Saturday, January 30, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: THE GENESIS OF SOUTH ASIAN NUCLEAR DETERRANCE - PAKISTAN'S PERSPECTIVE

PUBLISHED IN Daily Times 30 Jan 2010
Author: Naeem Salik
REVIEWED BY Afrah Jamal
Published under the Title: NUCLEAR PAKISTAN – SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT - AGAIN

Going Nuclear is a lifestyle choice. For the original 5, it was a vital symbol of power. For Pakistan, it is a necessary evil. With 3 nuclear powers in the region, Pakistan is the only one that gives the world sleepless nights. As their least favourite (aspiring) club member, Pakistan is used to being eyed with suspicion and treated with disdain. Naeem Salik believes that current debates on Pakistan’s nuclear stance are speculative at best and slanderous at worst. But since studies from Pakistan are rare, it is not always easy to counteract the negative propaganda and/or hysterical fear mongering. As world leaders eye Pakistan with increasing wariness, it would be useful to hear out the man once in-charge of the conception & development of a nuclear command & control system along with ‘contours’ of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine - post 1998.

The shocking story of how Pakistan deceived the West and the West played along has been covered in other books. By coming out of the nuclear closet, both Pakistan & India set certain events in motion. With widely differing agendas (prestige & power - India, security - Pakistan), staying the course leaves each at completely different junctures. A stranded Pakistan is trying to live down the accusations of dealing technology on the side while a driven India is trying to live up to its image of a ‘responsible’ nuclear power.

What we get from this well researched book is a comprehensive picture of India’s evolutionary nuclear program, the subsequent development of Pakistani technology and a multifaceted view of the Indo-Pak missile technology program. A.Q. Khan makes a mandatory appearance in Naeem Salik’s version of events but since this book is not just about the nuclear godfather, his exploits find place in another book by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark.

A.Q. Khan’s involvement in nuclear proliferation has been established beyond a shadow of a doubt. The writer asserts that Pak military was kept out of the (nuclear) loop till the 1990’s and remains unconvinced that Dr. Khan’s network was officially sanctioned. Given that Khan ratted out his accomplices in a letter, the international jury is still out on the subject.

The book constantly alludes to striking contrasts between the treatments meted out to both nuclear states: the first to break rules gets an indulgent nod, a civil nuclear deal and a rap on the knuckles (absorbed by friendly neighbourhood Russian aid) - the one to follow is left with disciplinary actions, sanctions, and a bad rep!

It also seeks to address some of the farcical evidence regarding our nuclear command & control. We are, after all, living in a neurotic society which is convinced that its assets are bound to be seized by allies while confronting a paranoiac world convinced of the same only in their scenario extremists do the seizing. He is rightfully resentful of the tendency to overreact and, by taking readers through some of the practices Pakistan has set in place to safeguard its assets, makes a compelling case that merits attention.

Naeem Salik’s made an appearance at Johns Hopkins/SAIS and gave a presentation about the quality of Pakistan’s command & control and safety arrangements. In the opinion of an American scholar on South Asia who has lived and worked in both India and Pakistan, this optimistic representation is shared - officially. While the scholar found Naeem’s arguments to be persuasive and his assertions went unchallenged by audience members, the international media however remains sceptical, especially given the increasingly precarious security situation and regional instability. This scholar also had the impression that confidence within US government circles has been shaken and conceded that a strong Indian lobby might have tilted the US in India’s favour and by contrast tarnished Pakistan’s image. He further adds that the shifting views “grow out of what seems to be revealed facts about Pakistan that run against the long-standing traditional view that US and Pakistani security interest have a great deal in common, and security influentials (sic) on both sides can be counted on to cooperate on those matters the same way”.

Pakistan’s credibility is at an all time low. Clearly, some serious damage control needs to be done. But embarrassing disclosures are not the only problem. There is also a lot of disinformation out there. Simon Henderson, in his article ‘Investigation: Nuclear Scandal – Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan’, published in Times Online (Sep 20, 2009) has referred to a “Khan directed copy of Korean Nodong Ghauri” (missile). The author clarifies that “Ghauri, in its current configuration, does not even remotely resemble the original Nodong system”. He also challenges claims of indigenous development of India’s missile program, as he combs through a plethora of statements given for their domestic consumption.

Brigadier General(R) Naeem Salik is an authority on nuclear proliferation and strategic/security issues. As a comparative study, his book does a fairly good job of reassigning blame proportionately. Moreover, it paints a reassuring picture of these immature nuclear powers learning to play nice by practising nuclear risk reduction tactics and CBM’s (confidence building measures). And when Pakistan’s recent resistance to signing Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FCMT) unless India was a fellow signatory is dismissed with an international headline (‘Pakistan Seen Undermining Prospects for Fissile Material Pact’), books like this assume an even greater relevance.

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