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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Pakistan’s nuclear program again under attack?

Joe Biden came under huge pressure domestically on account of the hasty and humiliating exit of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in Aug 2021. To minimize his embarrassment, he emulated his predecessors by blaming Pakistan for the debacle, instead of being grateful to Pakistan for the safe withdrawal of the occupying forces.

After cutting Pakistan into two parts in 1971, India started using subversive tactics in the smaller provinces of Pakistan with a focus on Baluchistan and Sindh and also started to expand and modernize its armed forces with the help of the former USSR, which became India’s biggest arms supplier.

India laid the foundations of the nuclearisation of South Asia in Aug 1974 by conducting a weaponized nuclear explosion at Pokhran and named it Smiling Buddha.

Alarmed by the dangerous intentions of India, ZA Bhutto secretly laid the foundation of Pakistan’s nuclear program at Kahuta under Dr. AQ Khan in 1976.

Read more: Pakistan nuclear technology helped country earn $7.4 bn

The nuclear program became a target of the US in 1978 during the regime of Jimmy Carter and he put Pakistan under sanctions on mere suspicion.

Understanding the matter better

The program became an eyesore for India and Israel as well and the trio hatched plans to undo it. India and Israel made two attempts to destroy the Kahuta plant by air strikes but were foiled.

Pakistan’s uranium enrichment program was ignored during the Reagan regime due to its selfish interests in the Afghan war in which Pakistan was playing a lead role. Gen Ziaul Haq took advantage of the US compulsion and completed the program in 1983.

After achieving all its objectives in Afghanistan, Reagan callously imposed economic and military sanctions on Pakistan in 1990 so that it couldn’t sustain it. Pakistan’s nuclear program was dubbed as Islamic Bomb, and fears were expressed that the radical elements in Pakistan would compel the govt to hand over the bombs to its friends in the Middle East.

Overexcited by the strategic relationship with India, Bill Clinton adopted a hostile attitude towards Pakistan. He imposed additional sanctions when Nawaz Sharif refused to stop conducting the reactive nuclear tests to give a tit-for-tat response to India in May 1998.

Although Pakistan was made a strategic partner by the US in Sept 2001, in reality, India was the preferred choice, and Pakistan was one of the targets of the US.

Pakistan was to be denuclearised through covert operations and political and economic destabilisation.

George Bush went a step ahead in upgrading relations with India by signing a civil nuclear agreement, in addition to large numbers of defence and economic deals in 2006 and in 2008.

In the backdrop of the IAEA report in 2004 that KRL had passed over nuclear designs to Iran and Libya, Pakistan was accused of nuclear proliferation.

It was during the Bush regime that Pakistan’s nuclear program was calculatedly demeaned by stating that it was unsafe and likely to fall in the wrong hands.

Read more: 100 million deaths and more: The cost of an India-Pakistan nuclear war

Due to the ever-increasing terrorism of the TTP in Pakistan, this theme was played relentlessly. An offer of joint control of the nuclear facilities was made repeatedly, but Pakistan wisely didn’t agree to it.

Pakistan was also pressed hard to sign CTBT unilaterally but didn’t pressurise India to do so. India’s conventional and unconventional strengths were constantly bolstered under the pretext of making it a bulwark against China, thereby upsetting the regional security balance.

The nuclear and missile program was made fully safe by fulfilling all the safety requirements of the IAEA and meeting international standards. In this, the SPD under Lt Gen Kidwai played the main role, and Gen Musharraf deserves kudos.

The nuclear doctrine was formalised and the concept of minimum nuclear deterrence was conceptualized. All the nuclear and missile-related outfits were placed under the SPD for better coordination and performance.

The missile force was placed under Strategic Force Command

Pakistan’s efforts to fight the militant groups on its soil at the behest of the US never satisfied Washington. It was all along accused of not doing enough, and that it was aligned with Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban as well as some groups in South and North Waziristan. The accusations based on assumptions and suspicions were never proved.

In 2008, in addition to the establishment of the US intelligence network, Blackwater was inducted in major cities of Pakistan to ignite urban terrorism.

During the rule of Barack Obama, India’s nuclear program was further beefed up by giving it access to the international nuclear supplier’s groups in spite of the fact that India had refused to sign NPT and CTBT and had opened up a huge nuclear center at Karnataka city in Madras and had embarked upon an ambitious nuclear program to become the unchallenged power of South Asia and to stretch it influences up to the Asia Pacific.

On the other hand, not only all avenues of the purchase of high-tech weapons and nuclear technology were blocked by the US, multiple plans were made to disable Pak nuclear program, which included destruction from within by sabotage, shifting the nukes to a safe place under the UN supervision and destruction through a sting operation.

Pakistan was declared as the nursery of terrorism and the most dangerous country in the world. It was subjected to a vicious drone war and was constantly pressurized to do more. It was accused of being either complicit with the terrorists, or incompetent to tackle them.

Read more: The Wobbling Nuclear Power in Pakistan

Apart from the nuclear program, the CPEC emerged as another irritant for the Indo-US-Israeli nexus. RAW and NDS undertook sustained terror attacks in former FATA, KP and Baluchistan to scuttle CPEC.

Donald Trump further upped the ante by adopting a highly belligerent posture

He stopped the installments of the CSF to the Pak Army and made its release conditional to showing progress in the war on terror. Pakistan was accused of providing safe havens to the Haqqani network (HN).

Trump regime let the regime of Nawaz Sharif fall in July 2018 in order to apply brakes to the rapidly progressing CPEC.

Trump cultivated a personal friendship with Modi but also exhibited his softness towards Imran Khan. He deceptively offered his services to the visiting IK to mediate in resolving the Kashmir dispute, but soon after, gave a go-ahead signal to Modi to annex IOK in Aug 2019.

He convinced IK not to take any proactive steps in Kashmir and to restrain the jihadi elements from crossing the LoC. He coerced the PTI regime to make CPEC controversial and almost stop working on it.

Trump expressed his thanks to Pakistan for helping to sign the Doha peace agreement in Feb 2020 but didn’t renew CSF and the US economic assistance. IMF, FATF and India were used as tools to coerce Pakistan and to weaken its economy.

The Taliban, China, North Korea, Iran, Russia in Ukraine and HN haunted Donald Trump.

Joe Biden came under huge pressure domestically on account of the hasty and humiliating exit of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in Aug 2021. To minimize his embarrassment, he emulated his predecessors by blaming Pakistan for the debacle, instead of being grateful to Pakistan for the safe withdrawal of the occupying forces.

For this reason, he didn’t make telephonic contact with IK and gave him a cold shoulder. He didn’t make any effort to improve Pak- US relations and the major reason was Afghanistan.

IK accused him of toppling his regime in April 2022 on account of his leaning towards Russia, but Washington refuted the conspiracy theory. Audio leaks have now proven that IK was playing the conspiracy narrative to enhance his declining popularity and to earn the sympathies of the people.

Read more: The faith in Pakistan Army needs to be restored

Apparently, the Biden regime was showing positive signs of making amends in its prejudiced foreign policy, and improving relations with the new regime in Isbd under Shahbaz Sharif.

As a consequence to the changed attitude of the US, the EU, Arab Gulf States, the IMF and FATF had also become soft and cooperative.

These developments had given a ray of hope to Pakistan that with their cooperation and support, it would be able to surmount its economic woes but its optimism received a shock after the recent statement made by Biden regarding Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Faced with heavy criticism from the Republicans, the Blacks movement and the Far Right on account of his failure to address the social issues, and presiding over the humiliating exit from Afghanistan, Biden has come under increased domestic pressure.

The war in Ukraine which is going against the interests of the US and Europe has further added to his worries. The US Middle East policy is in ruins, and China is on its way to becoming the next superpower, while Russia under Putin has once again emerged as a power to reckon with. Saudi Arabia and UAE have for the first time defied the US pressure over oil production. They are trading oil and gas with Russia and China in rubles and yuan against the wishes of the US. The US is seen as a declining power and is losing friends.

Under such unpalatable circumstances, it was very strange that Biden chose to stir up Pakistan’s nuclear program, the timings of which are unsuitable for the US, badly in need of friends.

In line with the narrative of his predecessors, he opined that Pakistan is among the most dangerous countries in the world and its nuclear program is not stable. He expressed his fears that it can be misused by anyone.

In other words, he has reincarnated the old narrative of ‘lack of safety and falling in the wrong hands’.

Read more: PMLN did a positive criticism of Pakistan Army: Maryam Nawaz

It needs deeper appraisal as to what has impelled Biden to raise this issue at this stage while addressing the Democratic Congressional Committee when the strained Pak-US relations had just begun to show signs of improvement.

In his bid to castigate Russia and China, instead of naming North Korea as the third culprit, he callously brought Pakistan into his firing line. I reckon the reckless missile attacks on Ukraine by the Russian Army have unnerved aged Biden.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has promptly expressed its reservations in a measured and mature manner, stating that it is difficult to make an assessment in which context this statement has been given by Biden.

The way forward

The foreign office spokesperson further said that the successive regimes in Washington as well as the IAEA have been expressing their full satisfaction with the multi-layered safety system and foolproof effective control of Pakistan’s nuclear program, which has never shown any lapse. He said that Pakistan will soon give its detailed response to the allegations made after completing the process of consultation. In the meanwhile, the US ambassador Blome was summoned and handed over the protest note.

Pakistan is in a bind since its economy is in the doldrums and is not stabilizing, the political situation is highly explosive due to the aggressive attitude of the PTI and its intention to start the decisive long march to Isbd. It has made the internal security and law & order situation dangerous.

The weak coalition govt faced with multiple challenges is in a quandary and needs the support of the establishment and the judiciary at home and of the US externally to cope with the challenges.

Read more: Pakistan Army ranked 9th most powerful in the world

In case, the US obsessed with its agenda to denuclearise Pakistan decides to once again ditch Pakistan at this vulnerable stage, it will plunge Pakistan into the worst-ever crisis endangering its security and integrity.

It is hoped that a suitable corrective response is made by Washington to control the diplomatic damage.



Asif Haroon Raja is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman of the Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, member CWC and Think Tank, Pakistan ex Servicemen Society, and member Council Tehreek Jawanan Pakistan. asifharoonraja@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.