by Asif Haroon Raja
Nuclearization of South Asia
India initiated the concepts of subversion and cross-border terrorism in South Asia by subverting the minds of the Bengalis in former East Pakistan, aiding and abetting the Bengali rebels in 1970/71, and after achieving the desired effects, cutting Pakistan into two parts in 1971.
Overjoyed by its grand success, India’s RAW once again started using subversive tactics in the smaller provinces of truncated Pakistan with a focus on Baluchistan and Sindh. Propelled by its ambitions to become the unchallenged power of South Asia, India expanded and modernized its armed forces with the help of the former USSR, which became India’s biggest arms supplier.
India laid the foundations of the nuclearization of South Asia in Aug 1974 by conducting a weaponized nuclear explosion at Pokhran and named it Smiling Buddha. This breakthrough in nuclear technology was achieved with the assistance of the former USSR, Canada, and the US.
Pakistan’s nuclear program became an irritant
Alarmed by the dangerous intentions of India, ZA Bhutto secretly laid the foundation of Pakistan’s nuclear program at Kahuta under Dr. AQ Khan in 1976. While India’s nuclear program was ignored by the US, Pakistan’s nuclear program became an irritant. Jimmy Carter’s regime put Pakistan under sanctions in 1979 on mere suspicion.
Pakistan’s uranium enrichment program was overlooked by the Reagan regime due to its selfish interests in the Afghan war in which Pakistan was playing a lead role. Gen Ziaul Haq took advantage of the US dilemma and completed the program shrouded in secrecy in 1983, but he kept the bomb in the basement under the policy of ambiguity.
After achieving all its objectives in Afghanistan, Reagan callously imposed economic and military sanctions on Pakistan in 1990 so that it couldn’t sustain its nuclear ambitions. The tag of Islamic Bomb was affixed with Pakistan’s nuclear program in order to create a scare that the radical elements in Pakistan would compel the government to hand over the bombs to its radical Muslim friends in the Middle East.
The program became an eyesore for India and Israel as well and the trio hatched plans to undo it. India and Israel made two attempts to destroy the Kahuta plant by air strikes but were foiled.
The US’s heavy tilt toward India
Overexcited by the strategic relationship with India, Bill Clinton adopted a hostile approach towards Pakistan. He imposed additional sanctions when Nawaz Sharif refused to stop conducting nuclear tests to give a tit-for-tat response to India’s nuclear tests in May 1998.
Although Pakistan was made a strategic partner by the US in late Sept 2001, in reality, India was the preferred choice, and Pakistan was one of the targets of the US. Under the garb of friendship, Pakistan was to be denuclearized through covert operations and political and economic destabilization.
In the backdrop of the IAEA report in 2004 that KRL had passed over nuclear designs to Iran and Libya, Pakistan was accused of nuclear proliferation.
George Bush went a step ahead in upgrading relations with India by signing a civil nuclear agreement, in addition to large numbers of defense and economic deals in 2006 and in 2008.
The demonization of Pakistan’s nuclear program
It was during the Bush regime that Pakistan’s nuclear program was purposefully demeaned by stating that it was unsafe and likely to fall in the wrong hands.
Due to the ever-increasing terrorism of the TTP in Pakistan, this theme was played relentlessly. An offer of joint control of the nuclear facilities was made repeatedly, but Pakistan wisely didn’t agree to it.
Pakistan was also pressed hard to sign NPT and CTBT unilaterally but didn’t pressurize India to do so. India’s conventional and unconventional strengths were constantly bolstered under the pretext of making it a bulwark against China, thereby upsetting the regional security balance.
The nuclear program made safe by Pakistan
In order to nullify the western propaganda war, Pakistan made its nuclear and missile program fully safe and secure by fulfilling all the safety requirements of the IAEA and meeting international standards. The nuclear doctrine was formalized and the concept of minimum nuclear deterrence was conceptualized. In this, the SPD under Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai played the main role, and Gen Musharraf deserves kudos.
To achieve cohesion, all the nuclear and missile-related outfits were placed under the SPD for better coordination and performance. The missile force was placed under Strategic Force Command.
The US do-more policy
Pakistan’s efforts to fight dozens of foreign paid and equipped militant groups on its soil at the behest of the US never satisfied Washington. It was all along accused that it was aligned with Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban as well as some TTP groups in South and North Waziristan (Mulla Nazir and Hafiz Gul bahadur). The accusations based on assumptions and suspicions were never proved.
After igniting the flames of terrorism in FATA, settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, Blackwater was inducted into major cities of Pakistan in 2008 to ignite urban terrorism. This was in addition to the establishment of the countrywide US intelligence network.
India’s nuclear program upgraded
During the rule of Barack Obama, India’s nuclear program was further beefed up by giving it access to the International Nuclear Suppliers Groups in spite of the fact that India had refused to sign NPT and CTBT and had embarked upon the ambitious nuclear program by opening a huge nuclear center at Karnataka city in Madras to become the superpower of South Asia.
Helped by Obama, India vied to become a permanent member of the UNSC and a global power with its outreach reaching up to the Asia Pacific.
Pakistan degraded and punished
On the other hand, all avenues of the purchase of high-tech weapons and nuclear technology by Pakistan were blocked by the US. Multiple plans were made to disable Pak nuclear program, which included destruction from within by sabotage, shifting the nukes to a safe place under the UN supervision, and destruction through a sting operation.
In order to isolate Pakistan, the US and India declared Pakistan a nursery of terrorism and the most dangerous country in the world. It was subjected to a vicious drone war and was constantly harried to do more. It was accused of being either complicit with the terrorists or incompetent to tackle them.
Apart from the nuclear program, the CPEC emerged as another irritant for the Indo-US-Israeli nexus. RAW and NDS made use of proxies to launch terror attacks in former FATA, KP, and Baluchistan relentlessly to scuttle CPEC.
Donald Trump’s filibustering
Donald Trump further upped the ante by adopting a highly belligerent posture against the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan. He stopped the installments of the Close Support Fund (CSF) to the Pak Army and made its release conditional to showing progress in the war on terror. Pakistan was accused of providing safe havens to the Haqqani network (HN).
The Trump regime let the regime of Nawaz Sharif fall in July 2018 in order to apply brakes to the economic growth and rapidly progressing CPEC.
Trump cultivated a personal friendship with Modi but also exhibited his softness towards Imran Khan (IK). He deceptively offered his services to the visiting IK to mediate in resolving the Kashmir dispute, but soon after, gave a go-ahead signal to Modi to annex IOK in Aug 2019.
He convinced IK not to take any proactive steps in Kashmir and to restrain the jihadi elements from crossing the Line of Control in Kashmir.
He coerced the PTI regime to make CPEC controversial and to halt work on CPEC projects. In return, he offered the lollipop of establishing the biggest oil refinery at Gwadar by Saudi Arabia, which never materialized.
Trump expressed his thanks to Pakistan for helping to sign the Doha peace agreement in Feb 2020 but didn’t renew CSF and the US economic assistance. IMF, FATF, and India were used as tools to coerce Pakistan and weaken its economy.
The Taliban, China, North Korea, Iran, Russia in Ukraine, and HN haunted Donald Trump throughout his tenure.
Joe Biden’s estrangement with Pakistan
Joe Biden came under huge pressure domestically on account of the hasty and humiliating exit of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in Aug 2021. To minimize his embarrassment, instead of being grateful to Pakistan for the safe withdrawal of the occupying forces, he followed the policy of his predecessors by blaming Pakistan for the debacle.
For this reason, he gave IK a cold shoulder by keeping him at a distance and didn’t even make telephone contact with him. No effort was made by him to improve Pak-US relations and the major reason was Afghanistan.
IK accused the Biden regime of toppling its regime in April 2022 on account of his leaning towards Russia, but Washington refuted the conspiracy theory. Audio leaks have now proven that IK was playing the conspiracy narrative to enhance his declining popularity and to earn the sympathies of the people.
Change in the US attitude after the regime change
When the coalition government under Shahbaz Sharif took over power in April 2022, Pak-US relations were at their lowest ebb. In response to gestures of friendship made by the new regime, relations with the embittered Biden regime apparently showed positive results. This was discerned from the visits of Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto, and Hina Rabbani to Washington and their friendly interactions, followed by positive statements of high US officials emphasizing that the US would make amends in its prejudiced foreign policy to strengthen relations based on mutuality of interests and respect. The US resumed arms sales to the Pakistan military with $ 450 million in F-16 spare parts and a maintenance deal.
It was the outcome of a visible thaw in Pak-US relations, that the EU, Arab Gulf States, the IMF, and FATF also became soft and cooperative. These developments had given a ray of hope to Pakistan that with their cooperation and support, it would be able to surmount its economic woes.
Biden’s ill-timed caustic remarks
The sudden insalubrious remarks of Biden regarding Pakistan and its nuclear program dampened the building optimism and outraged the Pakistani public as well as the divided political class. It is very strange that Biden chose to stir up Pakistan’s nuclear program at a time when the US is badly in need of friends. Let us first see what impelled Biden to pass these controversial remarks.
Undoubtedly, Biden started his innings from a weak wicket, and from the very outset, things both at home and abroad didn’t go in his favor.
Domestically, he is faced with heavy criticism from the fascist Republicans. He has not overcome the trauma of Jan 6, 2021, when Capitol Hill was assaulted by the supporters of Trump. The Republicans still view his presidency as illegitimate and the Nov 2016 election as fraudulent. The former president held him responsible for the humiliating exit from Afghanistan which he presided over. The black movement and the Far Right are getting violent since he has failed to address the social issues.
The US is going through extreme economic instability, with inflation shooting up to 9.1 %, and as per the forecast, the GDP is dipping to 1 %. While the Sock market has lost 25% value, Covid-19 is still taking the lives of 400 Americans daily. The recession has become a reality. The war in Ukraine is proving very costly since the US has so far doled out $50 billion to beef up the Ukrainian military.
Externally, Biden faces the combined threats of Russia, China, and North Korea. China is on its way to becoming the next superpower, while Russia under Putin has re-emerged as a power to reckon with. North Korea is continuing to flex its nuclear and missile muscles to deter the USA and its neighboring allies. The war in Ukraine which is going against the interests of the US and Europe has further added to his worries. Biden is aware of the growing resentment in the EU which feels that the Ukraine war is causing socio-economic pains to Europe only and not to the US.
The US Middle East policy is in ruins, and Saudi Arabia and UAE have for the first time defied the US pressure over oil production. They are trading oil and gas with Russia and China in rubles and yuan against the wishes of the US. Iran couldn’t be tamed and it has restarted its nuclear program.
Pakistan’s nukes, its ever-growing relations with China, the CPEC, and now seemingly its inclinations to lean towards Russia, are the dilemmas that trouble him.
The US unipolarity is transforming into multi-polarity. Under such unpalatable circumstances, chances of victory for the militarist Democratic Party in the midterm elections next month are slim.
Biden’s expectations from Pakistan
Biden was probably hoping that the new regime in Islamabad groaning under the weight of multiple problems, in its quest to win over Washington, would bring a change in its foreign policy by keeping the CPEC on the backburner, and would vote against Russia on Ukraine.
Contrary to his expectations, nothing of the sort happened and to his utter frustration, Pakistan once again abstained from voting in the UN to condemn Russia’s invasion.
The ruthless missile strikes by the Russian Army on the cities in Ukraine destroying energy and defense structures in retaliation to the damage caused to a bridge in Crimea, declared as an act of sabotage by Moscow, depressed and unnerved Biden.
Biden’s remarks out of frustration
It was under the overall gloomy environment that Biden gave vent to his frustration. In line with the narrative of his predecessors, Biden while addressing the Democratic Congressional Committee on Oct 13, opined that Pakistan is among the most dangerous countries of the world and its nuclear program is not cohesive. He expressed his fears that it can be misused by anyone. In other words, he reincarnated the old narrative of ‘lack of safety and falling in the wrong hands.
In his bid to castigate Russia and China, instead of naming the third partner North Korea, he irresponsibly brought Pakistan into his firing line since Pakistan has remained at the back of his mind since the rule of Obama. Some say that it could be a vain attempt to deflect the attention of the American public from his declining popularity.
Pakistan’s unblemished track record
In his anger, Biden forgot that Pakistan is a declared nuclear state with robust armed forces and missile power and its nuclear assets couldn’t be stolen or destroyed despite best efforts from 2002 onwards. He knows that the custodians have jealously guarded the nuclear assets and there is no difference of opinion on it and none will make or accept any compromise over its security. He also forgets that the US B-52 bomber loaded with 6 nukes had taken off in 2007 without anyone’s knowledge. India had accidentally and irresponsibly fired a Brahmo cruise missile in March 2022, which fell inside Pakistani territory. There were several thefts, accidents, and pilferages in the Indian nuclear reactor plants.
Conversely, Pakistan has an unblemished nuclear record. Its command and control system is technically sound and foolproof, and it has behaved responsibly and never brandished its nuclear capability to threaten or blackmail India.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry promptly expressed its reservations in a measured and mature manner on Oct 14, stating that it is difficult to make an assessment in which context this statement has been given by Biden.
The foreign office spokesperson further said that the successive regimes in Washington as well as the IAEA have been expressing their full satisfaction with the multi-layered safety system and perfect command & control of Pakistan’s nuclear program, which has never shown any lapse. He said that Pakistan will soon give its detailed response to the allegations made after completing the process of consultation. In the meanwhile, the US ambassador Donald Blome was summoned and handed over the protest note.
The US response
On Oct 16, the US State Department lessened the impact of Biden’s negative remarks by stating that the US is confident of Pakistan’s capacity to secure its nuclear assets and values its long-standing cooperation with Pakistan, and views Pakistan as critical to the US interests.
The predicament of the incumbent regime
Pakistan is in a bind since its economy is in the doldrums and is not stabilizing, the political situation is highly explosive due to the aggressive attitude of the PTI intending to start the decisive long march to Islamabad this month to topple the regime. It is giving a fillip to anti-Americanism by castigating Biden. It is also chastising the government, saying that its response was timid and the weakest ever given by any previous regime. IK is saying that the imported rulers are morally corrupt and compromised and cannot defend Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
Victory in yesterday’s by-elections has further bolstered the spirits of the PTI. The interior minister Sanaullah has roared back by saying that he will use ten times more force than was used on May 25 to prevent the marchers from entering the capital city. He says that the long march will dig the last nail in the coffin of IK’s political future. The war of words has made the internal security and law & order situation dangerous.
The weak coalition government faced with multiple challenges is in a quandary and needs the support of the establishment and the judiciary at home and of the US externally to cope with the challenges.
Relevance of Pakistan
Pakistan will never fit into the US calculus since it is a Muslim country strongly believing in Jihad, 60% of its population is young and energetic, it has nuclear bombs and a variety of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, it is strategically aligned with China, it is friendly with Afghanistan and Iran, and it is the hub of CPEC.
The US is tolerating nuclear Pakistan because of its geostrategic location, with volatile Afghanistan in the northwest, nuclear Russia and nuclear China in the north and northeast; and upcoming nuclear Iran in the southwest.
The Arabian Sea attached to Pakistan’s southern coastline connects the Indian Ocean and overlooks the Hormuz Strait. Gwadar is the biggest deep seaport in the region. Pakistan acts as a bridge between Afghanistan and resource-rich Central Asia. These geographic realities make Pakistan relevant to the US irrespective of its abhorrence.
Would the US behave differently?
We in Pakistan have gotten used to the tantrums and love-and-hate relations with the double-dealing USA. There have been continuous ups and downs in our relations due to which the two so-called allies have never built relations based on sincerity. The US embraced Pakistan whenever its services were needed but were discarded soon after accomplishing its objectives.
As a result, our relations have remained transactional in nature. Outside the western world, the US has maintained cordial relations with Israel and India only due to the matching chemistry and commonality of imperialist ambitions.
In case, the US remains obsessed with its agenda to denuclearize Pakistan, and it decides to once again ditch Pakistan at this vulnerable stage, it will plunge Pakistan into the worst-ever crisis endangering its security and integrity.
Need for damage control
Notwithstanding the US track record of duplicity and leaving Pakistan in a lurch when its support was needed the most, Pakistan at the moment is in no position to show eyes to the US and earn its ire. It will have to handle the ripples prudently and with a diplomatic finesse instead of playing it to the gallery and indulging in rhetoric.
What should Pakistan do?
Pakistan can only hope that Washington may reexamine its policy of discrimination and injustice, and should take more steps to offset the diplomatic damage since verbal assurances are certainly not enough to allay the anger and fears of Pakistan. Its deeds must match its words to restore trust and confidence.
At the same time, Pakistan should continue to cement its relations with China, Turkey, Central Asian Republics, Arab Gulf States, Palestine, ASEAN, African Union, and EU, improve relations with Russia, and remove misunderstandings with Afghanistan and Iran.
The emphasis of all the political parties irrespective of the political divide should be to shun differences and to help in uniting the home front which is our best defense against the ominous agenda of the adversaries of Pakistan.
Brig. General Asif Haroon Raja is on the board of advisors for Opinion Maker. He holds an MSc war studies degree. A second-generation officer, he fought the epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war,
He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt, and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is tri-lingual and speaks English, Pashto, and Punjabi fluently.
Currently, he is a defense analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defense, and political matters for numerous international/national publications. He is chairman at the Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, & Member CWC PESS & Veterans Think Tank
He is also the author of many books; ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, and Roots of 1971 Tragedy’. His latest book is ‘Tangled knot of Kashmir : Indo-Pakistan antagonism: vol. 1 and vol. 2″