Declaring Pakistan a nuclear state
The Nation
May 13, 1998
A nation with over 30 per cent population living below the poverty line has finally declared itself a nuclear state: the three nuclear tests that India has conducted establish beyond any doubt New Delhi’s intention of entering the nuclear club by producing a variety of nuclear devices, including hydrogen bomb, atom bomb, and tactical nuclear weapons. These tests have nothing to do with the generation of nuclear power for peaceful purposes, a plea the Indians have been giving since their 1974 explosion to dupe the international community, which, for its part, has been ever willing to be misled by India.

A low-yield nuclear test is conducted to produce tactical nuclear arms; a fission test is conducted to produce atom bomb; and a thermo-nuclear test is conducted to manufacture hydrogen bomb. That India’s three separate nuclear explosions in Pokhran are primarily meant to build these three kinds of nuclear arms, therefore, amounts to India declaring itself a nuclear state. In 1974, India could cheat the international community by taking the plea that its nuclear explosion was only for peaceful purposes; in 1998, it cannot.

Unlike the 1970s, the current situation in the subcontinent is far more serious, far more dangerous than was the case quarter of a century ago when India had conducted its first nuclear explosion: India is being ruled by Hindu nationalists of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with the BJP, currently ruling India, being its political wing; and prime minister Vajpaee, its lifetime member.

Inspired by Nazism and Fascism, Hindu nationalists have risen in India as an unrivalled ideological force, which is no less threatening to international peace and security than the Soviet Communism once was. Both in its February election manifesto and the March Agenda for Governance, the BJP had made it clear that declaring India a nuclear state would be a top Indian foreign policy priority during BJP’s rule. The party has kept its promises.

How should the international community, led by the United States, respond to Indian nuclear tests? And, what options does Pakistan have to counter the new Indian nuclear threat? These are the two questions which need to be answered urgently. True to its past accommodative and flexible nuclear stand, Pakistan can afford to wait only for a couple of weeks to see what posture the international community adopts towards India. If it behaves in the same manner as it did in 1974 by not punishing India, then Pakistan may not be left with no other choice but to declare itself a nuclear state.

So far the US-led international community’s resolve to punish India has not been that satisfactory, the only positive development being the US decision to impose sanctions against India. In protest, Australia and New Zealand have recalled their ambassadors from New Delhi. South Africa has also protested separately. Tokyo announced to suspend one of the three Japanese loans to India. Russia has talked about India’s “betrayal”; while, at the same time, opposing the imposition of sanctions against India on the grounds that these will be “counter-productive.” The United Nations has “condemned” the act. So have many other major states, including China.

The reaction that matters is American. Before the US decided to impose sanctions against India, president Clinton had stated that “very soon” the United States will impose “comprehensive sanctions against India.” But, simultaneously, he urged India to sign the CTBT and also stressed repeatedly that India’s neighbours should not “follow suit.” Under the 1994 US Non-Proliferation Prevention Act (NPPA), the Clinton administration has to impose sanctions against any state which does not enjoy nuclear status under the NPT and tests a nuclear device.

The US sanctions may not have any significant impact on India. One important reason is that India has never been as dependent upon the United States for its defence and development needs as Pakistan has been. It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that India had started developing credible commercial and security links with the United States. Japan, the United States and other Western states can use international financial institutions such as the IMF against India. But there is hardly any chance that such an action will ever bring India to its knees. India is not dependent upon the IMF as Pakistan is.

Until now, much of the international reaction to India’s nuclear tests is confined to statements of “deep concern” about the worsening security scenario in South Asia as a result of these tests. It has been confined to calls for “constraint” by India’s neighbour, meaning Pakistan. The international community had behaved exactly in the same manner in the aftermath of India’s May 1974 nuclear test.

The US NPPA had originally become operative in 1978. What the United States had then done, in reaction to the Indian nuclear explosion, was to prohibit its supply of fissionable material to India unless it accepted IAEA safeguards on all of its nuclear facilities. Consequently, the United States stopped the supply of low-enriched nuclear fuel to two Tarapur power reactors sold by the General Electric to India in the early 1960s. Interestingly, in 1983, the United States agreed to let France supply India with nuclear fuel, which France did until it signed the NPT in the early 1990s.

Now, by urging India to sign the CTBT, president Clinton’s message to New Delhi is that the United States can reconsider its decision to impose sanctions against India if it signs the CTBT. India will not lose anything if it signs the CTBT after nuclear tests, which have established India as a nuclear weapons state. If India concludes the CTBT, as Israel has already done, where will Pakistan, a country which has not tested even a single nuclear device, stand then? The most tragic reality that has come to surface in the aftermath of Indian nuclear tests is that the IAEA has still chosen to describe India as a threshold nuclear state, which, in fact, is not the case. Murli Manohar Joshi, India’s Minister for Science and Technology, has announced that India’s nuclear missiles will be nuclear-tipped.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been bold enough to say that “Pakistan alone” will decide what to do now. And this he has stated while citing the lackluster international approach towards India’s decades-old nuclear weapons pursuits. Foreign minister Gohar Ayub has stated that “any step of nuclear escalation by India will find a matching response from Pakistan.” Some of the country’s top analysts have also argued that Pakistan should respond in kind to Indian nuclear tests. Their argument is basically for a tit-for-tat response. But the existing situation demands much more from Pakistan.

Given the decades-old nuclear belligerency of India and the sheer ignorance of it by the world community, Pakistan has to go one step ahead of India: instead of merely restricting its option to conduct nuclear test, Islamabad must announce its nuclear weapons capability, no matter what happens. India’s nuclear ambitions are clear now, ambitions which India’s Hindu nationalist leadership wishes to pursue at all costs, as the BJP leaders have repeatedly made it clear. Tit-for-tat responses are advisable in a situation where states with adversarial relationship are somewhat, if not equally, guided by constraints of international diplomacy.

In South Asia’s case, India has shown through its recent past behaviour that it gives a damn to what the international community says or does. For the last 30 years, India has been refusing to sign the NPT. For the last over two years, it has been the only leading opponent of the CTBT. And for the last many months, India has been adamantly opposing the conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. What punishment has the international community, the Western world, the Americans have given to India for its consistent defiance of the will of the world community?

India’s next-door neighbour, China-which, to Indian defence minister George Fernandes, became India’s Enemy Number One in a few weeks preceding Indian nuclear tests-is a signatory to the NPT and the CTBT. For its part, Pakistan’s attitude towards the NPT, the CTBT and the FMCT has always been positive, rational and flexible. Islamabad said yes, although with some reservations, to the CTBT in the September 1996 UN General Assembly session, which was convened on the personal initiative of president Clinton to muster universal support for the treaty.

Pakistan is ready to sign the three treaties if India does. Then, over the years, Islamabad has made several proposals for regional or international settlement of the nuclear proliferation issue in South Asia. India disagrees with all of these proposals. What else does the international community want from Pakistan, a state whose sovereignty and independence have for over past half century been directly endangered by a many times militarily superior India? Almost a decade ago, on the asking of the United States, Pakistan had even capped its nuclear programme. This, however, does not mean it is incapable of producing nuclear weapons or has not already kept some of them in the basement. Like Israel and India, Pakistan has long been categorized as a threshold nuclear state, one that has the capability to manufacture nuclear arms.

Based on the US-led West’s pathetic handling of India’s nuclear conduct, one’s contention has always been that it will not be surprising if five members of the nuclear club let India enter the NPT regime as a nuclear power. What will Pakistan do in such a scenario? Accept a perpetual Indian hegemony? Islamabad should have pre-empted India’s ultimate nuclear design some years ago by at least conducting a nuclear test. Even before India’s nuclear tests, the strategy of nuclear ambiguity that both India and Pakistan pursued had favoured India.

Because India had already conducted a nuclear test. On the other hand, about Pakistan’s nuclear potential, there exist many speculations. Did it really obtain a nuclear design from China? Does it have the nuclear weapons capability, as the successive governments have claimed? Contradictory and confusing statements by Pakistan’s successive leaders have also contributed to the prevailing public uncertainty about its nuclear capability. Way back in 1987, Ziaul Haq had stated that Pakistan was only a “screw drive away” from manufacturing a nuclear device. His successor army chief General Beg claimed the country had conducted a “cold” nuclear test. Civilian leaders in the post-Zia era have claimed that Pakistan has the capability to manufacture a nuclear device but it has chosen not to produce them. Still the big question remains, where is the proof?

By testing nuclear weapons, India might have called Pakistan’s bluff. Some scholars think that by conducting the nuclear tests, the Indians may have thrown a feeler to see whether Pakistan really has the nuclear capability or it has been lying all these years about it. Now, in case Pakistan does not respond in kind, India will conclude that the latter possibility is right.

Even in the case of April test-firing of intermediate-range Ghauri missile by Pakistan, the Indians had raised serious questions about the validity of Pakistan’s claim. Like Pakistan’s nuclear capability claims, the country’s official claims about Ghauri being an indigenous product are also disputable. Either it is North Korea or China which has supplied the missile to Pakistan. This is what the international media has alleged. The uncertain state of affairs about Pakistan’s nuclear capability has to end. The sooner it happens, the better it will be for Pakistan. And the only way this uncertainty can end is if Pakistan declares itself a nuclear power, on which depends Islamabad’s survival as an independent and sovereign state.