That Pakistan is heavily investing in its nuclear capability is well known. For the security apparatus this is not a luxury but, rather, a necessity. And given that this is an at times hostile region, the state maintains the policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence while avoiding an arms race.
Yet according to a recent report — “Pakistani nuclear forces, 2018” — the country is on schedule to be the world’s fifth-largest nuclear capable country by 2025. This should not come as a surprise. Back in 2014, Islamabad was declared home to the world’s fastest growing nuclear stockpile. Fast-forward to the present, and this translates, in real terms, into an estimated 140-150 warheads. This is sharply contrasted with US Defence Intelligence Agency projections dating back to 1990 which envisioned this as not surpassing 60-80.
Naturally, the best outcome all round would be a normalisation of ties with regional neighbours. As things currently stand, the pace of nuclearisation here is largely determined by India. And as much as both sides maintain that such investment in national security is for the greater good of their respective populations — the high human cost in terms of diverted expenditure cannot be overlooked. Thus peace is the only sustainable way towards a mutual prosperity that trickles down to the local citizenry.
That being said, many a pundit erroneously believes that Pakistan’s nukes represent the only safeguard against American-led military aggression. After all, Libya only came under NATO fire once it had surrendered its chemical weapons programme. There may well be some truth to this. Though this is not to say that Washington has just let Pakistan be. Plans were put in place more than a decade ago outlining how the US would sweep into secure the nation’s nukes in the eventuality that militants would overthrow the then Musharraf regime; in a bid to get hold of the nuclear capability that they reportedly long craved. And while in 2007, the State Department went on record as saying it was confident about Pakistan’s nuclear security — the Trump White House has returned to script. Central to the US president’s new and improved South Asia vision, unveiled last year, is the need for Islamabad to prevent nuclear weapons and material from falling into terrorist hands. Possibly, Washington needs to recognise that this is the overriding priority of the Pakistani state; and one that was not quite helped by the US mission in Afghanistan that precipitated the flight of the top Al Qaeda leadership to this side of the border in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom.
All of which presents a conundrum of sorts for the new government that is committed to picking up the austerity tab so that the masses do not have to. Increased nuclear capability on this scale does not come cheap. Thus it is hoped that Prime Minister Khan will hold a meeting with the security apparatus to talk budgets and figures as well as opportunity costs. This is not to undermine those whose job it is to protect Pakistan’s borders. But it is to ensure utmost transparency across the board. *
Published in Daily Times, September 7th 2018.