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Strategic Defence

Pakistan- A-Bomb-I-Nation
By Rakesh Krishnan Simha, May 2011 [[email protected]]

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Pakistan’s nuclear weapons inventory is tipped  to be the fourth largest in the world. There’s a good reason why India isn’t  losing sleep over it.

Pakistan is  suddenly the epicentre of a lot of things – mostly bad. And now comes news that  it is set to overtake France to become the world’s fourth largest nuclear  weapons power. This is sending everyone into a collective swoon.

The Federation  of American Scientists estimates Pakistan’s arsenal at 90 to 110 atomic bombs. The  French stockpile is estimated at 300 nukes and Pakistan is said to be adding  between 8 and 20 weapons per year. Assuming the higher figure is true, and also  assuming that the French will not build more nukes, Pakistan will become the  world’s fourth largest nuclear power by around 2021.

Now is that such  a big deal? Perhaps to the Pakistanis it is. The dirt poor country, which  survives on annual American handouts, has reportedly built a fourth nuclear weapons  plant, which is amazing for a country that boasts little industrial or  technological skills.

Indeed, for most  Pakistanis their nuclear scientists are heroes who restored parity with favourite  enemy India and finally entered Pakistan’s name in some Top-10 list even if  it’s the doomsday list.

But anyone who  thinks nuclear weapons bestow a macho image in the comity of nation is living  under a rock. As a symbol of national virility nuclear weapons went out of  fashion with the arrival of Pakistan. Once Pakistan became a member of the  N-club, it became uncool to be a nuclear power.

The Soviet Union  possessed over 40,000 nuclear bombs while the US cranked out 28,000 by 1991. The  Soviets could have levelled every population cluster in the US and Western Europe  with 1000 precisely targeted bombs, but the fact that they built 40 times as  many was because of the arms race. They never knew they had enough megatons. Incredibly,  the Soviets had amassed fissile material to build another 40,000 nukes.

However, that  terrifying stockpile did not help the Soviet Union. On the contrary, precious resources  of the world’s largest country were wasted in this race. No doubt the Cold War  impacted the US as well, and its decline as a major industrial power is a  direct result of that wasteful build-up. But it was the Soviet economy, being  much smaller than the American, which was more severely impacted.

A similar fate  awaits Pakistan. The Pakistanis, their former Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto said  in the 1970’s, “will eat grass” but match India’s nuclear weapons. The truth  is, if the country’s American patron hadn’t been generous to the tune of  billions of dollars, Pakistanis would have eaten grass a long time ago.

Many strategic  experts say Pakistan might use the weapons in a war with India. Well, nuclear  weapons are not like, say, chemical weapons that have horrible effects but have  often been used by rogue nations. Crossing the nuclear threshold is so fateful  a decision that American and Russian leaders have pulled back from an atomic  exchange despite overwhelming pressure to “use them or lose them.”

The more likely  scenario is that Pakistani nukes could end up with Islamic terrorists. This is  scary because nobody knows how this could happen.

But while it is  true many Pakistanis would like to see a few Western and Indian cities end up  in a nuclear fireball, the reality is they are living in a fool’s paradise. Simply  passing a few nukes under the table to their Talban or al-Qaida terrorist pals won’t  accomplish much.

That is because atomic  weapons are pretty hard to set off. N-bombs have accidentally free-fallen from  America and Russian bombers and landed on terra firma without exploding. Nuclear  armed submarines have met with horrific accidents without spontaneously  launching their deadly loads.

The reason is  the complex nature of these weapons, which may never be mastered by a smelly  terrorist or even a freelancing rogue nuclear scientist in a Karachi basement.

Again,  Pakistan’s weapons are not operationally deployed. Pakistan’s 100-odd nukes are  kept in central storage under constant watch of American and Indian satellites.  If you have wondered why India has a large constellation of spy satellites – euphemistically  named Remote Sensing satellites – know you know.

But what about  an arms race in the region? Look at it this way: If India wanted to reinforce its  arsenal, you think it couldn’t? India knows that its 80-odd weapons are more  than enough for deterrence purposes. At any rate, just five well aimed N-bombs  are all it’ll take to send Pakistan permanently into the archive section.

The nuclear  standoff is all about deterrence as was amply demonstrated during the Cold War.  Even at the most dangerous point in the 20th century – the Cuban  Missile Crisis – the superpowers stepped back from the brink.

Also, nuclear stock  taking is never accurate. Except the United States, no country’s nuclear tally  is exact. Russia frankly has lost count of how many working nukes it has. For  all other countries, the modest size of their arsenals precludes transparency.

The FAS admits  as much regarding its own estimates: “The exact number of nuclear weapons in  each country's possession is a closely held national secret. While the estimate  for the United States is based on real numbers, the estimates for several of  the other nuclear weapon states are highly uncertain.”

Pakistani bombs  have also never been mated to ballistic missiles because doing so would incur  the full wrath of its American patron. No Pakistani general wants to eat grass. The rest of the  world, therefore, has nothing to fear from Pakistan’s bombs, which are most  likely destined to be locked up in central storage.

Because of the  heightened alert post-9/11, the crude, albeit clever, ploy of converting fuel  engorged aircraft into deadly projectiles may forever remain the high point of  Islamic terrorism.

As for India, it  has dealt with various forms and magnitudes of Islamic terrorism for over a  thousand years. You can bet they’ll survive this one too.

About the author: Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a features  writer with New Zealand’s leading media group.

Also read:
•  Pakistan will soon have a 4th  operational reactor -
•  Why Sino-Pak Nuke Deal is A Danger to the World -

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