Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: Confronting the Bomb — Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak out

Published in Daily Times / 6 Apr 2013

Edited by: Pervez Hoodbhoy
Preface by: John Polyani (Nobel Prize Winner)
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

I like to appreciate the little things in life, like nuclear fusion....” — Madison Hatter



On a pleasant February afternoon, a nuclear physicist calmly painted a chilling picture of what would happen in the event of a nuclear attack on our pretty little venue by the seaside. “O, we would be the lucky ones,” he declared, “.... eviscerated” within nano seconds, “...wouldn’t feel a thing. But those poor souls in Landhi,” he shook his head, “now they would suffer from radiation effects for years, and a slow painful end,” he added. Apparently, the devastation of Hiroshima would pale in comparison, given the size of Karachi’s populace and the prevalence of plastic.



The terrifying session served as a primer for Pervez Hoodbhoy’s new book, Confronting the bomb — Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak out. Though this is a compilation of articles by scientists from both sides of the divide, 70 % of the pieces are by Professor Hoodhboy. The bomb reportedly viewed by the average Pakistani ‘as symbols of national glory and achievement’ and not ‘instruments of wholesale death and destruction’ takes centre-stage. The band of cheerleaders has been unceremoniously dismissed and a cluster of somber voices explode myths and trade horror stories on the consequences of playing with lethal payloads.

They take a less scenic route to chart Pakistan’s nuclear trajectory and sound the alarm over the nuclear world order. Apart from short bursts covering the usual timeline of events that left Pakistan vulnerable, and made them favour nuclear props over economic stability, comes an introspective study bent on penetrating the layers of obfuscation surrounding the bomb’s true potential, not as a deterrent but as a destroyer of worlds. It also probes the bomb’s credibility citing ill-advised misadventures like Kargil, which the former president, Pervez Musharraf continues to defend, as the only war caused by the presence of nukes.

The no holds barred discourse advances theories about early warning systems (they do not really work), challenges beliefs about Pakistan’s stability post bomb and inspects the integrity of statements made by a former interior minister who shall remain nameless that claim our nukes are ‘200 percent safe.’

When the book tries to determine the number of bombs needed, it cites figures from an article by a defence analyst: 10 bombs to take out two cities at 5 per city; 40 bombs if enemy has the ability to take out 50 percent of the arsenal in a pre-emptive strike and another 50 percent by interception. When the figure jumps to 1,000 bombs in response to 90 percent riposte and intercept capability of the adversary, Hoodhboy calls him out for his ‘de-generative logic’.

What prompts these calculations are explained in the next passage of the article, not included in this book. They do not imply a run to the market for a 1,000 bombs but list factors required for minimum credible deterrence. In the analysts words: “In actual case the increments in the enemy’s offensive and defensive capabilities may not be as large thus requiring only marginal adjustments to our own nuclear arsenal.” (Air Power in South Asia, Second Edition).

The author of these figures believes in the futility of an arms race remarking that the high statistics are merely for ‘ease of calculation’, avoid those decimals, and to make a point. With a retaliatory strike, the enemy takes out 900 bombs, which leaves a 100. The 90 percent intercept capability destroys 90 more in the pre-emptive strike, leaving 10 bombs, the same number needed to take out 2 cities. The destruction of two cities as minimum unacceptable damage is hypothetical and inflicting a much smaller level of pain could achieve the minimum deterrence clause in reality.

Of course, when both sides have 100 percent intercept or riposte capability, there is no deterrence and even an infinite number of bombs will be insufficient. That he is not a war mongering general but a former air force officer/analyst (the book also gets his name wrong) known in his circles for dispensing hard hitting truths, tends to get lost in translation.

Fluctuating bomb counts are just a tiny part of the picture and ‘Confronting the Bomb’ studies the changing regional dynamics should Iran succeed in its nuclear ambitions leaving the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia free to join the club, and the doomsday scenarios that follow. At the same time it doesn’t seem overly worried with the idea of a nuclear Iran opining that ‘unwelcome as having another set of nuclear issues would be, it would not necessarily be catastrophic’ further adding that ‘in all likelihood nuclear Iran would moderate its dangerous rhetoric and, like other existing global nuclear rivalries, this one too could be managed.

The book goes on to examine the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and scoffs at a 40-year-old vision that powers ‘nuclear energy projects that provide energy at a higher cost’, and are ‘located at unsafe sites’ adding to the ‘risk of catastrophic accidents’. It wonders at its decision makers who ‘remain intent on the nuclear dream when in the United States , the home of that dream, no new nuclear reactor has been built in three decades.’ It serves as an indictment of the policies and the fallacies that accompany the ‘crown jewels’ in our arsenal. ‘The hubris following the 1998 tests, together with the promise that the bomb would transform Pakistan into a technologically and scientifically advanced country, is now nowhere in evidence.’

During the book launch the writer opined that it fulfils 6 percent of the nuclear energy needs of India and 2 percent of Pakistan’s despite all the financial resources. “We have a toy at Kanupp with its miserable 70 percent MW power not enough to power a house in Golimar,” he concluded.

The writer goes on to show why the West cannot do a 'bin Laden' to our precious bomb despite the premise of a recently cancelled TV show Last Resort that nukes Pakistan and lives to tell the tale. Hoodbhoy calls such a contingency ‘a final act of extreme desperation’ and to properly de-fang Pakistan, ‘all major nuclear weapons facilities, reactors and uranium enrichment plants’ would have to be taken out'. That does not deter harmless looking scholars living in the west from making (un)educated guesses about the alleged sites.

The Last Resort scenario might require some suspension of disbelief but it also depicts a non-nuclear Pakistan in danger of being overrun by enemies now that its armory is short of ‘the bomb’. With this book a new chapter has been added where the bomb’s utility as a shield has been shoved aside while its role as mischief maker gets amplified.

Those who were not worried before will be left questioning the wisdom of keeping up with the Joneses after reading the 400 page document/cautionary tale. The book may serve as a deterrent for nations planning to go nuclear in the future. For those already in the game, it brings in the ghosts of past and present to quell the celebratory mood and rethink the future.

Book Image from Bina Shahs blog

Pervez Hoodbhoy Image Copyrighted. from my KLF 2013 collection

Comments

  1. Myself Major Samar Anand! After defusing a lot of bombs i realized that its no use to do that any more once i got Katrina at the end and finally i said to my self i will always have her JAB TAK HAI JAAN! JAB TAK HAI JAAN!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

Quarter Preview: ‘MANTO’

The Good Times GT Magazine (Friday Times) published the official images sent with this write-up, posting the coverage here.

Manto is all the rage these days.

The writer who orbits the South Asian literary stratosphere recently marked his centennial anniversary and now appears as the subject of a new film. It has been directed by Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, who also plays the title character and scripted by Shahid Mahmood Nadeem. Babar Javed produces. Media men & women invited for a first look in August had high expectations.

Contrary to what many thought, this was not a curtain raiser but a quarter preview, and the attendees found themselves at the screening of an extended teaser of ‘MANTO’ - the movie at Nueplex Cinemas – Karachi. The private showing also unveiled trailers of upcoming serials courtesy of GEO Films Production. The figure of Manto himself stays in shadow till 11th September – a day red flagged after 2001, but one that has always been significant for Pakistan and observ…

VIEW: A (Deep) State of Denial

First Published inDaily Times / 31 Dec 2012 (Monday)

By: Afrah Jamal

Thank you to the folks interested in publishing this in Urdu


Hapless polio teams are in the crosshair of extremists and people have come up with their own theories to explain the presence of health workers in the montage of violence. If a polio team does not reach any home, the residents can call a number and let them know. Many houses were left wondering about the fate of the drive this year after the three-day carnage that claimed nine lives, six of them women. A maulana on the media attributes the sudden spike in polio-related violence to government. More polio means more $$, he hisses confidentially. Twitter-sphere assigns the subsequent instability to the dreaded ‘deep state’.



According to them, it can sacrifice anything and anyone on the altar of national interest or in this case — the lure of more dollars. Every ‘whodunit’ begins or ends with a deep state cameo. Apparently, their interference is legendary, as is …

BOOK REVIEW: Thinner Than Skin

Published inDaily Times (Pakistan) / 23 Feb 2013
Author: Uzma Aslam Khan
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal



Uzma Aslam Khan is the author of critically acclaimed, award winning books like Trespassing and Geometry of God. Her new novel, 'Thinner than Skin' goes off the beaten track for inspiration. A realm built upon incomprehensible layers of intrigue, violence, fairytales and legends provides the stage. People foraging for a lifeline become the props. And the inevitable soundtrack of radicalism now coursing through every fibre sets Pakistan’s modern heart to an ancient beat.

It is these paradoxes that bring its US-based protagonist, Nadir, along with a German-Pakistani girl, Farhana, on a trek from northern California to the Kaghan Valley. Wesley — the American in the background — is drawn to the mating glacier ritual, which is an actual thing. And their trusty ally/guide Irfan charts the course to their path of self-discovery past majestic mountains and ice encrusted lakes.

Their quest …

KARACHI DIARIES: KOMAL RIZVI VDO Launch / Press Conference

First Published in Economic Affairs (Islamabad) / June 2014



This brother / sister duo came highly recommended. Their music video launch / press conference held at Port Grand, (Karachi) will be the talk of town. And their experimental new sound would be put up for review.



Komal Rizvi, who made her debut as a singer / actress / VJ in the 1990’s, was staging a comeback with her new single - ‘Kalli Kalli’ in April 2014. Hasan Rizvi stars in the video with his sister; Sohail Javed directs. It would be Komal’s first launch and Hasan’s umpteenth choreography.



The filming had been eventful, the storyboard toyed with the elements - water, fire,,,, etc, as did the musicians; one was scorched, the other drowned, several times over reportedly. Nothing had dampened their ardour, or kept them from bombarding Sohail with a steady stream of creative input. ‘Add a tabla’ one would say, ‘how about a sitar’ the other would suggest.


The award winning director survived, and was later hailed for his …

INTERVIEW: What makes a Fighter Ace? (2006)

Written many moons ago when i was an Asst. Ed with Social Pages.

Published in Defence Journal September 2006

Republished in PROBENEWS(2006)


Legend has it that a Sabre took off from Sargodha airfield to intercept Hunters on a fateful September morning & landed back with an Ace.

120 Seconds: Squadron Leader Alam in a Sabre is on Air Combat Patrol accompanied by his wingman. Upon observing IAF Hunters exiting after an unsuccessful air strike over Sargodha, Alam sets off in hot pursuit of the enemy formation. He pursues a fleeing Hunter and eventually shoots it down with a missile shot.


He spots the other members of the Hunter formations flying very low and as he approaches the trailing member he is spotted and the entire formation breaks (violent turn) in the same direction - a fatal error as in less than two minute Alam has taken out four of them, (as confirmed by more than one independent eye witness) 1 bringing his tally for the mission to five…… And an Ace is born - a legendry ins…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…