Tuesday May 24, 2022

Ababeel…and what next?

By Ayaz Amir
January 27, 2017

Islamabad diary

Pakistan has tested a missile with a range of 2200 kilometres and capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, and the usual patriots – no shortage of this clan here, which elsewhere would be called hawks – are agog with excitement.

We are a nuclear power and have been for some time. Yet the strange thing is that instead of steadying the national ship and giving us some confidence, our super-hawks despite this capability get rattled every time there is a sneeze or cough from India. An Indian defence minister, army chief or super-hawk – there being plenty of this kind over there too – has only to let out some inanity about a cold-start doctrine or teaching Pakistan a lesson, and retired generals and self-appointed analysts here can be counted upon to mount the ramparts, beat their drum and raise the alarm.

What is with us? Israel has a nuclear arsenal but it keeps its mouth shut about it. The world knows it has nuclear weapons and for Israel that is enough. But we must keep talking about our nuclear prowess, in season and out. Israel never says its defence is invulnerable. It lets the facts speak for themselves. Hezbollah, Israel’s only credible rival in the Middle East, also never boasts about its toughness and resilience, qualities it has in ample measure. For it too actions speak louder than words.

This logic applies not to us. We must keep talking about our military and nuclear strength, and we must do so endlessly, perhaps not so much to frighten our enemies as to reassure ourselves. A nation more sure of itself would not lay so much store by verbal protestations.

But Ababeel, the multiple-warhead missile, is about testing not boasting. And the question this latest test raises is: how much of a nuclear deterrent does Pakistan require? In a rational world one nuclear bomb, with the attendant deliver capacity, would be enough. The other side can have a hundred bombs to match that one bomb, but that one bomb capable of wiping out Delhi or Mumbai (since we are talking of India) will be a sufficient deterrent.

We, however, have a veritable arsenal – bombs, missile delivery systems, cruise missile capability, and now even tactical nuclear weapons ostensibly for battlefield use. Anyone would say we were spoiled for choice. Yet instead of being satisfied with this varied capability Pakistan continues to dip into its scarce resources to engage in a never-ending arms race with India.

India doesn’t have to attack us. It need only keep us engaged in this folly and its ends – of keeping Pakistan tied down in an endless quest for security – will be achieved.

But the military are their own strategic masters, formulating their deterrence doctrines without a nod or suggestion from any other quarter. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto started Pakistan down the nuclear track. That credit cannot be taken away from him. But since his time nuclear doctrine has been the close preserve of the army command. What the army command decides, the nation, willy-nilly, follows. For nuclear doctrine – the narrative of deterrence – has been turned into a holy cow. No one dare question it for that amounts to a breach of patriotism.

Civilians in any event are careful to keep their hands off this subject – first, because they lack the expertise, not tutored in the hocus-pocus of deterrence; and, second, because the civilian leadership for the last 30 years if not more, from all sides of the political spectrum, has been more interested in such concrete endeavours as lining its pockets than worrying itself over such abstractions as nuclear doctrine.

There couldn’t be a neater division of labour: the military into defence, security, missiles and, let us not forget, defence housing authorities; and the civilians into dubious deals with fat commissions thrown in, overseas properties and offshore accounts – the military atop the commanding heights of national security and the civilians holding aloft the banner of democracy and ‘democratic continuity’.

This is a blanket amnesty scheme: all follies forgiven in the name of national security and all sins condonable at the altar of democracy.

Pakistan cannot invade and conquer Kashmir, whatever the Reverend Hafiz Saeed’s opinion on this subject. To hear him is to get a lesson in strategy Clausewitz would have found hard to configure. But Pakistan has enough strength to deter any Indian adventurism. So what is it afraid of?

Our generals should be teaching the nation assurance and self-confidence. Instead, serving or retired – and the retired ones are the worst – they continually feed a sense of chronic insecurity, aided by an entire army of retired foreign office hawks. As we know, there are no hawks like armchair hawks.

Pakistan has problems but they lie not in the realm of security or an imaginary nuclear imbalance. Pakistan is not educating its people and it is not creating enough wealth for national uplift and regeneration. Our economy is not ticking the way it should and our country is ridden with debt that soon would be unsustainable.

These are our problems, compounded by the fact that we have a ruling class that would scarcely find its match anywhere for unabashed corruption and incompetence. Are multiple-headed nuclear missiles the answer to these problems?

We once sold our so-called geostrategic importance as if the world revolved around the pivot of our geography. We are now pinning our hopes for the future on the Chinese corridor – anything for a free ride.

In the cold war there was no missile gap between the United States and the Soviet Union. This was a bogey raised at the time by American hawks and the military-industrial complex and it was so successful that the US entered a mad arms race, creating super-weapons of no earthly use for any kind of strategic balance. There is now an extensive literature on this subject and we in India and Pakistan could do worse than spend some time studying it.

There is no missile gap between India and Pakistan and those who say there is are fooling the Pakistani nation – that, let it be said, for all its vaunted cleverness, is easily fooled. Otherwise it wouldn’t easily suffer the chumps it has for its leaders, or easily put up with the doctrines that pass for nuclear necessity and wisdom.