Beyond the cosmetic crackdown

Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex remains unaffected by the latest ‘crackdown’

It would be one thing if Pakistan’s ‘crackdown’ on its jihadi groups was sincere and thoroughgoing. But it’s not. It is as much a temporary, cosmetic and unsatisfactory exercise as the ones under General Musharraf five years ago (see this archived post). The leaders and operatives of the Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-e-Mohammed will be ‘released’ once the heat is off and the dust settles. Pakistani officials are saying as much, actually. Unless India produces evidence, the jihadi leaders will be let off from “preventive custody”. The United Jihad Council, a clique of jihadi outfits led by Syed Salahuddin and focussed on Kashmir ‘disappeared’ by the simple expedient of taking down its signboards.

Perhaps this is as much as the Asif Ali Zardari and his government can do. Yet it won’t do. If the civilian government cannot take meaningful action to cleanse Pakistan of the military-jihadi axis that is directed against India, then the genuineness of its own sincerity is of little consequence.

There is much to say for the assessment that there are deeper, structural reasons why Pakistan’s governments will not take decisive action against the jihadi infrastructure. And it is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal that protects Osama bin Laden and Hafiz Mohammed Saeed right down to the jihadi foot soldier. In other words, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons not only deter India from militarily attacking Pakistan, but, more importantly, deter any country from targeting the military-jihadi complex. Where does this leave us? Pakistan’s nuclear weapons must be made irrelevant if the global war against Islamist terrorism is to be won. They used to call it the Islamic bomb. It certainly has become the Islamists’ bomb.

Is a Zardari NFU policy a Pakistani NFU policy too?

That is now a very important question

Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, used a Q&A session at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit to announce that Pakistan “will not be the first country ever to use (nuclear weapons). I hope that things never come to a stage where we have to even think about using nuclear weapons”.

On the face of it, it is a welcome development. If only, that is, Mr Zardari is anywhere close to having an influence, let alone control, over his country’s nuclear arsenal. When his wife was prime minister, the Pakistani army didn’t even allow her to visit the facilities where nuclear weapons were being developed. As president, the National Command Authority is nominally under him, but the Strategic Plans Division—the organisation that is supposed to be in actual control—de facto reports to the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani. (Technically, the SPD reports to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, but try explaining that to the army chief.)

It is unclear if General Kayani and the SPD agree with Mr Zardari’s declaration of a no first use policy. So we’ll have to wait for clarifications, retractions and suggestions that Mr Zardari was misquoted. If Pakistan indeed seeks to adopt a no first use policy, then a platform more credible than a Q&A session should be used to reiterate the commitment. Until either of this happens, Mr Zardari’s statement is non-credible at best, and ‘noisy’ at worst.

It is best that Pakistan clears the air promptly.

Update: Well, Mr Zardari himself was only playing with words to the galleries. It was noise.

When asked if Pakistan would adopt the policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, he said, “Most definitely, yes, we hope we will never get into that position (of using nuclear weapons). I am for a South Asian Non-nuclear Treaty.”

“I can get my Parliament to agree to it right away,” he said. “Can you (India) get your Parliament to agree to it?” [IE]

He should understand that such flippancy ultimately damages the credibility of Pakistan’s civilian leadership. And Karan Thapar, who moderated the session, should be less credulous and more probing, especially on such matters.

Regarding the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal

The right time to worry about it is also the wrong time to worry about it

Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies describes the various issues concerning the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in a piece on Rediff titled “Are Pakistan’s nuclear warheads safe?”. He hints that the Pakistani army’s custodial control is robust, but there is a “clear and present danger” of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists and the ensuing risk of dirty bombs. He also suggests that rogue Pakistani nuclear scientists might help al-Qaeda put together rudimentary nuclear bombs.

Now, thinking through the various scenarios that might obtain from the risks to the custody of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and material is an important activity for strategic affairs analysts. But unless there are significant political developments or specific new intelligence, there is little to be gained by sounding public alarm.

Discussion about how Western troops will enter Pakistan and neutralise its nuclear arsenal are dangerous—not least because they cause wholly unnecessary alarm among those in the Pakistani nuclear command. Nuclear neutering operations, albeit by American forces, come with severe risks for India—for while the United States and Israel may well be outside the range of a Pakistani retaliatory strike, India certainly is. And although Brig Kanwal points out that India lacks the capability to insert its own special forces deep into Pakistan to carry out such missions, such assurances are hardly likely to convince the Pakistanis. (For surely, the Pakistanis would think, Indian commandos can get a lift from those who have such transport and logistics capabilities.)

Also, Brig Kanwal’s piece repeats an assertion about the use of permissive action links (PALs)—electronic combination locks—on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. As The Acorn has pointed out earlier, this doesn’t add up to the other assertion about Pakistan’s arsenal being in a de-mated state. A satisfactory answer to the question of the extent of use of PALs or lack thereof is vital to further analysis of the question of custodial security.

My essay in The Friday Times: Nuclear power for a nuclear power

Civilian motivations, geopolitical implications

The debate over the India-US nuclear deal in the Indian parliament was interesting, controversial and had its dramatic moments. And though it was lost on the members of parliament, there was deep irony too. For the parliament was debating the virtues of a deal that could add to India’s power generation capacity when a large number of Indian citizens could not watch the debate live on television because of power-cuts and load-shedding.

Indeed, even without full electrification, supply has fallen short of demand by around 8 percent. In fact, during peak periods, the shortage has grown from 12.2 percent in 2002-03 to about 16.6 percent in 2007-08. More than power generation targets for 2030 (some 950GW, compared to 145 GW today) the today’s ever more frequent power cuts bring home the reality that India could do with more power, whether thermal, solar or nuclear. Indeed, it is this realisation that underpins the strategic rationale for the India-US nuclear deal. It does have geopolitical implications—those are inescapable in a deal of this nature—but if India was merely interested in increasing its nuclear arsenal it need not have gone in for this deal at all.

The nuclear deal represents a conscious decision by India to move to a different balance in the trade-off between its nuclear weapons capability and the needs of its growing economy. Some hardline strategists have argued that nothing must be allowed to come in the way of India’s development of more nuclear weapons. Now, nuclear weapons will remain rather powerful guarantors of survival and security well into the conceivable future. But mere ownership of nuclear weapons without broad, comprehensive national power is counterproductive.
Continue reading “My essay in The Friday Times: Nuclear power for a nuclear power”

The Congressional OK

A big deal passes muster

It was the big deal until the Paulson bailout upstaged it. But the US Congress has voted in favour of the India-US nuclear deal. Senators John McCain, Barack Obama and Joseph Biden all voted in favour.

As is the practice, they’ve sent it to President George W Bush for his assent. Technically he can veto it. But the chances of that happening are, ahem, slim.

The Zardari dilemma (2)

Nuclear power to the rescue

For some good writing turn to Mohammed Hanif in The National (linkthanks Samanth Subramanian):

Every pundit in Pakistan has made a long to-do list for President Zardari: security, economy, electricity, flour prices, fuel prices and more security. No doubt the Americans – who made his presidency possible, and who, despite his democratic credentials, will be the final arbiters of his intelligence – have prepared their own list as well. He must fight their war on terror while convincing the people of Pakistan that American drones are randomly bombing the people of northern Pakistan for their own good. At the same time, Zardari must convey to the Americans that their Nintendo Wii-war, operated by remote control, does their own image no favours.

Perhaps with the Americans Zardari can try the argument presented to me by one man who wanted to sell me a three-bedroom house in Defence. In the middle of the usual haggling over the price, our discussion suddenly degenerated into a state-of-the-nation talk. “These are the worst times,” he admitted, “but give it another six months, and it will improve.

“The army will come in and clean up this mess. And the Americans can’t go on pushing us into a corner. We are a nuclear power, yaar,” he concluded triumphantly, “you are getting a cheap deal.”

I have not read much real estate literature, but surely this was the first time a nuclear device was mentioned to close a property sale. [The National]

Mira Kamdar’s confused diatribe

The fastest growing democracy is indeed transforming America and the world.

Mira Kamdar is right about one thing: not “all opponents of the deal (or even those who dare question some of its provisions)” should be smeared as “nonproliferation ayatollahs” and “enemies of India”. Some are merely confused. Like Ms Kamdar herself, for instance.

In her diatribe in the Washington Post she is not even indulging in the flawed guns vs butter argument. Hers is a flawed butter vs butter argument, for “The US-India deal will divert billions of dollars away from India’s real development needs in sustainable agriculture, education, health care, housing, sanitation and roads.” Such a tall claim would have required some logical arguments using facts to connect claim to conclusion. She doesn’t offer any. But just look at some overall numbers and you’ll realise how ridiculous Ms Kamdar is. According to her own figures, the deal will result in US$100 billion of business for US companies over 20 years. That is, on an average, US$5 billion a year. India’s annual GDP is around US$1000 billion. Even if we ignore economic growth, the deal is worth a 0.5% of GDP per year. Even if all of that came from public funds, that still leaves a lot for agriculture, education, health, housing, sanitation and roads. When you consider that the Indian economy is expected to grow between 6-8% per annum and that India could well permit private investment in the power sector, it turns out that it’s not a big deal after all.

Now, money doesn’t mean much to Ms Kamdar. She sees it as a bad thing that the deal will enrich “deep-pocketed” US and Indian corporations. But then at the next moment, money goes from being a bad thing to an invisible thing. For she says “India gets unfettered access to nuclear fuel and technology, and it doesn’t have to do anything in return.” The US$100 billion over 20 years suddenly disappeared. So do “the tens of thousands of jobs”.

She also contends that the deal “will distract India from developing clean energy sources”, for even “under the rosiest of projections, (nuclear contributes) a mere 8 percent of India’s total energy needs—and won’t even do that until 2030.” Now, nuclear energy is clean energy, and it is available now. And it is too presumptive of Ms Kamdar to suggest that other sources will be ignored, not least when India ranks fourth in the world in wind power generation.

Ms Kamdar is even more confused about geopolitics. The deal “risks triggering a new arms race in Asia…a miffed and unstable Pakistan will seek nuclear parity with India, and China will fume at a transparent US ploy to balance Beijing’s rise by building up India as a counterweight next door.” No facts again, but here is one. Pakistan’s arsenal of warheads is estimated to be larger than India’s. It has an opaque deal with China which allows it to continue developing its arsenal. To seek nuclear parity then, Pakistan might have to give up some of its warheads. And why, what’s wrong with China fuming at being balanced? Perhaps Ms Kamdar truly believes narratives of China’s “peaceful rise”. Those who don’t—and India certainly shouldn’t—would do well to buy insurance.

Ms Kamdar’s piece is addressed to the US Congress. She is asking it to give up a lucrative commercial opportunity that could rekindle the United States’ moribund nuclear power industry. She is asking the US not to even attempt to balance the rise of China’s geopolitical power. And she is implicitly asking the US Congress to continue backing a flawed non-proliferation regime that didn’t prevent, apprehend nor punish acts of proliferation when they occurred. Well, that’s for the US Congress to chew on.

The rest of us still have to get back into our chairs, having fallen off after reading that the deal was responsible for corrupting Indian politics.

General Electric

After the “clean waiver” in Vienna

According the the Nuclear Suppliers Group, its guidelines “are implemented by each NSG participant in accordance with its national laws and practices. Decisions on export applications are taken at the national level in accordance with national export licensing requirements. This is the prerogative and right of all States for all export decisions in any field of commercial activity and is also in line with the text of Article III.2 of the NPT…” To understand what this will mean in practice, just read this report from Bloomberg.

The waiver means that companies including France’s Areva SA, Russia’s Rosatom Corp. and Japan’s Toshiba Corp. will be able to export nuclear equipment to India. General Electric Co. and other U.S. companies will have to wait until Congress ratifies a 2006 trade pact backed by President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

General Electric, the world’s biggest maker of energy- generation equipment, said Aug. 25 that it may lose contracts in India to French, Russian and Japanese rivals if Congress doesn’t ratify a U.S.-India nuclear deal soon after the agreement wins approval from the Suppliers Group.

Rice said the U.S. has talked to India about the potential competitive disadvantage.

“I think they recognize and appreciate American leadership on this issue,” she said. “Because of that I think we’ll have ways to talk them about not disadvantaging American companies.”

Still, she said “the best thing would be to get it through Congress.” [Bloomberg]

It is understood that there is a tacit agreement that the first commercial deals will involve US companies…as long as the US Congress does not prevent it. The non-proliferation ayatollahs are up against the General Electrics on this one.

As for the Indian government, the real job begins once the party is over. Negotiating the nuclear deal with the United States, IAEA and the NSG was the easy part. The hard part involves liberalising the power industry. See energy security begins at home; Mr Advani sees the light and the uranium at home.

Related Link: The problems with India’s power industry regulations. The NSG saga covered at Idaho Samizdat.

Lying to the legislature

Maybe, maybe not. It does not matter

The Indian prime minister told his legislature that India has the right to conduct a nuclear test. The US president told his, that the United States has the right to cease co-operation and repossess whatever was sold to India. Neither is being untruthful. But it is amazing that many Indians should automatically assume that it is their prime minister who lied to their parliament. Surely, they can’t be unaware of the rich tradition of US presidents lying to the US Congress?

The spanner that the non-proliferation ayatollahs threw into the works at the Nuclear Suppliers Group does not change the essential logic. As this blog has argued before, speeches, letters, understandings and agreements do not matter as much as the interests of the two countries. The editorial of the Times of India got it right:

At the end of the day, the US cannot take any position other than to assert that it has the right to terminate cooperation in such an eventuality. On India’s part, we have been equally vigorous in maintaining our right to test in compelling circumstances. This argument would be decided by sovereign decisions and national interests, not by legalistic wording. [TOI]

Nuclear test outsourcing

A Q Khan, China and the truth (2)

On May 28th 1998, Pakistan ‘responded’ to India’s Pokharan-II nuclear tests with tests of its own. There are reports that suggest that at least one of the six devices it tested was a North Korean one.

Almost exactly ten years prior to that, on May 26th 1990, China tested a nuclear device at its Lop Nor test site. That test, it is now revealed, was conducted on behalf of Pakistan, its nuclear protege. Thomas Reed, a former top US defence department official, also writes that:

In 1982 China’s premier Deng Xiaoping began the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan and, in time, to other third world countries. Those transfers included blueprints for the ultrasimple CHIC-4 design using highly enriched uranium, first tested by China in 1966. [Physics Today emphasis added]

Among the things China got in return was Pakistani centrifuge technology which it needed for its nuclear power programme.

Mr Reed’s account destroys the pretence—by the Reagan and the Bush Sr administrations in the late 1980s—that the United States was unaware of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Now, that the Reagan and Bush administrations were deliberately untruthful in their testimonies to the US Congress and the public is well-known. But this is the first time that a senior US government official is making a direct admission that the US government knew exactly what was cooking between Pakistan and China.

As Steve Coll writes on his new blog (linkthanks BOK), the US authorities are reluctant to allow such news to get out.

Reed’s article draws upon the work of Danny Stillman, a nuclear scientist who worked during the Cold War in the national-security division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he monitored the Soviet and Chinese nuclear-weapons programs. Later, Stillman travelled frequently to China as part of a series of exchanges between American and Chinese weapons scientists. The exchanges were designed in part to encourage China to sign on to the test-ban treaty by assuring its scientists that they could maintain their nuclear-weapons stockpile without testing, as the United States planned to do. Along the way, Stillman gathered a great deal of information about the history of the Chinese program, but he has had difficulty winning clearance for publication of this material from the US intelligence community. He and Reed are preparing to publish a book entitled “The Nuclear Express.” [Think Tank/The New Yorker]

Mr Reed also mentions that “During the 1990s, China conducted underground hydronuclear experiments—though not full-scale device tests—for France at Lop Nur”. And his account suggests that there is a lot that he knows but is not telling. For instance, which were the other “third-world” countries that Premier Deng transferred nuclear technology to?

Related Link: China, Pakistan and the Bomb (1977-97)—declassified US government records.