Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
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.
But Coll in a blog at The New Yorker says at some stage in a domestic insurgency when your own people are fighting you, the lines between the guerrillas and the security forces often get blurred with dangerous consequences. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by two of her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 incensed by her decision to send the Indian army into the holiest Sikh shrine to flush out militants a few months before.
The Pakistani police officer who killed governor Salman Taseer was similarly no Lee Harvey Oswald, but a regular government employee who was apparently angry over the governor’s strident defence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, a case that exposed deep rifts in Pakistani society. Coll writes :
India and Pakistan exchanged a list of each other’s nuclear installations on Saturday like they have done at the start of each year under a 1988 pact in which the two sides agreed not to attack these facilities. That is the main confidence building measure in the area of nuclear security between the two countries, even though their nuclear weapons programmes have expanded significantly since then. Indeed for some years now there is a growing body of international opinion that holds that Pakistan has stepped up production of fissile material, and may just possibly hold more nuclear weapons than its much larger rival, India.
Which is remarkable given that the Indian nuclear programme is driven by the need for deterrence against much bigger armed-China, the third element in the South Asian nuclear tangle. The Indians who conducted a nuclear test as early as 1974, thus,may be behind not just the Chinese, but also Pakistan in terms of the number of warheads, fissile material and delivery systems.