The view from Islamabad

Print edition : April 11, 1998

Pakistan sees the Vajpayee Government's nuclear policy pronouncement as a serious threat and has warned that it would review its own nuclear policy to safeguard its national security.

PAKISTAN'S reaction to the BJP-led coalition Government's commitment to "exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons" has been on expected lines. Even as careful scrutiny of the statements made by the new leaders in New Delhi continued, Pakistan came out with a sharp response.

A statement released by the Foreign Office said that the policy pronouncement was a "dangerous development for the region as well as for the world". Pakistan, it said, was "very seriously disturbed" at the assertion and its implications, which, it said, "threaten the peace and stability of South Asia." The statement claimed that India's missile and nuclear programmes had "no relevance, in their enormity, to genuine Indian defence needs."

The statement further said that the "open threat" to exercise the nuclear option had created a "fearsome situation" and heightened the threat to Pakistan's security. It also dealt a "grievous blow" to global and regional efforts at nuclear non-proliferation, the statement said. "It flies in the face of all nuclear non-proliferation efforts and contemporary trends for disarmament, arms control and conflict resolution through peaceful means."

Significantly, the statement added: "In this situation, if the need arises, we shall review our policy to safeguard our sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests. We urge the international community to take serious note, as it deserves, of Indian intentions and to exert pressure on India to show restraint, and refrain from endangering regional and global peace and security."

PAKISTAN'S concerns are obvious. For the first time, an Indian Government has officially declared its intention to consider the induction of nuclear weapons after a strategic defence review. Although subsequent statements from New Delhi have qualified this intention, Islamabad would obviously base its response and policy options on the worst-case scenario.

Concerns about India's "nuclear ambitions" and "hegemonistic ambitions" have always been a part of Pakistan's propaganda framework. Islamabad has never let slip an opportunity to score propaganda points against New Delhi. Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan, while making a statement on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), told the National Assembly on February 25: "Totally isolated, India not only tried to torpedo the CTBT at Geneva but also spared no effort to block the U.N. General Assembly resolution in New York." India's "nuclear ambitions" had been once again confirmed, he said.

Gohar Ayub Khan further said that it was "unfortunate" that India had shown no sign of giving up its "hegemonistic nuclear designs and great power ambitions." He claimed that in addition to its "nuclear weapons development and large-scale weaponisation," India had deployed nuclear-capable missiles along the border. Pakistan, he said, could not remain indifferent to the "spiralling arms build-up" across the border and would have to take steps to safeguard its defence and national security. An arms race, said Gohar Ayub Khan, was detrimental to regional peace and stability, and the onus for "this unhappy and unsatisfactory situation clearly rests with India."

In another statement made in Parliament, the Foreign Minister said that "new and more lethal weapon systems" were being inducted in the region. A massive militarisation drive was on and long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and "Pakistan-specific" missiles were being developed and deployed across the border, he said. Pakistan's security was endangered, and it could not remain indifferent to it, he went on. "Pakistan will bend its resources and its own indigenous capacities and capabilities to provide an equal response."

One of Pakistan's leading scholars, Eqbal Ahmed, told Frontline: "If India decides to weaponise, Pakistan will follow suit." Ahmed was of the opinion that the BJP's nuclear position was a "policy" and not mere rhetoric contained in an election manifesto.

Asked about his assessment of Pakistan's nuclear capability, Ahmed said that Islamabad was capable of producing at short notice six to 10 Hiroshima-type nuclear devices. However, Ahmed was of the opinion that Pakistan was not capable of producing devices that were small enough to be launched from missile heads.

Ahmed said he believed that Western intelligence agencies had exaggerated Pakistan's nuclear capabilities, but he disagreed with the position of "informed hawkish elements" in India that Islamabad's capability was a "bluff". In his opinion, Pakistan would be better off maintaining a posture of "nuclear ambiguity". However, he stated that if India did exercise the weapons option, it would "test" whether or not Pakistani capability in the field existed.

WHATEVER the precise status of Pakistan's nuclear capability, Islamabad is certain to seek to "weaponise" immediately in response to any move by India to induct nuclear weapons into its arsenal. Also, it is felt that Pakistan does not have to come out with a "matching" response to India.

Former Foreign Secretary Tanvir Ahmed Khan argued: "Unlike India, Pakistan has no global compulsions; its deterrence can be pegged at the minimal level as long as its credibility and quality are insured against erosion caused by Indian advances in pre-emption and interception. Deterrence does not require matching numbers."

Ahmed Khan said the Indian nuclear programme was spurred primarily by "three compulsions". First, India's ambitions, he said, went beyond Pakistan and China and recognised no restraints short of universal nuclear disarmament. Second, the technical momentum of India's nuclear and missile development projects had become "virtually unstoppable". And thirdly, there was a great political dividend in the induction of second-generation nuclear weapons and the production of Agni, the celebrated demonstrator of India's Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, Ahmed Khan added.

THERE appears to be little doubt that Pakistan will go in for the weapons option in case India decides to do so. Of course, Islamabad is well aware of the difference between putting out a statement and formulating a policy. However, the state of its delivery systems remains in doubt despite the "test" of the Hatf-III surface-to-surface missile on July 3, 1997. The Hatf-III, which is akin to the Chinese-made M-9 missile, reportedly has a 600-km range. However, credible sources said that the Hatf-III test was an "engine test" conducted by the Karachi-based Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO).

In recent weeks, Pakistani newspapers have spoken of "scheduled" - and later "postponed" - tests of the 1,500-km-range Ghauri missile. The test was to have been witnessed by political leaders and the top brass of the military, but has not taken place.

For Pakistan, one complicating factor is that it must constantly appease the hawks in its own establishment. On India, the Pakistani establishment faces the pressure of being not-too-friendly, which almost always results in hostile propaganda against its eastern neighbour.

THE "first round" of statements and responses on the weaponisation issue is over. Pakistan will carefully look at future statements; it will also examine statements such as that there is no time-frame for inducting nuclear weapons. And based on its assessment, Pakistan will come out with its own policy which, by all accounts, would be to go in for the weapons option.

For the moment, in bilateral relations the focus could well shift to the stalled Foreign Secretary-level dialogue. Pakistan, which accused India of resiling from its commitments in the dialogue process, is expected to react to the proposals presented to break the impasse in the dialogue in Dhaka on March 15. As expected, warm messages have been exchanged by Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Even so, the Indian Government's stated nuclear intentions will prompt a close Pakistani vigil.

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