Reading Signals

Given the current ‘irrational exhuberance’ over thawing relations between India and Pakistan, many have seen yesterday’s test of the Shaheen-II ballistic missile as Musharraf making a domestic political statement to the Pakistani people. That simplistic explanation distracts us from a more disturbing reality – Pakistan has become more dangerous than ever before and the best the international community can do is deliver a gentle tch-tch.

Shaheen-II is a solid-fuelled ballistic missile with a range of 2500 km and is obviously nuclear-capable. No one goes through all kinds of trouble to lob firecrackers at far-flung enemies and wake them from their sleep. This missile was previously known as Hatf which means – you guess it – death. The Shaheen missile programme is under the leadership of Dr Samar Mubarakmand who heads the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Unlike the much maligned Dr A Q Khan and his Khan Research Laboratories, Dr Mubarakmand and the PAEC not only keep a low profile but are also not under sanctions. And it is Dr Mubarakmand’s team which is the real author of Pakistan’s nuclear weaponisation and the 1998 nuclear tests. A Q Khan, the Centrifugist, was a decoy for a long time before he became a scapegoat. Dr Mubarakmand and his team remain in business. The fires in the heart of Mordor’s Mount Doom continue to forge deadly metals.

The western press has bought the official line completely – Pakistan’s new missile can now strike any part of India. But if different keys are pressed on the targeting keypad China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Turkey, the Central-Asian -stans come into the uncomfortable hot zone, not to mention a small middle-eastern country called Israel.

One would have expected that a regime that was so recently fingered for the worst nuclear proliferation in history would be on its best behaviour. Yet the United States has bent over backwards to oblige Musharraf’s domestic political needs. The bomb-loving Pakistani segment takes this to be a tacit nod of Pakistani power to threaten the international community. Here’s the bad news – they are right.

And on the same day, China agreed to help Pakistan set up Chashma Nuclear Power Plant Phase 2 (Chasnupp-2) to help Pakistan with its peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy for the betterment of its people. Here’s the catch – Pakistan is not a signatory to the NPT, which means no international inspections, which in turn means that no one can really know what the ‘spent fuel rods’ will be used for. For someone with a nuclear history as Pakistan, expecting them to discard the nuclear waste in an environmentally friendly manner would be wishful thinking. China ought to have learnt from the latest deeds of its other protege, the rotund Mr Kim Jong Il.

So, our cricket team has gone out to play with someone who just told us that they can hit anywhere from Eden Gardens, to Wankhede to Chepauk to Chinnaswamy stadium.

Related links:

Daily Times editorial on the ‘signalling’

Pakistan’s Shaheen is a knock off of China’s M-18 missile, according to this detailed report on Pakistan’s missile capabilities, from the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)

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