One last spat I followed this summer spurred in the wake of one of Pakistan’s big days – May 28, called ‘Youm-i-Takbeer’ – literal meaning ‘the day of greatness’. Each year this day is celebrated to commemorate Pakistan’s nuclear tests conducted fifteen years ago. With the return of PML-N to power, the day apparently received more attention than it did in the past few years. Ceremonies were held, slogans chanted, and promises made yet again.
However, in some pockets, the frustration of an energy deprived nation got the better of the nuclear zeal. As a result, at least some of the media discussions were skeptical as opposed to celebratory. Amateurs questioned the significance of nuclear weapons for a state that is suffering from the worst shortfall of energy – resulting in long hours of electricity load-shedding, never-ending queues at CNG stations and an impending water shortage. This is certainly not a new debate. It appears very close to the classical ‘Guns Vs. Butter.’ To say the least, it is a reminder that deprivation takes its toll, it hurts consensus. The more the people feel deprived of electricity, of fuel and food, of rights and justice, the less they care about the symbols – material and mythical.
But, for the nuclear enthusiasts this skepticism is as disconcerting as always. Some of them conveniently dismiss the angry voices by leveling allegations of foreign-funded, purposefully concocted propaganda to mislead the nation. Others respond with a counter narrative. They claim, probably rightly so, that there is no causal relationship between power outages and nuclear weapons. Also, that nuclear weapons are neither meant to nor can they make up for poor governance; they are meant for deterrence.
Both arguments make complete sense if seen in isolation. But the point that we often appear to ignore is does deterrence work in isolation? Aren’t we forgetting the fundamentals here? Certainly, nuclear weapons and energy are not directly related, nevertheless a state’s energy level is an indicator of its economic health. And if we haven’t forgotten the fundamentals, we would be able to make out why that matters. Have I mentioned “Economy of War”, by the way?
As much as I understand, the anger of the skeptics in this situation, is less about nuclear weapons per se, and more about flaunting them. For are they really worth flaunting, and that too under circumstances of the day? On this, many of my friends would say, as they always do, “Yes, these circumstances make them all the more important. For these help make up for at least some of our weaknesses and keep the enemy at a distance.” And I would say, as I always do, this is highly debatable! From where I see, it looks like we are missing the forest for the trees.