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A NUCLEAR power but with little electric power: incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s apt observation on Tuesday is worth dwelling on. Guns versus butter — the apparent trade-off between arms and development — can be and often is grossly oversimplified. Pakistan exists in a tough neighbourhood, the need for a strong military, particularly to deal with the internal security threat, is very real and to wish away defence expenditures altogether is unrealistic. But it is also a question of gradation, of degree, and Mr Sharif’s words can be interpreted as a need to recalibrate the state’s priorities.

In theory, once Mr Sharif assumes office early next month he will preside over the National Command Authority, the apex body that guides Pakistan’s nuclear strategy. In reality, of course, the army controls nuclear policy entirely. But as prime minister, Mr Sharif has also made clear his intentions to seek a broader and faster normalisation of ties with India that has been attempted by other governments and regimes — and given that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is entirely predicated on the threat from India, it puts the incoming prime minister in a unique position to directly and indirectly address the tilt towards guns instead of butter in the region. Aside from occasional alarm in international circles, there has been very little focus in India or Pakistan outside the strategic community on the complex calculus of nuclear deterrence between South Asia’s two nuclear powers. Pakistan’s seeming push towards acquiring tactical nuclear weapons has been decried as unwise because it threatens to lower the nuclear threshold — tactical nuclear weapons essentially being battlefield weapons that must logically be placed in the hands of commanders several rungs down the chain of command. But Pakistani nuclear strategists have long argued that the provocation is really on the Indian side — because of India’s growing conventional warfare capacities, its push towards acquiring a missile defence system and flirtation with warfare ideas like Cold Start.

Who is right and who is wrong is a matter of great consequence but of even greater consequence is the notion that Mr Sharif alluded to on Tuesday: arms alone do not bring security. Creating some elbowroom for civilians at the nuclear policy table may be the hardest of tasks for Mr Sharif but in his India policy could lie the seeds of regional de-escalation in the medium and long term. It will require both boldness and the most delicate of touches but this at least is a fight worth fighting.

Comments (26) Closed

Ashok R.Prabhu May 30, 2013 08:37am

India's defense Preparedness,Nuclear or otherwise,is clearly aimed at China who has gobbled vast territories on its Borders and still making provocative moves until recently.They have also mustered nuclear tipped missiles along the borders with India.As has been stated repeatedly by various Prime Ministers of India in the past ,Pakistan has nothing to fear from India and the latter earnestly wishes that peace and harmony prevails in Pakistan,that Pak people live happily within their secure borders.More funds can be deployed for welfare of people itself.

Akil Akhtar May 30, 2013 03:14am
Nuclear power first then anything else. Without security there is no Pakistan.
zaheer May 30, 2013 06:36am
The first line of defense of a country is it's people-happy, healthy, educated and productive. Let us first develop the tremendous human asset, which in turn will take care of all matters related to strategic and tactical assets and ultimately the safety of the country.
Feroz May 30, 2013 08:23am
Nuclear weapons are to nations what expensive show pieces are in the drawing rooms of the wealthy. They are there for show and prestige. To believe they can protect or provide insurance against wayward behavior is to not understand their uselessness.
Brijesh May 30, 2013 08:53am
Stop sending terrorists first.
Sriram May 30, 2013 10:12am
You mean you'd eat grass in order to maintain and increase your nuclear weapons right? I'm sorry your ilk hasn't disappeared from your country - you keep your nation pinned down on every front that matters to humanity.
Satyameva Jayate May 30, 2013 11:23am
Pakistan is al;ready a nuclear power. The question now is how many bombs does Pakistan need. The ultra-rights in India would like Pakistan to continue to divert all resources towards making bombs. For the rest - "grass' will do.
Ram May 30, 2013 11:40am
Wonderful commentary! Best wishes to Mr. Sharif in trying to get all of Pakistan's affairs under the control of Pakistanis!!
Agha Ata (USA) May 30, 2013 12:23pm
My priority is still NUKES. Let me explain it this way . . . if we have to get rid of certain things that are useless in making us happy and prosperous nation (and that list is pretty long) my priority would be NUKES. They should go first.
Ali Hashim May 30, 2013 01:22pm
This talk of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons really scares me. We have heard the argument voiced many times in past conflicts between India and Pakistan that we only crossed the Line of Control why did the other side cross the international border. I hope to God that we don't fall into the trap where it is said that we only used a TNW why did the other side use a massive nuclear response. The legalities will not matter in this case. An article in the Newsweek some ten years ago estimated that the number of deaths in a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan would result in 20- 25 million deaths in the first 7-10 days. It does not matter which side of the border has more casualties- the numbers are too large. Let us lower the rhetoric and concentrate on what is definitely more important , decreasing poverty, providing health care and education and perhaps - though it is a tall order combatting terrorism, sectarianism and corruption. I would rather lose an argument than play with the lives of millions of people.
Allaisa May 30, 2013 02:30pm
The reason for 'tough neighborhood' is Pakistan's own making. No body threatens Pakistan but it threatens everyone around and they are forced to defend themselves. All the wars it started with India were started by Pakistan and it regularly sends terrorists to that country. The most danger it faces is internal and not external. Once it realizes everything will be fine.
Mushtaq Ahmed May 30, 2013 02:50pm
Nuke is a deterrence to evil intentions of our adversary. Ever heard of single handed clap ? Let them come forward first & solve water dispute , Siachin , Sir Creek & Kashmir. We should respond positively to friendly steps Indians take. Btw , grass is greener on our side of fence.
Riaz Ahmad May 30, 2013 02:50pm
If control of nuclear weapons were in the hands of the civilians, world renowned for their corruption, nuclear weapons would have disappeared a long time ago. In exchange for visa to Europe or America, every Tom, Dick and Harry in the world would have know the nature and location of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Pakistani Politician are also world renowned for selling Pakistan's national interest for the sake their personal gains. The army does not control defence and current affairs for nothing, because they know Pakistanis will sell anything with pleasure if some dollar were on offer.
Bubba May 30, 2013 02:52pm
Spot on Editorial. The common perception is that nukes prevent wars -- but that's rubbish and hasn't prevented attacks on USA, China, Russia, UK or even India and Pakistan. Nukes are expensive to develop and even more expensive to maintain/defend. Nukes, cruise missiles and other expensive/exotic weapons haven't intimidated the Taliban and only raise international concerns that you can't protect these dangerous weapons and don't make wise decisions on how to spend limited resources.
Justforcarp May 30, 2013 03:05pm
I do not understand how provocation could be on the Indian side when all the wars till now have been started by Pakistan?
Justforcarp May 30, 2013 03:06pm
It should be Islam before anything else. There is no Pakistan without Islam!
AJ Kabul May 30, 2013 04:37pm
Security? What treasure does Pakistan have that others may want? Or, what is Pakistan trying to save/preserve? Let's see Pakistan has iliteracy, abject poverty, terrorists, disease, food shortage, water shortage, power shortage, energy shortage, broken economy, broken education, broken social order, broken political, ... and the list goes on and on and on. So, who would want Pakistan? Even Pakistanis dont want Pakistan.
Mustafa Razavi May 30, 2013 05:41pm
Allama said: Kartey hain Ghulamon ko Ghulami pe raza-mand Taweel-e-masail ko banate hain bahana.
Mustafa Razavi May 30, 2013 05:42pm
Pakistanis like you.
Mustafa Razavi May 30, 2013 05:44pm
Sorry satya, you are India's ultra right.
Mustafa Razavi May 30, 2013 05:45pm
I think Sharif brothers are planning another "Kargil" with our nuclear weapons. General Kiyani take note.
D.J May 30, 2013 06:02pm
does army not belong to pakistan ?
Nonymus May 30, 2013 09:06pm
Indeed.........Looks like you are eating some of this green grass................
Nonymus May 30, 2013 09:08pm
Well said, my friend
zaheer May 30, 2013 10:25pm
And what is it that you people are eating, to continuously develop and maintain the nuclear weapons- I suppose Cake and Bread? As for keeping the country pinned down on every front that matters to humanity-now that is stretching it too far, given the fact that it is the other, bigger half who work hard and honest on a daily basis and serve Pakistan well-plus the talented and dedicated who have made it a nuclear state. The last I saw and read-across the border it is not the land of honey and milk exactly.
Allaisa May 31, 2013 03:56am
North Korea has Nukes but no power and so can Pakistan!