Monday, July 27, 2009

The nuclear story: what you didn't know.

You know where this story began.

1947: Pakistan emerged as the loser in a process of unequal partition. The British who had played the role of imperial masters for a century were suddenly in such a hurry to leave that territorial conflict brewed in what was once the gem in their crown. Kashmir and East Pakistan were sore spots from the inception.

Till the 1960s, Pakistan harboured a healthy military alliance with the US, one that fed its armed forces and conflict with India. But that was when this marriage of convenience underwent tension. By 1964, the US was supremely unpleased with it's former "most allied ally": Pakistan had failed to send troops in Laos, generate good publicity for the American debacle in Vietnam and was suspected of forging a secret alliance with China. Things did not improve when Pakistan used US-supplied weapons against India in 1965. The US refused to help. Pakistan was embittered. Sanctions followed.

East Pakistan was wrenched free from West Pakistan into Bangladesh with not little help from India in 1971. The Dacca racecourse surrender was humiliating at best for a country whose corrupt politicians had cashed on the rivalry against India to hoard votes. Ever the opportunist, Bhutto seized the moment.

It was against this palate that India hot-tested in 1974 . The test beneath the western deserts of Rajasthan was unauthorized and a betrayal of India's sponsors in the West and the East who had let the knowledge loose to help meet energy needs. While it might have been a strategic tactic for India, an arms race in the subcontinent was only natural as the world would see the two habitual enemies fight it out for regional supremacy. But the nuclear states became the ever-cautious vigilantes. Sale of nuclear components became strictly monitored and the IAEA would make Pakistan's nuclear ambitions doubly hard. Interestingly, no sanctions were imposed on India or on the nuclear states that had led it to this point. The world insisted that India's aspirations were purely peaceful. Agha Shahi recommended exploitation of the same logic without fear of sanctions. A peaceful nuclear programme, he said. Just like India. You can guess how many votes he got.

A diplomatic solution might have been in order. Pakistan sought a nuclear umbrella from the US, an expectation of guarantor against attack (something the US is willing to grant against Iran now!), but the US turned it away cold. Kissinger said that the Indian bomb was "a fait accompli and that Pakistan would have to learn to live with it." A hollow position, as they themselves knew.

And it was two months later that A.Q. Khan's fateful letter reached Bhutto.

History was to see an angry young man become a hero, the hero become a god, the god hatched a grand deception and this deception will fuel all our future wars.

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If you liked this, you should read 'Deception' by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott Clark.

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