Asset, not liability

It is ten years now since we became a nuclear power. The mood in the country this year was exceptionally sombre because of the prevailing political uncertainty in the country and growing post-election despair and disillusionment among the masses over the procrastinating process of change for which they had voted overwhelmingly in February 18 elections. The same voices of doom and gloom which opposed Pakistan's nuclear tests ten years ago were ablaze again questioning the rationale and underlying compulsions for Pakistan's nuclearization. Some of the self-proclaimed "non-proliferationists" have been seeking to detract from Pakistan's "moment of glory" and trying to suggest that Pakistan has paid a heavy price for its nuclear capability. What they forget is that there is no price for a country's independence and security. Some of our 'non-proliferationists" are still arguing that the "bomb" does not help us in our ongoing war on multiple fronts. They believe the "bomb" has only aggravated our problems and brought us to "this grievously troubled situation" while offering no way out." According to them, our nuclear tests in 1998 have done an irreparable political, material and psychological damage to our country and its people, and the "bomb" has solved no problems. This whole argument is beyond reason or logic. All these sceptical assumptions and apprehensions over the necessity of our nuclear program are misplaced, if not baseless. Pakistan's nuclear capability has served its purpose as a means of minimum credible deterrent between India and Pakistan, and has also restored a strategic balance in our region. Contrary to unwarranted and motivated insinuations, Pakistan's nuclear assets are as safe as those of any other nuclear power. We do have a command and control system that is in safe professional hands and is based on international guidelines IAEA standards. No doubt, for reasons not even remotely connected to our nuclear capability, the first decade of our overt nuclearization has been painful and challenging for our country. Pakistan, which came into being as a 20th century miracle of a democratic state and, which became a nuclear power in May 1998 as a factor of regional and global peace and stability, is today struggling for democracy and has become one of the most 'unstable' and volatile states in the world. But this has nothing to do with our nuclearization. The events of 9/11 were the critical threshold for our country and for its strategic interests. General Musharraf as "chief executive" was desperately looking for legitimacy to remain in power, and the 9/11 tragedy came to his rescue. In his own authority and wisdom, he not only rolled back Pakistan's "controversial" policy of support for the "oppressive and reactionary regime" in Afghanistan but also decided to become part of the evolving US "strategic end-game" in the region. Pakistan's post-9/11 quick policy turnaround not only absolved the Musharraf regime of its global stigma but also made it a pivotal player in the US-led war on terror, giving it prominence in the international community that helped the military regime in its quest for legitimacy. It soon started receiving special attention in Washington and European capitals. In fact, the US nuclear-related sanctions were quickly waived, and became totally irrelevant once Pakistan started receiving large amounts of US aid from October 2001 onward. The sum-total of Pakistan's post-9/11 foreign policy is, however, its new identity on the global radar screen as the "hotbed" of religious. extremism and terrorism, and its frontline role as the "ground zero" of the war on terror, which has not only made it the focus of world attention and anxiety but also forced it to make difficult choices in its perennial struggle for security and survival as an independent state. The US, in particular, sees Pakistan as the "ground zero" and a pivotal linchpin in its fight against terrorism. From being a major power in South Asia always equated with India, Pakistan today is bracketed with Afghanistan in terms of its outlook, role, needs and problems. This is an unenviable distinction which circumscribes our role both within and beyond our region. Our nuclear capability was not meant to deal with the problems of governance. It is not related to the issues of "constitutional supremacy, rule of law, institutional integrity and good governance." Our nuclear dimension has nothing to do with the problems and crises that we have been facing over the last eight years. But for reasons of domestic failures, this has indeed been an embarrassingly painful period for us. After a stormy period of political turmoil since March 9 last year, we continue to suffer a perilous constitutional crisis in the country not because of our nuclear capability but as a result of an extra-constitutional emergency order on November 3 last year. It was a 'martial law' in the name of "emergency plus" and an assault in one stroke on the constitution, the judiciary, the media and the fundamental rights of the people. The crisis continues even though we have had elections and there is now a new elected civilian government with a popular mandate to bring about a change in the system. We have a government which the people brought to power to bring about an end to dictatorship. It was a referendum for change but till now there is no change visible on the horizon, and the business goes on as usual. The system continues to be haunted by the same ghosts and the same wizardries. The key faces as well as the fall guys of the outgoing regime remain untouched. The "war of one against all" has not ceased yet. The current crisis is about the constitutionally-guaranteed fundamental freedoms of 160 million people, and about the future of a country whose political problems today, because of its nuclear dimension, are no longer an 'internal matter' or an exclusive concern of its own. They now have a worrisome global dimension which naturally raises the world community's stakes in the issues of peace and security in our region and in a 'stable and peaceful' Pakistan. And it is in this context that global concerns over the "safety" of our nuclear assets are mounting. They will not go as long as we are weak and vulnerable domestically. We must understand the gravity of the problem and make a serious and selfless effort to identify and then quickly address the core of the problem. It is time to refix our fundamentals. An ostrich-like attitude will not do. Simply holding SPD briefings for foreign diplomats and media or addressing think tanks in European capitals will not do. They all fear an extremist political deluge in Pakistan. We will have to change the world's perception of our country, which surely has many reasons and assets other than terrorism and violence to be recognised as a responsible member of the international community. Pakistan is being weakened methodically by keeping it engaged on multiple external as well as domestic fronts. We are being ingeniously torn apart brick by brick with the ultimate goal of taking out, in a worst case scenario, our nuclear capability. All these problems that we now face have nothing to do with our nuclearization. But one thing is clear. Our nuclear capability is our asset, not liability. We must preserve and keep upgrading it as an asset for our security and survival. Our problems are rooted in our domestic governance failures and have been aggravated by decades of internal struggle for power and privilege, long spells of military rule, inept political leadership, institutional paralysis, incessant corruption, and general aversion to the rule of law. We need domestic consolidation, politically, economically and socially. We must re-order our priorities. Let us have peace within and peace without. Let us go for a trade-off between "guns and butter" and opt for a welfare state rather than a security state. No country will then fear us or have any doubts about the safety of our nuclear assets. Democracy inspires confidence, domestically as well as globally. Let us opt for it and stay with it forever as a way of our life with all its ingredients and basic norms. No country has ever succeeded externally if it is weak and crippled domestically. Even the former Soviet Union could not survive as a super power only because it was domestically week in political and economic terms.

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