Point, Counter-Point: ‘Overlooking’ Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers

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


Mark Fitzpatrick’s argument for “nuclear rehabilitation of Pakistan” in his book Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers reminds one of a scene from a famous Bollywood movie Sholey. Jai, one of the male protagonists goes to meet the female protagonist’s (Basanti) aunt (Mausi) to ask her consent for the marriage of Basanti and his friend Veeru. Upon enquiry by Mausi regarding Veeru’s character, Jai gives a very quirky response with numerous contradictions. He says that Veeru is a commendable person despite the fact that he does not win every time he gambles. Despite of this, Veeru will surely begin earning responsibly once his gets into a marital alliance. He adds that he is a nice guy but once he drinks he loses control; however if Basanti marries him, he will also stop such activities and would also put an end to his practice of going to brothel. Upon more enquiries regarding Veeru’s ancestral origin, Veeru says that he will inform her once he becomes aware of it. He periodically praises Veeru despite all bad habits he has. Mausi, shocked by the responds, retorts that it is surprising how Jai is appreciating his friend who seems to possess no great quality of a respectable groom. To this Veeru responds, “kya karu mausi, mera toh dil hi kuch aisa hai!” (What to do aunt, my heart is such).

Similarly, Fitzpatrick seems to acknowledge all the problems with nuclear Pakistan – track record of proliferation, a lowered nuclear threshold, command and control prone to human error, warheads not one-point safe, inability to control the terrorists – and still vouches for Pakistan to be recognized “as a normal nuclear state” especially when some may say that Pakistan itself is not a normal state. His compassion is discernible when he says “how long Pakistan must pay the price” for the Khan nuclear proliferation network – “a solitary event.” Drawing a parallel to India’s performance, Fitzpatrick argues that “the time has come to offer Pakistan a nuclear-cooperation deal akin to India’s.”

At the outset, his thesis suffers from the ‘India parity syndrome’, which has in fact drained Pakistan for more than six decades now. The author warns that preferentially accepting India’s NSG membership is “likely to drive Pakistan further away from the West.” However, he has overlooked the repercussions of rewarding Pakistan.

Most disturbing is how the author equates Pakistan’s proven nuclear proliferation record with baseless allegations against India’s without substantiating it with convincing facts. He further says, “India must realize that Pakistan does not control all groups that perpetrate terrorism”. In this context, an observation by George Perkovich is worth noting. He deftly states that in the larger context of deterrence stability, “a state cannot be a responsible possessor of nuclear weapons if it does not have sovereign control over organized perpetrators of international violence operating from its territory.”

Fitzpatrick’s advocacy of treating Pakistan as a normal nuclear state and rewarding it with similar treatment like India by “mutually reinforcing adjustments” is based on a few contested nuclear norms. Firstly, on restraint in declaratory policy, the author maintains, “Pakistan’s stated policies of minimum deterrence and no pre-delegation of launch authority are indicators of nuclear responsibility”. It is interesting to note that even after one and half a decade, Pakistan has reserved the first-use option and has been unable to lay down in black and white a nuclear use doctrine. Even Pakistan’s “nuclear redlines” have been only pronounced by retired military officials, which may be subject to individual interpretation and whims. While Pakistan may propose strategic restraint at both nuclear and conventional levels, it conveniently overlooks restraints at the sub-conventional level.

Secondly, on practices that ensure safety and security, the author argues that “Pakistan quietly cooperates with Western partners” and has taken some meaningful steps to secure its nuclear infrastructure. It is natural to assume that nuclear normalisation cannot be based solely on the current work or professionalism of an organisation, but has to consider the security situation of the country in general. Just like nuclear security has to continuously evolve (in light of growing threats), the performance of an organisation would have to be continuously assessed in terms of the future threats that may plague a country. While SPD may be able to manage the situation currently, it would be impossible for anyone to ensure the same in case of extreme threats. This is particularly so given the on-schedule American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the possibility of increasing non-state threats to the sub-continent at large and Pakistan in particular. In view of the uncertain future, it would be imprudent to treat Pakistan as a normal nuclear country.

Thirdly, on institutional compliance with the global non-proliferation regime, Fitzpatrick identifies that its entire civilian nuclear facilities are under safeguards and it has adhered to a number of global treaty arrangements. As a matter of fact, Pakistan has not yet ratified the amended CPPNM (2005).

Interestingly, Fitzpatrick points out that “the danger of onward proliferation appears to have receded after the detention of black marketer A.Q. Khan.” This argument fails to impress especially when considering that even today, many aspects of his dealings are shrouded in mystery. It is not publically known how many such clandestine networks are still in operation. If Khan is solely responsible, not the Pakistani state, what meaningful actions have been taken against him? House arrest, restricting him to interact with the outside world! Considering Pakistan’s continued reluctance to come clean on the issue, it would be a dangerous precedent to regard it as a normal nuclear country. It will further embolden other potential nuclear powers like Iran to continue its nuclear-related activities.

In addition, one would be hard-pressed to get convinced by the author’s assertion that “Pakistan’s stated policies of minimum deterrence and no pre-delegation of launch authority are further indicators of nuclear responsibility.” It is evident that the ‘minimum’ in deterrence is never static and is subject to a country’s threat perceptions. Pakistan’s paranoia about India and its growing conventional military power is likely to ensure that its stated policy evolves into adding more numbers to the nuclear stockpile. Even Pakistan’s assertion regarding ‘no pre-delegation’ deserves attention. Pre-delegation (partial at best) is an operational requirement when dealing with nuclear weapons, and particularly the newly introduced tactical nuclear weapons (TNW). It is likely that no pre-delegation would make its TNW more vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike and even render the weapon system useless during a war. Statements that point out a possibility of pre-delegation to Corps Commanders (who are not in Pakistan’s nuclear command authority) only add to the concern of unauthorised or accidental use, thereby not acting as any indicator of nuclear responsibility.

Other indicators which point out to Pakistan nuclear ‘irresponsibility’ is its idea of full spectrum deterrence, i.e. applying deterrence to all level of military conflict. While the idea may seem plausible on paper, in practical terms, it may only make the region more prone to war-fighting owing to reduced thresholds and quick spiraling of a major conflict to a potential nuclear exchange. With such risky nuclear ideology, a wrong message would be sent to the world if Pakistan is regarded as a normal nuclear state.

Fitzpatrick states “Pakistan should be treated as a normal nuclear country if it adopts policies and practices associated with global nuclear norms.” Pakistan’s nuclear dealings with China, wherein China is openly flouting global norms under the pretext of ‘grandfather’ clause does not paint a positive picture either. What is worrisome is that the Sino-Pakistan nuclear deals are opaque in nature without any details of the specific terms unlike the Indo-US nuclear agreement (a non-starter in itself). Also, Pakistan’s veto on Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) negotiations further strengthens the argument that it is not likely to toe the global-nuclear-norms-line.

It is germane to imagine what ‘nuclear normalisation’ for Pakistan would result in. A ‘normal’ nuclear status is quite likely to convince Islamabad and for that matter even Beijing that they can get away with their nuclear dealings. Other possibilities include the relative ease with which Pakistan may be able to get access to nuclear fuel, which is an urgent requirement for Pakistan in view of their dwindling uranium supply. Access to nuclear fuel will further allow Islamabad to enlarge its nuclear assets and result in greater proliferation as evident in the past.

Fitzpatrick’s ideas and arguments seem interesting and unconventional in academic terms especially when compared to the plethora of studies currently available on the topic. However, there are many factors in his argument that cannot be ignored, especially at a time when the future is uncertain and stakes too high.


Image: Pete Souza-Official White House Photo, Flickr

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

Aditi Malhotra

Aditi Malhotra is a PhD Candidate at the Graduate School of Politics (GraSP), University of Münster, Germany. Her areas of interest include security issues in Indo-Pacific region, nuclear proliferation and nuclear security. Follow her on Twitter @aditi_malhotra_

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Sitakanta Mishra

Dr Sitakanta Mishra is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Liberal Studies at Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the Cooperative Management Centre of the Sandia National Laboratory, Albuquerque. He was formerly a Research Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi and Associate Editor of the Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, New Delhi.

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7 thoughts on “Point, Counter-Point: ‘Overlooking’ Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers

  1. In International relations some countries are more equal than others. This adage holds particularly true in the case of India’s proliferation record. For numerous reasons the West has chosen to overlook India’s proliferation activities. A closer look at ISIS reports over the years reveals flaws in India’s record too. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about India being the alleged fourth customer of the AQ Khan network.


  2. @Amina, I wouldn’t be surprised if India was indeed the 4th customer, but the issue here is twofold. One is inwards proliferation versus outwards proliferation. Pakistan is guilty of both. India is guilty of the former… much less so of the latter (few exceptions). The second issue is one of government complicity in that outwards proliferation.

    @Aditi … connecting this to the Mausi scene in Sholay was sheer genius. Split my sides laughing.

    While I accept all your tactical arguments (use em or lose em) I want to ask how will denying Pakistan a deal correct such aberrant behaviour? Also to paraphrase Mark’s question, what according to you would constitute adequate punishment for its past?

  3. America’s case for a country-specific rather than a criteria-based approach rested on the argument that India’s nuclear record and commitment to non-proliferation norms qualified it as a ‘like minded country’ to join other NSG member nations. This view has not of course gone unchallenged because this would make India the only country to be allowed into the NSG, which is not a signatory to the NPT or one that is not complying with a nuclear weapon free zone treaty. Since the November 2010 US decision, Pakistan has been arguing in different world capitals that there should be no discriminatory treatment on this count. That will simply reward the country that inducted nuclear capabilities into South Asia in the first place. This view found traction among some members.

  4. I appreciate the attention that Aditi and Sitakanta give to reviewing my book on Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers and I am tickled by the comparison with Jai in the Bollywood movie Sholey (credit to Sitakanta for the idea). The title of their piece obviously overstates the case in arguing that I ‘overlooked’ any of Pakistan’s nuclear dangers; I assessed them in detail in Chapters Two-Five. (I don’t, for example, dismiss A.Q. Khan’s proliferation misdeeds as a ‘solitary event’.) But I know how hard it is to pass up good word play.

    My book notes the propensity in Pakistan to assume the worst about India, which has repeatedly driven Islamabad and Rawalpindi to error on the side of excess, first in starting their nuclear weapons program and more recently in developing battlefield-use nuclear weapons. Aditi and Sitikanta similarly assume the worst about Pakistan, and point to ways, both major and minor, in which they argue it does not measure up to normalcy. Setting such a high bar is a way of telling Pakistan it will never measure up. My argument is to recognize Pakistan’s nuclear dangers but also to recognize its positives, and to encourage building on the latter.

    One key point in which the two bloggers and I are in agreement is the need to bring sub-conventional level issues into bilateral discussions on strategic restraint. As I emphasized in my concluding chapter, suppressing groups that employ terrorism against India is one of the most important actions Pakistan could take to reduce nuclear dangers.

  5. @Mark Fitzpatrick: Thank you for your comments. To begin with, we would like to genuinely thank you for initiating a very interesting and much-needed discourse in the strategic community. It is not everyday when we are forced to ponder over unconventional policy responses to issues of global concern. Glad that you point out the fruitfulness of connecting the sub-conventional level issue to the overall bilateral discourse between the countries. Also, we do agree that our concerns regarding Pakistan tend to border the worst case assumption. The worry also emanates from the fact that in a worse case scenario, India will forcibly get engulfed into situations many in the region and beyond dread.

    Delving further on your suggestions on dealing with Pakistan, we hope to come up with an alternate framework, incorporating Indian perspectives and concerns on the issue. In this exercise, your book serves as the best possible starting point.

    -Aditi & Sitakanta

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