Why China should worry about Pak
Posted at: Aug 31 2015 3:31AM
In excerpt from a paper presented at ICRIER on 9 August 2009 is reproduced below:
“The US and its allies have been concentrating on the nuclear proliferation threat building up in Iran and North Korea. After the A Q Khan episode Pakistan seems to have been put on the back burner. As a matter of fact the Pak nuclear threat is far more insidious and widespread than is currently assessed in most quarters. Iran’s capability vis-à-vis Pakistan on a scale of 0 to 9 is not even 1; Pakistan would be hovering around 7 or 8 in its comparative nuclear capability. Likewise in the case of North Korea although it has gone much ahead of Iran, it is not in the same league as Pakistan in the number of nuclear weapons that it possesses or is likely to possess in the next decade or so. What is more relevant North Korea does not have the radical groups that are capable of carrying out terrorist acts of varying intensities practically across the globe; Iran to date limits its reach to Lebanon, Syria & Gaza”.
Other disturbing trends that should make the world sit up and take note are:
– Of all the countries that possess nuclear weapons Pakistan is the only one that routinely threatens to use them. To date that threat has been limited to India. What happens in future is anybody’s guess.
– With the help of China and North Korea Pakistan has developed the missile capability to extend its reach well beyond India to cover much of the Middle East and Central Asia.
– At the start of its nuclear weapons programme the principal financiers were Saudi Arabia and Libya. After the big donation a stadium was named after Col. Gaddafi. Libya has become a failed state and is now out of the reckoning. The Saudis retain the right to demand return on investment. A part of the transfers might already have been made.
– From the very beginning Pakistan announced that it was producing an Islamic bomb; never a bomb against India, in so many words. The connotation of an Islamic bomb could not have been lost on the world. For the time being China can afford to play dumb. But for how long?
– Pakistan has single-handedly held up the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty that was being negotiated in Geneva.
The threat of non-state actors getting hold of a nuclear weapon, device, or suitcase bomb presently relates only to Pakistan, whatever the assurances given by its military that their nuclear weapons are one hundred per cent safe from radical elements. China and the US are two countries that have had a major role in boosting Pakistan’s nuclear programme and nuclear weapons augmentation. China has been a direct booster of Pakistan’s nuclear capability. The evidence is in the public domain and has been fairly well-documented in spite of China’s denials. The US has been an accomplice in the sense that administrations have turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear weaponisation by certifying on the country’s behalf for grant of billions of dollars even before it became a major non-NATO ally during General Pervez Musharraf’s tenure.
China is further augmenting Pakistan’s nuclear weapons potential by constructing two more reactors in that country. Even before the most recent estimates coming from the US that in ten years Pakistan would have more nuclear weapons than one of the P5 countries, France, it was generally accepted by experts around the world that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stockpile had gone beyond that of India and that its weapons augmentation programme was the fastest in the world. That being the case, who should be most worried at these developments in a state that although never declared a rogue was known to have been by far the biggest nuclear proliferator.
Although it appears unlikely at the moment, misgivings exist that in the years ahead should Pakistan actually become a failed state and start going under it could well be in the market for selling nuclear weapons for billions of dollars to drug syndicates or whoever would be in a position to pay. Precedent exists. Pakistan has been there before.
A Q Khan’s exports for large sums of money would not have been possible without the connivance of the generals, at the very least they were in the know.
A report attributed to Professor Shaun Gregory of Bradford University in the UK mentioned that Jihadis thrice attacked Pakistan nuclear sites (Times of India, 11 August 2009). It needs to be added that these are incidents that western analysts are aware of. There would have been others that were known only to the Pakistan authorities. Radical Islamists are able to venture out boldly well beyond the frontiers of Pakistan, secure in the knowledge that nobody would dare root out their bases and spawning grounds in Pakistan because of nuclear weapons that they would be able to access should their survival be threatened. This may not be the case now but it is a scenario that cannot be ruled out.
As things stand Pakistan is in a very comfortable position with regard to its growing nuclear arsenal. The United States and China, the two great powers of the world, support Pakistan, internally as well as its projection into Afghanistan via the Taliban based in Pakistan. The new Afghan president Mr. Ashraf Ghani has been pushed in that direction by the US and its allies.
Besides India the countries more concerned by the developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan would be Iran, the Central Asian Republics and Russia.
However, their capacity to intervene in any manner, or the desire to do so, appears to be non-existent. That leaves China on their closest ally, surpassing even North Korea. Over the years starting from the end of the 1970s or the early and mid-nineteen eighties China’s policy with regard to boosting Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability was wholly and solely India-centric. It is still the case.
In actual fact China should not only come out of its comfort zone with regard to its ally’s nuclear capability but should take active measures to limit and roll it back. The US is not going to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for China should its assessment or policy in this regard turn out to be not only wrong, but the biggest folly that it might have committed. This statement turns China’s policy on its head.
To elaborate, its leaders do not seem to have realised that routine threats of use of nuclear weapons against India notwithstanding, Pakistani generals would actually be the last persons to start a nuclear conflagration against India. There is no such thing as limited nuclear exchange.
India has a larger Muslim population than Pakistan. Add to it the Muslim population of Bangladesh, the collective Muslim mass residing on the subcontinent exceeds half-a-billion by last count. Limited or otherwise, a nuclear exchange could potentially cripple, to whatever extent, more than half the Muslim population of the globe, possibly posing an existential threat to Islam. The West may not be that alarmed at the prospect. China should be the most worried. Pakistani generals will be unlikely to use the Islamic bomb against India.
The Pakistani tanzeems, whose collective might at this point in time were they to act in concert surpasses that of the Pakistan Army, will not attack India with a nuclear weapon. Their first target will be China. More than that, China being a potential world power of the first order and the biggest beneficiary of the Asian century has a bigger stake than the US and its allies to ensure that a nuclear exchange anywhere in Asia does not destroy that dream.
At the end it is important for every nation heading toward the climate change conference in Paris at the year-end to understand that the world has come a long way from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dr. Ira Helfand, co-President of IPPNW (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) in his brilliant paper on even a very limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan has posited that its effect over a period of time could lead to tens, if not hundreds of millions, casualties as far away as USA. What would happen to every single Muslim country in the neighbourhood and China is best left to the imagination of people residing there.
More than India it is for China to take note of the ominous developments that it has set in motion.
The writer, a strategic affairs analyst, is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.