The Thermonuclear Menís Club: Pakistan
The Thermonuclear Menís Club:
The Up and Coming: Iraq and Iran
By the 1980s it was widely suspected that Pakistan was developing nuclear capabilities; in 1990 the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Pakistan after
determining it was building an A-bomb. Its May 5, 1998 announcement that it had successfully detonated five nuclear weapons was unsurprising but
disturbing nonetheless. Not only was the stage set for a new arms race on the Indian subcontinent; the Islamic world now included a nuclear power
among its ranks. The events of September 11, and the ensuing war in Afghanistan, served to destabilize a country already perilously close to collapse.
The Musharraf government finds itself between a rock and a hard place; alienated from the U.S. as its continuing ties to the Taliban come to light,
besieged by religious hardliners outraged at its support of American attacks on Muslims, and facing continuing tension on its border with India.
In retrospect, propping up the Taliban might not have been the brightest move; at the time it probably seemed like a good idea. A stable government in
Afghanistan opened the door to a pipeline linking oil- and gas-rich Central Asia with Pakistanís natural gas grid and its ports on the Arabian Sea. It
helped to quell possible tensions among Pakistanís Pashtun minority, many of whom had family ties to the Pashto tribes of Afghanistan, and among the
millions of Afghan refugees who remained in Pakistan after the Soviet occupation ended. It also provided a safety valve; every Pakistani who went to
Afghanistan to join the jihad was one less radical Moslem for the Pakistani government to worry about. The Taliban also enjoyed considerable support in
Pakistan, particularly within the military and within Pakistanís intelligence services. Their uncompromising law-and-order stance attracted a growing
following along the sprawling, semi-autonomous frontier regions around the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, the Taliban rapidly proved more trouble than they were worth. Pakistanís support for the Taliban regime soured relations with its
neighbors, particularly Iran. Fundamentalist Sunnis came back from their sojourns with the Taliban to incite violence against Pakistanís minority Ahmadi,
Christian, and Shiía populations; in 1997 alone more than 200 people died in Punjab province as a result of anti-Shiíite violence, largely incited in Saudi
and Kuwaiti-funded religious schools. By the time Musharraf caved in to American pressure, the damage had already been done. Pan-Islamic radicalism
had become firmly entrenched in PakistanÖ and its leaders now saw Musharraf as an infidel and an enemy, despite all his previous support. Reports of a
$100,000 wire sent to Mohammed Atta by a high-ranking official in Pakistani intelligence did little to assuage American suspicions, even after the official
was forced to resign. In trying to play both ends against the middle, Musharraf has so far only succeeded in shooting himself in both feet.
Pakistanís nuclear capability is limited: most outside observers say they have no more than 35 bombsí worth of enriched uranium. At present its only
method of delivery would be via one of its 34 U.S.-made F-16s. It is unclear, however, how much assistance Pakistan has received from China. It is
believed that China provided Pakistan with much of the technology used in its 1998 blasts; if China has assisted in developing miniaturized warheads, the
M-11 missiles it has provided Pakistan could deliver nuclear payloads. China may well see Pakistan as a buffer against India at present, but is not likely to
continue its support should an Islamic fundamentalist regime take control in Pakistan.
Unlike most other nuclear powers, Pakistan has never publicly stated that they would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a wartime situation.
There is also evidence that some Pakistani scientists have sought to export bomb-making know-how throughout the Islamic world, seeing this as the best
way to deter Israeli and American aggression. If the blowback from Afghanistan brings down the Musharraf regime, we could well find ourselves faced
with a major conflagration in the areaÖ a conflagration which could very well include a nuclear exchange.
Dawn (English Language Pakistan Paper)
Pakistan News Service