Nuclear Posturing in Pakistan (Daniel 8:8)

Nuclear thoughts in Pakistan

The writer is an independent researcher focusing on issues of strategic stability and foreign policy challenges

Pakistan and India and their nuclear postures have always been a cause for concern for international players. In fact, most analyses of the contemporary times in strategic stability involve finding ways to address this problem. Many Western and local intellectuals have offered different understandings to study this problem. These understandings form the basis of comprehension of nuclear strategic stability in the subcontinent. The issues are devoid of indigenous critical conjectures.

Western political scientists have offered their reasoning based on understanding the problem in terms of implications for global nuclear order. These include an emphasis on India and Pakistan’s outlier status from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), their reluctance in signing the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty (CTBT) and their scepticism of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). They also highlight the inherent difficulty of establishing a confident escalation-control mechanism. These underpinnings are based on their outward thinking about the generalities. The issue is, however, deeply laced with local specifications.

Pakistani and Indian analysts define these concepts through the rationale of their national interest and strategic options. Both countries maintain the doctrinal issue at ‘minimum credible deterrence’ albeit with varying levels of definitions for minimality and credibility. India tries to dominate by highlighting its commitments to NPT without being a member and lampoons Pakistan for its unsafe and extensive use. Pakistan rejects this argument and builds up its position by trying to pin India down as the promoter of the nuclear arms race in the subcontinent. These arguments are all regurgitating of positions that the US, the European elites and the USSR had uttered in the Cold War. This begs the question that does Pakistan define its understanding of nuclear weapons locally or takes its cues from others?

A recent article by Sadia Tasleem and Toby Dalton highlighting the dominance of emulation in Pakistan’s nuclear policy is important in this discussion. Their analysis of the written materials highlighting these topics from 1998 to 2018 shows that Pakistan’s nuclear thinkers have co-opted European policy proposals regarding nuclear issues. Their insights on the policies and postures represent a lack of original thinking in contemporary Pakistani view about nuclear deterrence. The lack of local understandings of the effects of this emulation pattern can only rely on old instances and cases without any critical understanding of the South Asian case.

As the United States has opted out of the consequential Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, the future of nuclear stability in the world is in question again. This treaty had been hailed as one of the important pillars of nuclear stability between the USSR and the US during the Cold War. The importance of this issue will shade the urgency of Indo-Pak nuclear stability. As the gaze of Western intellectuals turns inwards to their immediate concerns and with the lack of indigenous conceptions about nuclear worries, local innovative interpretations become a necessity.

The local insights regarding stability, deterrence, posturing and retaliation need new thoughts. Furthermore, the thoughts about nuclear weapons are needed to be linked with the emphasis on common geographical regionality, new foreign policy initiatives and common cultural legacy for the subcontinent. In contemporary times, these weapons are not just tools of political and military supremacy, but they are also embedded in the cultural and social discourse of South Asian publics. This uniqueness requires novel vision and new intuitions for an all-embracing policy for these weapons.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2019.

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