Pakistan’s Strategic Nuclear Assets: Why are they a thorn in the side of so many?
By Shahid R. Siddiqi |Axis of Logic | January 2, 2010
When India exploded its first nuclear device in 1974, culminating a program launched as far back as 1951, Western powers only reacted with customary “show of concern”. But on the other hand, Pakistan’s nuclear program, initiated in response to the Indian acquisition of nuclear weapons, evoked immediate and “serious concern” from the same Western powers. This discriminatory attitude has since persisted. Pakistan has remained under pressure from the US-led lobby to scrap its program while the Indians remained uncensored.
India has often tried to justify its nuclear program as a counter to the Chinese threat. This is preposterous. China has shown no belligerency towards India. The war of 1962 resulted from India’s arrogance in refusing to amicably settle a boundary dispute with China, just as it has done with Pakistan. And if China was such a big threat why have other countries of the region not complained or scrambled to seek nuclear umbrellas?
Bhutto and the “religious bomb”
That Western attitude was discriminatory can also be seen by the religious color it gave to Pakistan’s bomb by calling it an ‘Islamic bomb’.
One has never heard of the Israeli bomb being called a ‘Jewish Bomb’, or the Indian bomb a ‘Hindu Bomb’, or the American and British bomb a ‘Christian Bomb’ or the Soviet bomb a ‘Communist’ (or an ‘Atheist) Bomb’. The West simply used Pakistan’s bomb to make Islam and aggression synonymous, although Pakistan’s bomb was merely for defensive purposes and was not even remotely associated with Islam.
With India going nuclear soon after playing a crucial role in dismembering Pakistan in 1971 and enjoying an overwhelming conventional military superiority over Pakistan (in the ratio 4:1) a resource-strapped Pakistan was pushed to the wall. Left with no choice but to develop a nuclear deterrent to create a balance of power and ward off Indian threat, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared: “Pakistanis will eat grass but make a nuclear bomb”. And sure enough, they did it. But soon both he and the nuclear program were to become non-grata. Amid intense pressure, sanctions and vilification campaign, Henry Kissinger personally delivered to a defiant Bhutto the American threat: “give up your nuclear program or else we will make a horrible example of you.”
And a horrible example was made of Bhutto for his defiance. Bhutto signed Pakistan’s nuclear program with his blood to enable Pakistan to become the 7th nuclear power in the world, forcing India to shun belligerency. Although there has never been real peace in South Asia, at least there has been no war since 1971.
Pakistan’s nuclear program: a deterrent to Indo-Israeli dominion
Ignoring its perspective on acquisition of strategic assets, Pakistan’s Western ‘friends’ refused to admit it to their exclusive nuclear club, pressuring it to give up nuclear ambitions instead. However, expediency made them look the other way when it suited their purpose. In 1980s and post 9/11 when Pakistan was needed to play a key role in Afghanistan as the ‘front line state’, the American spotlights on its nuclear program were switched off.
But Pakistan’s nuclear program remained under threat from the foes – India and Israel, who felt their interests were threatened. In collusion, both of them missed no opportunity to directly or indirectly malign Pakistan’s nuclear program or subvert it. Both countries having similar geo-strategic interests in their respective regions, see Pakistan as an obstacle to their designs.
India sees Pakistan as an unnatural creation which, having been carved out of its body, now refuses to submit to its diktat and obstructs its quest for unchallenged domination of South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.
Israel looks at Pakistan’s military prowess and its nukes as indirectly strengthening the hands of Arab states with which it has remained in a state of conflict and which it has continued to terrorize all these years. It is conscious that several Arab states look up to Pakistan for military support when faced with external threat to their security that comes mainly from Israel. It is unsettling for Israel to see such a state to be in possession of nuclear weapons.
Israel also cannot overlook the fact that Pakistan Air Force pilots, when flying mostly Russian aircraft, surprised the Israeli Air Force and shot down several relatively superior Israeli jets in air combat in the 1973 Arab Israel war. They shattered the myth of the invincibility of Israeli pilots who believed themselves to be too superior in skill and technology. These Pakistani pilots happened to be assigned to Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi air forces on training missions when the war broke out and they inconspicuously joined the operations.
The foiled Israeli plan to bomb Kahuta
Having successfully bombed and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, Israelis were encouraged to launch a similar attack on Kahuta, a village to the east of Islamabad where Pakistan’s nascent nuclear research program was located. In collaboration with India, the Israelis made plans for this mission in early 1980s. Using satellite pictures and intelligence information provided by the CIA, they reportedly built a full-scale mock-up of Kahuta facility in the southern Negev Desert and pilots of F-16 and F-15 squadrons went through mock attack exercises.
According to the story published in London by The Asian Age citing revelations by journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark in their book ‘Deception: Pakistan, the US and the Global Weapons Conspiracy’, the Israeli Air Force planned to launch an air attack on Kahuta in mid 1980s from Jamnagar airfield in Gujarat (India) and land and refuel at a base in northern India. The book claims that “in March 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signed off (on) the Israeli-led operation, bringing India, Pakistan and Israel to within a hairs breadth of a nuclear conflagration”.
Another report claims that Israel had planned to launch an air strike directly out of Israel. After midway and midair refueling, Israeli warplanes were to shoot down a commercial airline flight over the Indian Ocean that routinely flew into Islamabad early morning. The Israelis would have flown in a tight formation to appear as one large aircraft on radar screens preventing detection. Using the drowned airliner’s call sign they would have entered Islamabad’s air space, knocked out Kahuta and flown on to land in Jammu, an Indian airbase, to refuel and make an exit.
Reliable reports say that in mid 1980s this mission was actually launched one night. But the Israelis were in for a big surprise. They discovered that the Pakistan Air Force had already sounded an alert and had taken to the skies in anticipation of this attack. The Indo-Israeli mission had to be hurriedly called off.
Pakistan reminded the Israelis that Pakistan was no Iraq and that the Pakistan Air Force was no Iraqi Air Force. Using indirect channels, Pakistan is reported to have conveyed that an attack on Kahuta would force Pakistan to lay waste to Dimona, Israel’s nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert. Pakistan drew up contingency plans for a retaliatory strike on Dimona in case of any future Israeli misadventure. India was also warned that Islamabad would attack Trombay if its facilities in Kahuta were hit.
The above quoted book claims that “Prime Minister Indira Gandhi eventually aborted the operation despite protests from military planners in New Delhi and Jerusalem.”
This Indo-Israeli plan was also confirmed by a paper published by the Australian Institute for National Strategic Studies. It stated,
“Israeli interest in destroying Pakistan’s Kahuta reactor to scuttle the ‘Islamic bomb’ was blocked by India’s refusal to grant landing and refueling rights to Israeli warplanes in 1982.”
Clearly India wanted to see Kahuta gone but did not want to face retaliation against its own nuclear facilities at the hands of the Pakistan Air Force. Israel, on its part wanted this to be a joint Indo-Israeli strike so that Israel alone would not be held responsible.
The Reagan administration also showed reluctance to support the plan as any distraction on Pakistan’s part at that juncture would have hurt American interests in Afghanistan where Pakistan was engaged as key US ally against the Soviets.
The Propaganda Campaign
Although the two countries had to give up plans to hit Kahuta, they continued their diatribe against Pakistan’s nuclear program through an organized propaganda campaign which has been accelerated today. Israel used its clout over the American political establishment and the Western media to create hysteria. India also worked extensively to promote paranoia. Pakistan’s program was branded as unsafe, insecure and a threat to peace, although it is technically more sound, much safer and more secure than that of India and has ensured absence of war in the region.
Use of terrorists to destabilize Pakistan
The US invasion of Afghanistan provided another opening for the Indo-Israeli nexus to target Pakistan’s strategic assets. This time the strategy was to present Pakistan as an unstable state, incapable of defending itself against religious extremist insurgents, creating the specter of nuclear assets falling into their hands in Islamabad. This was achieved by creating a proxy organization – Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Pakistan-Afghan border areas where they recruited rogue elements and spread chaos to destabilize Pakistan through terrorism. Suggestions were floated that in view of the possibility of Pakistan succumbing to extremists, its nuclear assets should be disabled, seized or forcibly taken out by the US. Alternatively, an international agency should take them over for safe keeping. […]
The Indo-Israeli nexus is losing the initiative. But as long as the American umbrella is not denied, Afghanistan will remain a playground for these mischief mongers. It is now up to the US to walk its talk if it is sincere about its claim that it wants to see a secure and stable Pakistan. It must put an end to conspiracies to destabilize Pakistan.