Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have been conceived and developed as a deterrent against mighty neighbour India, more so now when its traditional rival has added economic heft to its military muscle. But Islamabad may also be holding onto its nuclear arsenal to deter an even more powerful challenge, which to its mind, comes from the United States, according to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led President Barack Obama’s 2009 policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan and the United States are allies in the war against militancy, but ties have been so troubled in recent years that some in Pakistan believe that the risk of a conflict cannot be dismissed altogether and that the bomb may well be the country’s only hedge against an America that looks less a friend and more a hostile power.
Last year the Obama administration said there could be consequences if the next attack in the West were to be traced backed to Pakistan, probably the North Waziristan hub of al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups.No nation can ignore a warning as chilling as that, and it is reasonable to expect the Pakistan military to do what it can to defend itself.
Riedel in a piece in The Wall Street Journal says Pakistan’s army chief Ashfaq Kayani may well have concluded that the only way to hold off a possible American military action is the presence of nuclear weapons on its soil and hence the frenetic race to increase the size of the arsenal to the point that Pakistan is on track to become the fourth largest nuclear power after the United States, Russia and China.
Steve Coll, the president of the New America Foundation and a South Asia expert, has raised the issue of the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the wake of the assassination of the governor of most populous Punjab state by one of his bodyguards. It’s a question that comes up each time Pakistan is faced with a crisis whether it a major act of violence such as this or a political/economic meltdown or a sudden escalation of tensions with India obviously, but also the United States.
Pakistan’s security establishment bristles at suggestions that it could be any less responsible than other states in defending its nuclear arsenal, and its leaders and experts have repeatedly said that the professional army is the ultimate guardian of its strategic assets.