SIXTY-seven years ago today, the terrifying power of nuclear weapons was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Historians may argue about the motives behind dropping a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1946 and on Nagasaki three days later, but there was no doubt that the world had entered a new age. Fast forward 67 tumultuous years and today Pakistan has found itself in the nuclear crucible, with neighbouring Iran drawing international condemnation for its nuclear ambitions, Pakistan’s own nuclear deterrent eyed with worry and suspicion by much of the outside world and India’s easing into the official circle of nuclear states heightening the possibility of a destabilising response by Pakistan.
Undesirable as the status of being a nuclear-weapons state with abysmal social and economic indicators is, the reality is that for the foreseeable future — and perhaps well beyond — Pakistan will continue to have a nuclear deterrent. With a nuclear-armed neighbour on its eastern border with whom four wars have been fought and whose conventional military and economic might is many times larger than Pakistan’s, the deterrent will never realistically be wrested away from the Pakistani security establishment.
Perhaps, then, a more realistic aim is to push for a wider debate: how many fuel-producing factories, warheads and delivery systems are enough to maintain credible minimum deterrence, the established nuclear policy of this country? Also, the vital question of how safe and secure this country’s nuclear programme is needs to be asked. Historically, the security establishment here has made disastrous policy decisions in part because of the secretive manner in which such policies are debated and understood. With a nuclear-weapons programme, the room for error is less than zero. And maybe once that debate is started, the ultimate dream of a nuclear-weapons-free region and world may be a step closer.