Anil Athale ,



History is a chronicle    of yesterday’s follies of mankind.


The recent disclosures about Pakistani attempts at nuclear proliferation, have put the scientists in dock. The popular mood there is one of bewilderment and despondency. These events have important implications for internal stability of Pakistan and could have effect on India as well. Indians would do well to ponder over this issue as Paks may think that with all attention focussed on impending elections, Indian guard may be lowered.




To fully grasp the significance of the current happenings it is necessary to trace the history of Pakistani nuclear programme. Many, including this author, were sceptical when Pakistan threatened to reply to 1998 Pokhran II nuclear tests carried out by  India. There were sound reasons for this scepticism. Pakistan has a rudimentary industrial base, as late as 1979 the Pakistani Finance Minister announced that he is giving tax cut to bicycle chain manufacturing! Even today that country does not produce more than 1 lakh tonnes of steel in its sole steel mill at Karachi. Dr. Munir Akram, the founder of Pakistani Atomic Energy Commission is on record of having said that Pakistan does not even have 500 capable engineers! Thus many Indian scientists had also assured the government that Pakistan was incapable of producing nuclear weapons. But Pakistan surprised all when it carried out tests of nuclear weapons towards end of May 1998, barely within weeks of Indian tests.


In retrospect, many of us went wrong because we underestimated the Pakistani determination to keep up with India, their resourcefulness and most importantly the American and Western world’s complicity in this effort. It is on record that late Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had taken the decision to go for nuclear weapons as early as 1972, two years before India carried out its first nuclear test in May 1974. Bhutto is reported to have said, “ Pakistanis will eat grass but will have nuclear weapons!.”[1]  The Pakistani efforts did not make much headway even after the redoubtable Dr. A. Q. Khan stole the blueprints from the European nuclear research centre and landed in Pakistan. Such was the Pakistani desperation that when its Ambassador in US heard that a Princeton University undergraduate student John Aristotle Philips had managed to design a workable Atomic bomb from open literature, he promptly got in touch with him.[2] But merely ‘knowing’ how to make them was not enough since Pakistan lacked, and continues to lack even the basic minimum industrial infrastructure to make these centrifuges.  


But all this changed in December 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Overnight a brutal military dictator like Zia Ul Haq became the darling of the West and defender of the ‘Free World’. This also marked the beginning of the American economic aid that flooded Pakistan. This continued well into late 1980s. Time and again Pakistani citizens were caught smuggling nuclear related materials and yet year after year. On 25 February 1984 attempt to smuggle trigger devices was detected. In 1988  Arshad Parvez, a Pakistani of Canadian origin was caught smuggling maraging steel ( vital for making nuclear components) while the US President continued to give certificate that Pakistan was NOT trying to make nuclear weapons!




In the context of the then prevailing geo-politcs, the US and its quasi ally China felt that a nuclear armed Pakistani proxy was in their interest to check growing power of pro Soviet India. In a revealing incident in 1982, when an Indian diplomat protested that while there are several technology curbs on India, China that has no such agreement with US continues to get items like super computer etc. The US official had then responded that with China, there is NO NEED. Obviously Indian protestations about Pakistani clandestine nuclear programme fell on deaf ears. Proliferation of nuclear weapons to Pakistan was thought to be in interest of the US, like in case of Israel. In order to maintain a façade of adherence to Non Proliferation regime and NPT, it appears that black market channels were used extensively to help Pakistan achieve the nuclear weapon capability. It is worthwhile to remember that in a similar sort of situation Saddam Hussein’s Iraq , then fighting Ayottullah Khomeini led Iran was similarly helped.


Attempts to and hope of, break up of India was the flavour of the times. In 1982, US Ambassador to the UN, Prof. Jean Kirkpatric of George Town University is on record of having said that India is too unwieldy a nation and must be broken up in ‘small manageable parts’. These were not mere words, maveric characters like Gurmukh Singh Aulakh, World Khalistan’s Bhullar and many other sundry terrorists were openly sheltered and supported by the US and the West. Ex agents of CIA and MI-6 ran training camps for the Sikh terrorists and even openly advertised in newspapers for recruitment. Names like ‘Teeni Meemi Service’ were used. If any proof of this complicity was needed, then it came just six months ago. Last year as the “Kanishka” Air India Boeing 747 bombers ( that crash killed over 350 innocent Indians) went on trial in Canada after 18 odd years, the Canadian police were told that tapes containing the conversation of the terrorists have been ‘ERASED’ on instructions of an intelligence agency.


None thought that the Soviet Union would collapse and world would be ushered into a totally new era. To be fair to the Americans and the West, this single most defining events was not anticipated by anyone. Overnight, the long term strategies were consigned to dustbin. The whole context of proliferation got altered. Pak nukes became an embarrassment. China was thought to be a long term ally became a competitor if not a likely adversary.




What was a mere embarrassment  turned to alarm when Pakistan launched its Kargil adventure in 1999. Pakistan thus broke an unwritten law: NUCLEAR POWERS DO NOT ENGAGE OTHER NUCLEAR POWERS IN DIRECT CONFRONTATION.  The fear of regional nuclear war was not the issue. Many American analysts, including the redoubtable Asst. Secretary of State ( during Kennedy Administration) went on record in 1985 in Pune saying that a nuclear conflict in South Asia does not affect the US. This is only a half truth. True that a conflict in an area half way across the globe, involving a few dozen nuclear weapons does not affect the US. Nor will it harm the world ecology. But the real fear is that once the taboo on use of nuclear weapons is broken, it may well usher in nuclear anarchy!


Parallel with the Kargil adventure by Pak, the ex pro America Jihadis including Osama Bin Laden began a campaign of terror worldwide against the west. The fond American hope of being able to control the Frankenstein of fundamentalist Islam was shattered by bomb attacks in Kenya and elsewhere. With Pak nexus with Taliban, the west began to wakeup to the danger of fundamentalist Islam. The attacks of 9/11 was a final wake up call.



Like CIA trained Jihadis and Osama Bin Laden, the Pak nuclear capability was the consequence of the geo politics of cold war. Myopic as these policies were, the US has now the difficult task of controlling the Frankenstein of its own creation.  The successive attacks on the life of Parvez Musharraf has apparently brought home to the Americans the risks involved in relying on a single individual. The real fear that confronts Americans is of another 9/11 but this time with nuclear weapons.


The alarm due to attack on Musharraf is valid as that shows the cracks in the supposedly solid phalanx of the Pakistani army. The location of the attacks on Musharraf, barely a few hundred yards from the Army headquarters the sophistication of the methods and the precision of timing, all are hallmarks of inside help. The Americans have consistently put their faith in the Pak army to ‘manage’ Pakistan. As late as April 2000, I was witness to the fact that the then ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Mahmood, could breeze in and out of state department. It is another matter that the same General had to be sacked for his links with Al Queida two years later. The Americans are only now realising that Zia effect of ‘Islamisation’ may well have produced a Jihad mindset in the ranks of the army, specially the younger elements. In light of all this the Americans may well have come to a conclusion that it is necessary to de-fang Pakistan.


It may well be the American pressure and fear that after Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan may well be in American cross hair, that has prompted the famous U turn on Kashmir. Besides the American pressure, of late even the Chinese, equal partners in propping the nukes of Pakistan, may be having second thoughts. China has recently sent a list of terrorists and training camp to Pakistan. It has also fenced its border with its so  called ‘ All Weather Friend ‘ . Indians must therefore be clear that the recent peace gestures by Pakistan are essentially tactical manoeuvres.




It may well be that Musharraf is sincere in his peace efforts and wants to modernise and moderate Pakistan. But the socio economic and religious forces ranged against him are too strong. He has often expressed his ambition to emulate Kamal Ataturk. But Ataturk succeeded as Turkey was then under shock of a defeat in First World War. Kamal Pasha was also an uncompromising moderniser, while Musharraf revels in tactical ploys.  


Pakistan currently faces the threat of ‘womb bomb’. Its population growth is at 2.6% per annum and per woman fertility is at 5.4 children![3] With this kind of population explosion, Pakistan is slated to beat the US in 20 years time. Yet this population has to be sustained on very meagre agricultural land. In Pakistan there is very little industry, no minerals and no education. The Jihad in Kashmir is more an export of socio economic problems. If that stops, then the Jihadis would turn on their own creators. There is also as yet no move to cure the hate filled educational system. The worst part is, even if corrective measures are taken today, its effects will be visible only after a decade or so!


Given this situation of ‘Pressure Cooker’ like society, explosion in Pakistan is inevitable. Whether Pakistan implodes and destroys itself or launches a war aggression, is a question that if difficult to answer.


There are indeed two possibilities. Post Musharraf, a new leader decides to follow the dictum that since we are drowning, let us take India along with us. ( Hum to doob rahen hai, tumko bhi le doobenge!) . The second possibility is that there is revolt against the feudal elite that has been looting the country for last 56 years. The chances of the second possibility are less as the army remains all powerful and civil society non existent. In this case as well India should expect a flood of refugees. Even if we are lucky and neither of these two eventualities takes place, yet a flood of economic migrants should be expected.


India has already accommodated over twenty million Bangladeshis. The US has also been facing this for decades due to illegal migrants from Mexico. But there is a vital difference, the Mexicans who come to US are very happy to become loyal Americans. The Bangladeshis and soon to come Pakistani refugees would earn their livelihood here  but also carry out Jihad and bomb blasts. There are unfortunately enough political parties to come to their rescue in name of secularism. Either way India has no choice but to tighten its immigration policy and keep its powder dry.



[1]  ‘If I am Assassinated’ page 238, Biswin Sadi Pub. New Delhi 1979.

[2]  Reader’s Digest October 1979, pages 231-240.



The State of World Population 2001
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