Many factors determine whether a nation state is internally stable or not. However, the presence or absence of nuclear weapons has no bearing on a country’s internal stability. An example in case is Pakistan, which acquired nuclear weapons capability in the 1980’s, but is faced today with violent insurgencies and is ripe with ethnic conflict. Nuclear weapons are at best a deterrent against external aggression and the powerful and destructive nature of the devices mean that they cannot be used in an internal conflict, which can better be resolved by police or paramilitary forces. The primary problem in Pakistan concerns regime type, which presents a daunting obstacle for a nuclear free South Asia. Pakistan has been classified as a hybrid regime by scholars like Larry Diamond and Lipset, a regime which is neither fully democratic nor authoritarian. This places Pakistan in a unique category, comparable more to Venezuela than to its supposed arch-nemesis, India. Since, the country represents a hybrid regime, the powerful military establishment functions as a state within a state and is not perceived to be answerable to the civilian elected leadership. Indeed, some scholars have gone even further than Lipset and Diamond by labeling the country as a post-colonial garrison state, as Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed has argued in his famous work. Democracies, and even more so, liberal democracies, don’t go to war with another. History testifies the fact that although Communist countries like the Soviet Union and China fought a bloody skirmish on the border in 1969, two democracies are yet to go to war with one another. Similarly, Communist China went to war with Communist Vietnam, whereas the latter fought over with Cambodia in the 1970’s. So, what is so characteristic about democracies which itself acts a deterrent against war? The answer is surprisingly simple. Democratic governments are answerable and accountable to the people and war being a costly affair, both in terms of its monetary and more importantly, human cost is rarely used as a rallying cry by democracies that fear that a war would vote them out in the next elections. The second problem, concerns the issue of equity. Pakistan seeks equity with Hindu India in all spheres. Since India has managed to successfully convince a large part of the international community that Pakistan exports terrorism, the Pakistani establishment has also embarked on a similar endeavor. This logic can also be applied to the nuclear weapons issue. India started the nuclear arms race in the South Asian region by detonating a device code-named Smiling Buddha in 1974, that led to Pakistan starting its own nuclear program. It is therefore highly unlikely that Pakistan would have developed nuclear weapons of its own had India not decided to do the same before them. Likewise, the issue of the NPT presents almost identical picture, as Pakistan refuses to sign the NPT as long as India doesn’t. The net result is a classical case of stalemate in the region with no side able to achieve a decisive victory in the event of a war, but still unwilling to back down from their present nuclear postures. The Pakistani Army in particular fears a dilemma similar to what the Egyptian Army faced after the Camp David Accords were signed in 1978. The Camp David Accords led to permanent peace between Egypt and Israel as the latter agreed to return the occupied Sinai desert to Egypt in exchange for official recognition. The breakthrough deal deprived the Egyptian Army of an external enemy and led to a shady role by the Egyptian establishment in propping up Islamist groups within their own country to justify their hegemonic role in countering them. On the contrary, the situation in India is a lot better as the country is far more stable than Pakistan. Although the Indian state faces countless insurgencies, none of these insurgencies, with the exception of Kashmir, have the capacity to damage the Indian federation. Furthermore, India has been able to maintain civilian rule since partition and the subordinate role of the Indian Army to the civilian leadership is firmly entrenched in their political system. There are many reasons as to why it was possible in India but not in Pakistan; but most of it has got to do with party organization. The Indian National Congress was a mass based, bottoms up, highly organized political party that maintained itself as an electoral force after partition, whereas the Pakistan Muslim League was mainly a marriage of convenience that established a temporary alliance between the peasants of Bengal and the powerful landlords of Punjab. The alliance broke right after partition was achieved and the military stepped in to fill the gap. India maintains that it views China as a far bigger threat to itself than Pakistan. The defeat suffered by the Indian Army in 1962 against Chinese forces remains India’s biggest military disaster and the nuclear weapons capability developed by India was more to counter the superiority of Chinese conventional forces. However, Pakistan objects to this logic and points out that the bulk of the Indian Army is still deployed on its borders and the majority of its air force bases are within striking distance of Pakistani heartland. China’s presence on the Indian border and its close relationship with Pakistan complicates the nuclear dynamics of South Asia as India would refuse to give up its nuclear arsenal as long as China maintains its aggressive posture in the Indian Ocean.
Today, Pakistan is believed to be in possession of the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world. Nuclear weapons are both expensive to build and secure, and the United States has repeatedly expressed doubts that radical elements present in Pakistan might be able to capture nuclear weapons and ignite a nuclear war in the region. The loose control exercised by the civilian leadership in Pakistan’s democratic polity keeps defense budget obscure and off limits for any discussion. This allocation of budget could be used for the socio-economic development which the country direly needs at this juncture. The response in a war is always proportional to the aggression by the enemy, so exercising the nuclear option would always be retaliatory and the exchange, bilateral. In world war 2, the U.S.A bombarded Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear missiles and since then, they haven’t been able to vindicate themselves from this uncalled for aggression. This episode has left a permanent blot on the U.S.A. Using nuclear weapon is unethical even in a war situation, despite this, the investment in Nuclear weapon development continues to grow. Secondly, as established earlier the nuclear weapon acts as a deterrent against war. But the next question is whether its deterrence averts only a nuclear war or also the conventional war. History of this region suggests otherwise, although no nuclear war has taken place between India and Pakistan thus far, but both countries continue to spar on their borders by cross border firing and mortars. The Kargil war also testifies that the deterrence capability of a nuclear weapon is only limited to the aversion of a nuclear war but not the conventional war.
Meanwhile, the countries that forsake the nuclear weapons in the past are doing a lot better than both Pakistan and India in terms of their Human capital development. For instance the literacy rate in Kazakhstan is 99.7% as opposed to 55% in Pakistan and 74% in India. These two countries haven’t lived up to their potential because by and large they have remained focus upon building their regular and nuclear arsenals. The need of the hour is to divest from nuclear weapon development. Both countries should seek to sort issues diplomatically and try to put their own house in order. If Pakistan manages to become a liberal democracy in letter and spirit then the historical facts suggest that the tensions between India and Pakistan would cease to exist.
Submitted by B.H.