By Brig Samson S Sharaf
Pakistan as a nation state has never been able to make independent decisions. The sad part is that ever since it acquired a nuclear capability, the inability has spread to its internal decision making with grave domestic implications. As a result, a country with abundant resources, skilled manpower and great potential is locked in budgetary deficits, borrowing, energy crises and external manipulation. The most recent example is the controversial elections. Some call it the International Reconciliation Order (IRO).
This vulnerability raises serious question about Pakistan’s capability to handle a nuclear regime that many analysts opine will fall apart like a house of cards. The argument is based on the disproportionate influx of external interests in the internal affairs of Pakistan. As a result, Pakistan continues to serve outside interests at the cost of its own attrition. There are no indications that this trend would be reversed.
Sacrificing small interests at the cost to protect and preserve a larger one is called compellence. Hence Pakistan is often seen to succumb to international pressures as long as it evades its nuclear capability. Though the issue seems to be parried off in the short term, it aggravates Pakistan’s internal problems with long term implications. A stage has now reached that most foreign policy objectives of Pakistan are contained within the premise of Pakistan’s internal situation. This was an avoidable scenario and does not auger well for a country that continues to augment the technical capabilities of its nuclear regime.
Let us begin the story from 1996 when the world was taken to believe that Pakistan has an assured ambivalent nuclear deterrence. Pakistan’s President Farooq Ahmad Leghari through a change orchestrated through civilian establishment was successful in getting rid of the second Benazir government on apparent charges of corruption on the night 4/5 November 1996. But the fact is otherwise. Benazir Bhutto was poised to seal an agreement with the Taliban on a broad based Afghan Government to which Mullah Omar and other Afghan parties had agreed. The Americans were dismissive of the idea. Benazir got an unceremonious exit a night before. Rest is now history.
Thereafter, events unfolded with the thumping two thirds majority of PMLN in the Parliament who curiously failed to pursue the Kabul Agreement. The military was quickly taken on board on the pretext that an industrial friendly prime minister free to make constitutional amendments will lead Pakistan to its elusive objectives of self-reliance and growth. Consequently, in 1997, the General Headquarters remained busy in studies connected to the role military could play in National Development of Pakistan. Voluminous studies were prepared on reclamation of land, drainage, water ways, salinity, education, health, delay action check dams, power generation and communications. However, the frontal clash with judiciary and the President slowed progress of a country already under sanctions. By end 1998, the military was busy in WAPDA surveys, ghost schools and toll roads through NLC/FWO. Despite a sluggish response from the civil government, it continued to pursue its role in the national development.
On a parallel track, by end 1997 the Indian Parliament was dismissed. Pre-election opinion polls indicated that BJP was most likely to emerge as the single largest party. The most challenging question for Pakistan’s security planners was; would BJP follow its rhetoric of nuclear testing if it came to power? The task of making a hypothesis fell on my shoulders but there was little information available. I therefore set my analysis template on Indian technical abilities and what actions would they take to overcome them if they decided to go nuclear. We got a dedicated internet connection and hooked on to a satellite that transmitted pictures of Pokhran with a 48 hours delay. By February 1998, we noticed considerable activity in the area. Everything else fell into place. We estimated three months before India could resume nuclear testing. By end February 1998, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission was given the go ahead for a ‘Be Prepare Mission’. Pakistan was ready!
Indian nuclear explosions on 12 May 1998 were expected and did not surprise us a bit. The moment the flattening seismic graphs of Indian thermo nuclear explosion were received we knew that the Indian test had failed. The lead time gained by us through accurate information, research and analysis ensured that Pakistan was well on its way to a timely matching response. The tests were forced by the armed forces on the reluctant civilian establishment.
As immediate reaction to Pakistan’s nuclear explosions, United States of America imposed nuclear sanctions on Pakistan. Other members of the nuclear club except China followed. On the economic front we had estimated that Pakistan would have overcome an immediate shortfall of 5 billion dollars. The army argued that entire economic restructuring and army expanding its role into national development would give a jump start to Pakistan’s economy and offset limitations. With nuclear weapons assuring peace, Pakistan would soon be on its way to become a tiger economy.
But this was not to be. There were more than one et tu Brutus.
The sudden freezing of foreign currency accounts depreciated the Pakistani rupee by 42 % and the devaluation continued. In a stroke of pen the shortfall of five billion dollars became seven. This devaluation led to an exponential rise in Pakistan’s external debt. No policies to engage military in national development were approved. In view of this irresponsible decision making, General Karamat began arguing for a Committee of Defence and National Security (CDNS) as the single competent forum to pull Nuclear Pakistan out of its political and economic crises. Finally in dissent, General Karamat saw it honourable to resign.
Freezing of FCAs in 1998 was the first indication that despite being nuclear, it was possible to coerce and compel Pakistan into negative decision making. What followed is the ‘Strategy of Compellence’ against a nuclear state that cannot sustain itself and needs influx of economic assistance. This vulnerability to compellence takes away political credibility from the essential elements of deterrence.
Two other triggers that were effectively used to pull the shutters on Pakistan’s economic growth were consumerism 2000-2007 and the circular debt commencing 2005. Consumerism resulted in trillions of windfall for banks and speculators. Circular debt was introduced to drain and control Pakistan’s economy at will. Both were implemented by our own economic czars in collaboration with economic hit men to ensure that Pakistan remains a pliant and dependent nuclear armed state.
Technically, Pakistan’s strike nuclear forces appear more than equal and in some aspects ahead of India. However, Pakistan’s major problem is in political instability, poor governance, institutionalised corruption, militancy, bad economic policies and fragmentation of society make it vulnerable to collapsing under its own weight.
Pakistan’s gradual surrender to compellence imposed by Indo-US-UK-Saudi pressures reflects a fragile and bunkered national leadership. This ingredient remains the most serious aspersion on the will and determination needed to handle a credible deterrence regime. Though dangerous to say, the fact is that Pakistan’s Nuclear Deterrence is Pervious.