and now. The

arguments for steadying the jerking knee are

compelling. Consider these: One, India is

currently the focus of adverse world attention

both governmental and popular, and is likely to

remain so for a while. A Pakistani test will

immediately relieve the pressure on India and

shift it to Pakistan with consequences surely

worse for us than it would for India. Islamabad

should not take Delhi's burden upon itself.

Rather, this is time for it to mount diplomatic

initiatives and international campaigns to put

pressure on India both within SAARC and worldwide,

and reap some benefits for Pakistan's

statesman-like posture.

Two, Pakistan's objective in developing nuclear

weapons are different from India's. Delhi's

nuclear programme has been linked to the quest,

however misguided, for power. Islamabad's is

related to security. What Pakistan has sought is a

shield against India's nuclear power. That

requires the achievement of sufficient deterrence

which we possess by all appearances. India's five

tests do not change that reality, at least not

from what I know of strategic weaponry from a life

time of studying it. Scientists and their managers

like to test; that is what they do. The question

we need ask is: Are we less defence capable today

than a week ago? I don't think any honest person

can answer in the affirmative.

Three, one major risk Pakistan runs is to get

drawn into an arms race with India, a country with

far superior resources than ours. There is

evidence to suggest that India would like us to do

just that. But we shall be getting into the wrong

lane. The development of strategic armaments is an

expensive business which carries little Keynesian

logic. In other words, while it costs a lot the

economic multiplier is negligible. The reasons are

that the development and production of strategic

weaponry is a capital intensive and largely secret

activity which means that it rarely yields either

the economic multiplier or the technological spin

off. It is thus that the Soviet Union and its

satellites such as Poland and Czechoslovakia

became highly sophisticated arms producers, but

remained very underdeveloped economically. As a

consequence, their states and societies grew

dis-organically and eventually collapsed. For

Pakistan to avoid that fate, it must resist

falling into the trap of seeking strategic

equivalence with India. Our requirement is

effective deterrence not equivalence. Deterrence

demands fewer shifts in strategic planning and

weaponry, providing a more stable environment for

economic growth.

Finally, the most basic problems facing Pakistan

today are economic and social. It is not an

exaggeration to say that our future depends on how

well we confront the challenges of economic

slow-down and social fragmentation. Both are

expressions of fundamental structural crises of

our state and society, and neither is susceptible

to simple crisis-management. In an environment

such as this Pakistan is considerably more

vulnerable to international sanctions than India

which, whatever its other weaknesses, has been and

remains less dependent on foreign aid, loans and

technology transfers than we are. For these

reasons and more, it is much better for Islamabad

to stay cool, calculating, and utilizing the

opportunities Delhi has presented. May reason


© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 1998