Point, Counter-Point: Normalizing Nuclear Pakistan

Point, Counter-Point: A Four Part Series

The Wisest Choice, by Abhijit Iyer-Mitra

Normalizing Nuclear Pakistan, by Rabia Akhtar

After the Euphoria?  by Amina Afzal

Overlooking’ Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers, by Aditi Malhotra and Sitakanta Mishra


“Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”

                                                                                    ~Morticia Addams

Let me begin by congratulating Mark Fitzpatrick for writing a fairly objective and brave account of the not-so-normal nuclear Pakistan in his latest book Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers. I say it is a brave account because it takes courage in today’s world of policy and academia to suggest something that is not fashionable and something that the gatekeepers of the normal nuclear world are not ‘used to hearing’ from a non-Pakistani scholar, that is: “Pakistan should be treated as a normal nuclear country” or “Ten years after Khan’s network was shut down, it is fair to ask how long Pakistan must pay the price for that failure” or “The time has come to offer Pakistan a nuclear-cooperation deal akin to India’s.”  I can only imagine how much trouble Fitz (if I may say so affectionately) is going to get in to or perhaps is already in, by suggesting something that only Pakistanis have been saying and no one else on this planet earth: give Pakistan a chance.

However, it is not as clean a bill, as I would have liked it to be but still fairly reasonable. According to Fitz’s proposal, there are certain conditions that should be attached to Pakistan’s entry into the ‘normal nuclear zone’, if it is to be considered at all:

1. Pakistan should exercise ‘restraint in declaratory policies’: which essentially means that when Pakistan ‘says’ it adheres to ‘minimum deterrence’, it should ‘act’ to prove it. Fitz believes that “given the expansion of its plutonium-production facilities, warhead numbers and delivery systems, and the introduction of battlefield-use nuclear weapons” the doctrine of ‘minimum’ deterrence does not seem that minimum.

I believe that the assertion here is that if Pakistan eliminates the option of ‘battlefield-use nukes’ then the restraint in declaratory policy will be visible and its behavior will be equivalent to that of a ‘responsible nuclear weapons state’. Will Pakistan agree to this conditionality as a price for ‘normality’? Should Pakistan agree to this conditionality to exhibit restraint in declaratory policy? It depends.

There are two factors that Pakistan should consider before giving up the option of battlefield-use nukes: a) whether retaining the option strengthens the credibility of Pakistan’s deterrence vis-à-vis India or b) does it weaken the credibility of Pakistan’s deterrence vis-à-vis India. Last time I checked, worsening one’s own options and appearing to be a little bit off your rocker ‘strengthened’ deterrence. According to Fitz and various other scholars (based on the Cold War experiences with TNWs), retaining the option of TNWs is inherently destabilizing since it lowers the nuclear threshold, is not cost effective and does not lend much credibility to deterrence. Arguments about Indian Cold Start doctrine being 20 years away to never being operationalized are all fine but in my opinion, Pakistan should hold on to this option a little longer before it decides to shelve it. With the possibility of BJP led government in India for the next five years with its manifesto pledging to ‘revise and update’ Indian nuclear doctrine, adds uncertainty to the direction of Indian nuclear-use doctrine. If it becomes more Pakistan centric in coming years then Pakistan does need to retain the option of battlefield-use nukes to provide it a range of nuclear options starting from bottom up at the escalation ladder. Five years is a good enough time period to assess the viability of such an option and Pakistan should not hasten to discard it yet. Not much can be done as far as it giving the Western world sleepless nights.  Pakistan has said time and again that it will continue to have an assertive C2 as opposed to delegative which makes sense for a country like Pakistan explained by its ‘geographic logic’. Pakistan’s SPD is confident as cited by Fitz about maintaining centralized command and control even where short-range nuclear weapons are concerned since “Pakistan’s territory is relatively narrow, the TNWs will only have to be moved a short distance to be readied for battlefield use” therefore “there is no need for pre-delegation of firing authority and therefore no possibility of misuse by a field commander”.

I will apply Albert Camus’s logic of believing in a God to Pakistan’s logic of believing in short-range, low-yield nuclear weapons lending credibility to its deterrence. The logic makes sense. Camus said,  “I would rather live my life as if there is a god and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.”

Image 4-8-14

 2. Pakistan should ‘do more’ to ensure safety and security of its nuclear weapons and facilities: and though Pakistan has taken steps to ensure the nuclear safety and security of its assets and materials in accordance with best international practices, terrorist outfits operating from Pakistan’s territory continue to challenge the state’s writ. Fitz suggests that GOP must assert control over these terrorist groups otherwise they will continue to undermine Pakistan’s efforts to physically ensure that its nukes and facilities are safe.  These terrorist outfits have also in the past been able to stage damaging terrorist attacks inside Indian territory bringing the two nuclear countries to the brink of war on several occasions.

George Perkovich in his essay on The Non-Unitary Model And Deterrence Stability in South Asia presents a similar argument about ‘disunity in command in Pakistan’ evident from its “on-again off-again crack down on jihadi organizations and the ongoing cross-border infiltrations of militants from Pakistan into Kashmir” raising questions about the alleged acquiescence of GOP in incidents of terrorism inside India by Pakistani origin terrorists and doubts about Pakistan’s sincere will to stop its territory being used by terrorists.

There is some difficult truth in these arguments, which are being made given what is visible. Pakistan is itself bleeding at the hands of these terrorists. They are nobody’s friends. They are killing Pakistani women, children and soldiers every chance they get. According to a latest report, “as many as 5,152 civilians have been killed and 5,678 injured in bomb blasts and suicide attacks since 2008” in Pakistan. So Pakistanis are being killed each day at the hands of these terrorists and the unfortunate thing is that the GOP still wants to conduct a dialogue with these terrorists. Pakistan’s salvation lies in GOP adopting an absolute zero-tolerance policy against terrorism, condemning it in all its forms and vowing to establish the writ of the state.

So I agree, while the idea of nuclear terrorism by terrorist outfits within and outside Pakistan might seem like bit of a stretch given Pakistan’s confidence in its nuclear safety and security mechanisms, their capability to sabotage Indo-Pak relations engineering a breakdown in deterrence by pitting the two nuclear neighbors against each other, warrants serious policy consideration. I believe that tolerating and negotiating with these terrorists is against Pakistan’s national security interests and that Pakistan’s deteriorating internal security situation has a direct, negative impact on regional strategic stability.

3. Pakistan should comply with the ‘global non-proliferation regime’ in order to win an India-like NSG exemption/civilian nuclear deal: and though Fitz appreciates that Pakistan is a ‘member in good standing of the IAEA’, he believes that there is still much left to be desired. Fitz suggests that Pakistan should seal its moratorium on nuclear testing by signing the CTBT and end its fissile material production and lift its veto against FMCT talks.  Both points are debatable.

On CTBT I am a bit confused. According to Fitz (and some other scholars), “not just the newer, short-range models, but all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, as well as India’s, are inherently less safe than those of the five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapons states because of the small number of hot tests conducted by the South Asian states.”

Hmmm, well what would you rather have: (given that the nuclear weapons are not going anywhere anytime soon from South Asia) a country retaining its nuclear testing options to ensure that the weapons work when needed and lessen the dangers of nuclear accidents or a country sealing its options of nuclear testing by signing the CTBT and living with the probability of nuclear accidents occurring having never tested their nukes (especially when modernization/miniaturization is taking place)? And this question is purely based on the content of Fitz’s analysis, which often refers to Paki nukes being unsafe and prone to nuclear accidents due to untested designs! In my opinion, Pakistan should refrain from tit-for-tat nuclearism with India and evaluate whether nuclear testing option should be retained independent of what India does or does not do! If that is an uncomfortable option, then Pakistan should wait and see how U.S. and China play the CTBT ratification card and then do a cost-benefit analysis of retaining the voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing or sealing the deal by signing the CTBT. If Pakistan signs the CTBT before India does or even before the U.S. and China ratify, all it will bring is a pat on the back and nothing substantial. There is no hurry.

On FMCT, Fitz suggests that “Pakistan should be asked to end fissile-material production, as each of the nuclear-weapons states acknowledged by the NPT are thought to have done, although in China’s case this has not been confirmed.” According to Global Fissile Material Report 2013 “In 2013, the global stockpile of nuclear weapons was estimated at over 17,000 weapons, with the United States and Russia together holding over 16,000 of these weapons and the other seven nuclear weapons states holding a combined total of about 1000 weapons.” And of the global stockpile of HEU as of the end of 2012, “98% of this material is held by the nuclear weapons states, mostly by Russia and the United States.

Chart 4-8-14

The P-5 ended their fissile material production ‘decades ago’ because they had ‘decades’ to accumulate lifetime of fissile stocks. So naturally it suits them to rush for a FMCT since there is no strategic logic to support their delay and opposition to it. Pakistan given its security considerations is not at that stage yet where it can be comfortable with the levels of its fissile material stockpiles. As analyzed by Fitz, if by 2020, Pakistan feels that its ‘strategic environment is stable’ enough to stop the production of fissile materials then it will do so.

In order to reduce Pakistan’s nuclear dangers, Fitz suggests Pakistan’s “international partners to make mutually reinforcing adjustments.” Emphasis should be on ‘mutual reinforcements’ where Pakistan is not exploited to give up its strategic logic in exchange for a bit of normality. I appreciate Fitz’s change of heart and at certain levels, it is even contagious. I just hope that he is read and understood by the policy makers in the Western world, for the depth of his analysis and the honesty of his narrative about overcoming Pakistan’s nuclear dangers.


Image: Asit Kumar-AFP, Getty

Posted in , India, India-Pakistan Relations, NPT, Nuclear, Pakistan, Point Counter-Point, Policy

Rabia Akhtar

Rabia Akhtar is Director, Centre for Security, Strategy and Policy Research and heads the School of Integrated Social Sciences at the University of Lahore, Pakistan. She is a member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs. She is also a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council South Asia Center. Dr. Akhtar holds a PhD in Security Studies from Kansas State University. She has written extensively on South Asian nuclear security and deterrence dynamics. She is the author of the book ‘The Blind Eye: U.S. Non-proliferation Policy Towards Pakistan from Ford to Clinton’. Dr. Akhtar is also the Editor of Pakistan Politico, Pakistan’s first strategic and foreign affairs magazine. She received her Masters in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and her Masters in Political Science from Eastern Illinois University, USA. She is also a Fulbright alumna (2010-2015).

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8 thoughts on “Point, Counter-Point: Normalizing Nuclear Pakistan

  1. “No first use” is the outgrowth of such insensible dynamics, a doctrine that gets the strategists more excited than members of the public. New Delhi did, after some pondering in 1998, embrace the position that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. The BJP, however, released a rather aggressive cat amongst the pigeons by suggesting in its manifesto that the stance was up for revision as “the strategic gains acquired by India during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime on the nuclear programme have been frittered away by the Congress”. Pakistan, by way of comparison, has no such policy.

  2. Surprised reading this.

    1. Strategic decision making in Pakistan is dysfunctional, given the dynamics between the Army and the civilian gvt.
    2. Pakistan continues to support terror activities in Afghanistan for strategic depth through the ‘good’ Taliban; not to talk about the OBL episode, the 26/11 attacks on India etc..
    3. Are we sure that an AQ Khan type network will never again be born and allowed to flourish?
    4. Has the world even started to comprehend the scale of infiltration by extremists of Pakistan’s establishment? How do we explain Hafiz Sayeed conducting open rallies on ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya’ and numerous attacks on Pakistan’s defence establishment and assets?

    Aman Sharma
    Twitter : @amancool5

  3. It is so sad to see that many living in the twenty first century are still believing that power comes from Guns and Weapons, like in the distant past. Even the collapse of the Soviet Union possessing the latest weaponry has not altered their views. The main resources of any country are its people and the challenge for countries is how to empower these people and how to aid them in their quest for knowledge, thereby quicken the speed of development and a better tomorrow. Those believing that weaponry will be an antidote to insecurity and secure the country from failure due to regressive policies and actions, are living an illusion. This entire article is premised on the perception of some permanent enmity reflecting a mindset and narrative that has presented the country as a victim of Machiavellian external conspiracy, not the burden of choice. Pakistan is suffering turmoil and violence resulting from faulty choices made at various stages of its existence. The dangers to Pakistan and its existence does not come from India, China, Russia, US or any other country — it comes from within and time will prove it. If acquisition of weapons and a bigger Nuclear arsenal can give a fake sense of security Pakistan should spend all of its resources in acquiring them, no one is going to feel threatened. They can also deploy them including TNW’s along the boundaries, if it can make the country any safer.
    It is very doubtful that BJP or any other party in India will change NO FIRST USE Nuclear Doctrine because most Indian citizens are very comfortable with it and supportive. In India all power rests with citizens and is exercised through their representatives in Parliament. There is no unconstitutional body that can ever challenge the writ of the people or Parliament or undermine its authority in any way. National Interest is defined by citizens keeping in mind their goals, objectives and welfare — not by the Military, Think Tanks, NGO’s or Human rights organizations. India does not feel threatened by Pakistan, China, US or any country. No envy, no jealousy ! India knows where it wants to go and has the human resources to take it there. Malice for none, goodwill for all, will get India where destiny beckons it.

  4. Rabs:

    Another great post. You are on fire.

    I’d like to ask you the same question I asked Abhijit: Would you make a nuclear normalization ‘deal’ with Pakistan contingent on the cessation of attacks on Indian soil by extremist groups based in Pakistan? You would give these groups no quarter within Pakistan, given their record of carnage. And as you say, attacks on Indian soil by extremists based and trained in Pakistan are the first link in a chain that could lead to a military confrontation or worse.

    So… would conditionality be in order here? The underlying assumption, which most Indians believe, is that Pakistani military and intelligence services can stop attacks on India if they chose to do so. But by going after domestic groups, attacks on India could become more likely. I would like readers to explore the utility of conditionality regarding extremist groups, and the possible ramifications of going down this path.


  5. Dear Mr. Sharma
    Thank you for your comments.
    1. There is no dysfunctionality in Pakistan where ‘strategic decision-making’ is concerned. There are no two voices. NCA is led by the highest civilian authority in Pakistan, the PM and all statements released by the NCA state Pakistan’s official position, not the military’s. I have yet to read a statement or see a decision in which military is saying one thing and civilians saying the other. If there is consensus on anything in Pakistan, it is on what constitutes Pakistan’s national security interest.
    2. There are no ‘good’ or ‘moderate’ Taliban. There is no spectrum here. They are barbarians of the highest order and I for one, call them for who they are. They cannot serve our strategic interest as terrorists anywhere be it Afghanistan, India, Iran or anywhere else in the world. Pakistan is learning the hard way and even though the realization might seem slow to outside observers, trust me that it is very much there.
    3. Pakistan has fought ten hard years to sincerely work towards bettering its image tarnished by the A.Q.Khan network. Horizontal and Onward proliferation is not in Pakistan’s strategic interest. I am confident that another AQK will never happen given the stringent personnel reliability program and security checks in place. Nothing will escape. It is unfortunate that the stigma refuses to go away and I believe it is so cos its ‘convenient’ for the forces against Pakistan’s inclusion in the ‘normal nuclear world’ to keep harping on AQK activities and keep telling the world not to trust Pakistan. To be honest, I think Pakistan has done enough and been to every forum, justifying its existing security structures! Its time we stop and let the world speculate as much as it wishes! There is a limit to which we should allow ourselves to be ridiculed. Those who want to believe know what Pakistan has achieved in security realm and those who do not want to believe, will not regardless of what Pakistan does!
    4. Hafiz Saeed is not ‘part’ of Pakistan’s establishment!!! He can take out as many rallies as he wants and raise as many slogans as he wants cos all he suffers from is attention deficit disorder! He continues to make noises about Kashmir and India not because of his love lost for Kashmir but just cos he wants to remain relevant and it is unfortunate that he continues to find some space here and there!

    We understand who we are up against and what our internal security dynamics are. We are trying our best to deal with it. I as a citizen of Pakistan am absolutely against negotiations with any terrorists. Period. But unfortunately I am not the one running or advising the government. I hope better sense prevails and soon.

    Dear Mr. Daruwala
    Yes, it is indeed very sad that all countries in the world supporting conventional and nuclear forces find refuge in weapons as protectors of their ‘security’ regardless of however they define security. Pakistan and India are not different in that respect. I admire India for the strength of its human resources, for its economic prowess and its success with globalization but you cannot tell me that India will step back and cut down on its defense; not because that it ‘cannot’ but because that it ‘will not’. The increase in India’s defense spending over the years is not ‘action-reaction’ driven, it is because India sees itself as a major power in IR and military might is one huge component of power play.

    Pakistan is under no sense of ‘fake’ security that weapons provide. It, like any other country in the world, is trying to survive in an environment which demands that it secures itself and its reliance on conventional and nuclear weapons achieve just that. Pakistan, unlike India, has never projected global ambitions and has always maintained that our weapons are for defensive purposes against anybody who tries to cross a line and threaten us. It is our right to protect ourselves and we are doing just that! Its as simple as that.

    I so hope that Modi led BJP, if it comes to power, does not revise India’s NFU status cos it is not in India’s strategic interest. When the current doctrine which pledges massive retaliation ‘under the garb of NFU’ is doing the job for India then what is the need for being explicit about it and inviting unnecessary global criticism.

    India sure knows where it wants to go but only its human resources will not take it there, its military industrial complex will. India cannot become a major power without its weapons and military might and in order to continue on the path of greatness and glory, it needs its threat perceptions alive and brimming. This is not a statement. This is a fact.

  6. Thank you, MK.

    1. Hypothetically speaking: If such a ‘deal’ was offered to Pakistan, given the assumption you have stated, on the condition that all attacks inside India are stopped by Pakistan based terrorists, then Pakistan would have to accept its complicity in terrorism which will be akin to accepting state-sponsored terrorism and I don’t think it will fare well to do business with any state which sponsors terrorism and also accepts that it does! So it will be a trap and I would not advise the GOP to take the ‘deal’ at the risk of exposing itself, IF it is sponsoring terrorism.

    2. For the sake of argument there are other assumptions that will have to be made in addition to the one you make:
    a) Is the U.S. offering Pakistan the deal? If yes, then what is America’s strategic interest in offering an India-specific condition? and why should Pakistan accept that condition! While South Asian strategic stability concerns the U.S., I doubt if it keeps the Hill up all night!
    b) Is India offering that deal to Pakistan? cos an India-specific condition will make much more sense to India if India cannot find ways to deal with terrorism emanating from Pakistan (given your assumption holds)! Would Pakistan consider such a deal knowing that there are multiple stake-holders (some self-invited to the table) in the equation given their unresolved dispute over Kashmir and that it is not responsible for each and every outfit in Pakistan professing jihad for K? I would again advise the GOP against making any such deal with a country with which it has unresolved conflicts, major and minor.

  7. @Krepon. The following four points (A-D) might have crossed your weary eyes.
    The point is that India cannot be absolved from destabilising Pakistan. Would you like to comment turn your query on its head and ask the same Q about India? One understands that short-term economic and geostrategic gains can make people do navel watching. We could at least slap the wrist for the like-minded states for being complicit for doing silly stuff in the neighbourhood.
    A) Statement of the U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2011 that surfaced once he was nominated for this position: Hagel, during the speech said, “India for some time has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border”. I know you’d dismiss it that this is out of context. What is the context?
    B) General Vijay Kumar Singh admitted running a “Technical Support Division (TSD) for destabilizing Pakistan and conducting bomb blasts inside Pakistan especially Balochistan.… I know you’d say that this an aggrieved General’s statement of frustration! Prove him wrong!
    C) Mr R V S Mani, home ministry under-secretary, signed the affidavits submitted in court in the alleged encounter case, said that Satish Verma, until recently a part of the CBI-SIT probe team, told him that both the terror attacks (2001 parliament attacks and Mumbai) were set up “with the objective of strengthening the counter-terror legislation (sic)” I know you’d say that people can lie in the court and under oath. True that can happen. So can people avoid truth once not under oath and are bent on taking sides!
    D) Lest we forget Egypt joint statement, here are few extracts that both PMs signed: “….Both leaders agreed that terrorism is the main threat to both countries. Both leaders affirmed their resolve to fight terrorism and to cooperate with each other to this end.
    ….Pakistan has provided an updated status dossier on the investigations of the Mumbai attacks and had sought additional information/evidence….
    ….Both leaders agreed that the two countries will share real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats….
    ….Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas.
    Both Prime Ministers recognized that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed. Prime Minister Singh said that India was ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues.
    Prime Minister Singh reiterated India’s interest in a stable, democratic, Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
    Both leaders agreed that the real challenge is development and the elimination of poverty. Both leaders are resolved to eliminate those factors which prevent our countries from realizing their full potential. Both agreed to work to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence.”
    I know you’d say that it is a shame that PM Singh admitted interference in Balochistan :)
    The situation reminds one of Aesopean fable of The Wolf and the Lamb: Lambikin; “if the water be muddy up there, I cannot be the cause of it, for it runs down from you to me.” “Well, then,” said the Wolf, “why did you call me bad names this time last year?” “That cannot be,” said the Lamb; “I am only six months old.” “I don’t care,” snarled the Wolf; “if it was not you it was your father;” and with that he rushed upon the poor little Lamb and .WARRA WARRA WARRA WARRA WARRA .ate her all up. But before she died she gasped out .”Any excuse will serve a tyrant.”
    Consider writing next blog about a Wolf, Lamb and a Story Teller!

  8. Congratulations to Rabia on an insightful review of my book. I am chuffed, of course, for my account to be described as objective and brave. I am also pleased to be mentioned in the good company of both Morticia Addams and Albert Camus – although I might argue with the analogy of Camus’ logic of believing in God. There is little downside to believing in God (unless one sees benefit in debauchery) whereas there could be tremendous harm if Pakistan’s pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons and India’s massive retaliation policy result in a nuclear exchange.
    Rabia correctly forecast that my book would land me in some trouble for its unorthodoxy. The most telling criticism comes from those who have no animus toward Pakistan but who worry about the impact on the global non-proliferation regime if now two countries get an exception to the rules requiring NPT adherence. North Korea will be hardened in its claim that its nuclear weapons should similarly be accepted. I am fairly certain that this will never happen as long as North Korea retains its colouring. I also believe that in any case North Korea won’t give up nuclear weapons as long as the regime remains in place. The harder case involves Israel, which would certainly meet any criteria for nuclear cooperation that Pakistan could meet. But an exception for Israel and a formal acceptance of its nuclear weapons would create trouble for non-proliferation objectives throughout the Middle East. It would make it harder to restrain not just Iran but other states in the region that have their own security and status reasons for going nuclear.
    At my 26 March book launch in Washington, I acknowledged these points when Michael Krepon and other friends politely questioned the impact of my recommendation on global non-proliferation objectives. I recalled, however, the 51-49 principle that was drummed into me many years ago at grad school. If the arguments for a policy option line up 51% in favour, then that’s the course one should strongly push for.
    Although my book does not explicitly argue that giving up battlefield-use nukes should be a criterion for according Pakistan a nuclear cooperation deal, Rabia reads through the lines to deduce that this might be the most persuasive conditionality for Western countries. Signing onto FMCT and CTBT are the conditions I did explicitly posit. I do hope that by 2020, Pakistan will determine that it has enough fissile material, as was suggested to be in Islamabad, but I fear that without a quid pro quo, this timeline will become a rolling four-year horizon. The prospect of a nuclear cooperation deal is more than just a ‘bit of normalcy’. It’s a response to the request for fairness and legitimacy.

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