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Pakistan's Internal and External Challenges

08 November, 2012

By Dr Sohail Mahmood


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Pakistan faces multirole challenges, internal as well as external, of complex dimensions not easily resolvable. Internal challenges include a fractured state and society, bad governance, weakened institutions, extremism, weak economy, and visionless political leadership. Unprecedented corruption in Pakistan's government institutions with no end in sight. Institutions corroded from within and bad governance the norm, not the exception.

Pakistan has been weakened from within. It is facing an existential challenge from all sorts of extremist ideologies ranging from rightist Islamic radicalism to leftist ethnic identities assertions. Meanwhile, the global war on terror continues to haunt the country.

Politics in Pakistan now a criminalized phenomenon and money matters the most. As the country approaches general elections you wills see more propaganda on all sides and money will direct it. This election will be singularly different in that aspect. More money will be spent on media campaigns and party gatherings, than ever before. The signs are clear.

The foremost external challenge is the United States and India and in that very order. The nation sacrificed to build a nuclear arsenal which is now threatened from outside. These are perilous times for Pakistan. The United States and India combined are breathing down our necks, so to speak. More about our nuclear dilemma next.

Nuclear arsenals are the ultimate weapons meant to safeguard national security. The role of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is to also provide a deterrence effect. Unlike others, Pakistan's nuclear strategic nuclear posture was India specific and also meant for augmenting national self-esteem. Pakistan's nuclear doctrine of a minimum credible deterrent was designed to dissuade India from attacking Pakistan. Given the considerable superiority of India's conventional weapons, the nuclear arsenal was even more important for Pakistan's defense. It was the ultimate effort to deny India an opportunity for launching an aggression against Pakistan. Thus, the nuclear arsenal was for defensive purposes only and was widely recognized as such.

It is important to note that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was developed in a historical context which was centered on India. This context needs to be understood clearly to comprehend the current strategic situation. The perception that India is a formidable enemy is widespread in Pakistan including its military. However, Pakistan's military leadership believed that the nation was facing an existential threat from India. The civilian leadership is less convinced. Historically, India had indeed been Pakistan's arch rival and the two countries had fought several wars. It is widely believed that the loss of East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) in 1971 was the primary reason for Pakistan's secret nuclear weapons program then. Later, India acquired a nuclear capability and Pakistan responded. Kashmir remained a lingering dispute between the two neighbors. Kashmir being a territorial issue was difficult to solve because of its very nature. Given the political uncertainty in both India and Pakistan, the Kashmir conflict was not going to be solved in the near future.

More importantly, such was the level of distrust between India and Pakistan that a grave territorial matter like Kashmir couldn't be solved easily. There are other disputes with India: Siachen, Sir Creek and support of terrorism. India is supporting the on-going insurgency in Baluchistan by assisting the Baluchistan Liberation Army fighting cadres in neighboring Afghanistan. India accuses Pakistan of supporting the Lascar-I Taiba involved in the recent Mumbai terrorist incident. In sum relations are sour. However, some improvement has been made in Pakistan-India relations mainly in the business and the trade sectors. Overall, relations between the two nuclear neighbors remain frosty. No breakthrough in relations is imminent. Suffice to state here the nature of continuing rivalry with India had made Pakistan very cautious about its national security and safety of the motherland.

Today, Pakistan possessed a formidable nuclear arsenal which included some 100 nuclear weapons and an advanced ballistic missile capacity. Pakistan's strategic nuclear posture is clearly formulated around a threat framework emanating from India. Continuing tensions with India are pushing Pakistan It is making some additions to its fissile production facilities and its nuclear warhead deployment capabilities. It has developed cruise missiles for carrying nuclear warheads and even small tactical nuclear weapons.

Given the considerable attention, Pakistan is on the path of making significant qualitative and quantitative improvements to its nuclear arsenal. Some Western scholars give the impression that Pakistan was a weak state, even a failing state, and was therefore incapable of handling its nuclear arsenal. Some in the United States are very worried about Pakistan's nuclear capacity. There are many reports about Pakistan increasing production of nuclear weapons. The general perception is that this is a very negative development in the volatile region.

Given the deep ant-American sentiments in the country after the May 2, 2011 Osama raid, there is a great suspicion and distrust of the United States in Pakistan. Ironically, Pakistan is still an ally of the United States in the on-going Global War on Terror and receives billion in assistance from it. Perceptions matter and the widespread distrust on both sides are to be acknowledged and dealt with in an open frank manner. The United States and Pakistan are hardly allies anymore.

Today, there is widespread belief in Pakistan that the most immediate threat to the country's nuclear assets comes from the United States. The American media had been exaggerating the threat of an Islamic radical takeover of the nuclear weapons and therefore there was a secret contingency plan to seize or destroy them in that eventuality. The Pakistani military was aware of such a plan and was very concerned about it. However, the Obama Administration continued to also express confidence in controls over Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

In the past during the Musharraf era, the ongoing efforts of the Pakistani military to improve security of its nuclear weapons had included some cooperation with the United States. Ironically, the two countries have entered into a period of mutual distrust and suspicion in recent times. United States is continuing surveillance of Pakistan's nuclear weapons from the air as well as space. Obviously, the Pakistani military establishment is very anxious about the safety of its nuclear weapons and is doing whatever is humanly possible towards this end. This is acknowledged by many, including arch rival India. Meanwhile, the American media has continued to express concerns about the safety of these weapons.

Notwithstanding security concerns about Pakistani nuclear warheads, they are placed under strict command and control systems where operational security is a high priority. Safeguarding the nuclear arsenal from external threats is a national responsibility taken very seriously by Pakistan military. The country's formidable Strategic Command organization has a three tier structure: National Command Authority, Strategic Plans Division, and Strategic Forces Commands. About 20,000 people are involved in the production deployment and service maintenance of these nuclear warheads and the related deployment vehicles. Pakistan military is doing whatever it takes to preserve the credibility of its nuclear deterrence.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has taken steps to protect its nuclear assets from external threats. The nuclear weapons have been dispersed sufficiently. The military is moving nuclear weapons more frequently around the country through its road network. Pakistan is also pursuing a second-strike capability by utilizing concealment measure for its nuclear warheads, deploying air defenses around strategic assets, and constructing deeply buried storage and launch facilities.

The Pakistani military must give a clear signal to the United States that any attack on Pakistan's nuclear assets would be met by an appropriate response. It has to clearly threaten immediate retaliation against United States assets in Afghanistan. The nation would surely support this boldness against America. Meanwhile, it has to be prepared for the worst case scenario and undertake immediate measures to secure the nuclear warheads. The Pakistan military has to guarantee the safety of the nation's nuclear assets in any way possible. Clearly stating that it will act is the first and necessary step. Preparing for any eventuality, no matter how stark, is the prime responsibility of the Pakistan military and the Government of Pakistan must be on board fully.

However, it is easy saying this action is problematic for obvious reasons. Pakistan has indeed weakened from within not only because of a weak economy and poor governance, but also a weakened society given to intolerance, extremism and violence. We had wished otherwise. It is an irony that Pakistan is one of the strongest nations in the world as far as military might is concerned yet considerably week as far as societal and economic development indicators are concerned.

It is to the credit of the military that it still commands respect in the eyes of the nation primarily because of Pakistan's impressive nuclear arsenal. It is hoped that the country's nuclear assts will remain protected and safe. The nation expects nothing less from its military leadership. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is still the pride of the nation and has across-the-board support from alls segments of society. The nation is justifiably proud of its nuclear weapons. Their protection from external threats needs the support of the entire nation for the military's current efforts in achieving the goal. Will it be it is soon enough? It shall be certainly worth it.

Pakistan has achieved a lot in the military field and needs to consolidate its technical accomplishments in building an awesome nuclear arsenal quickly enough. Meanwhile, Pakistan's enemies beware. Nuclear weapons have to be protected at all costs no matter how high. Their safety is not just a concern for the country's military but the entire nation. Time is running out. Will our political and military leadership rise up to meet these challenges? Only time will tell.

Reader Comments:

nuclear arms

Sir , this article is started on good note but ended on nuclear arms superiority. I would like to draw kind attention about some reality about making a nation based on equality, fraternity, tolrence and economic devlopment. Mearly atomic weapon is not the guarantee of safety, security, and unity of any country and U S S R is the prime example in our life time. U S S R hsd more weapons and missiles than U S A but could not keep her unity and integrity. Always thinking about weapons are not good sign for any society or country, rather think about the economic upliftment of her inhabitants then nation will be stronger. No amount of atomic weapon can guarantee the unity and integrity of any nation including U S A , CHINA AND INDIA if their inhabitents treated badly on economics, equality, fraternity and above all religious intolrence.

ravindra sharma, India - 09 November, 2012

Missing the biggest enemy...

The author gets side tracked in his discussion...the biggest threat to Pakistan is a takeover by extremists...what would happen if the Taliban acquired control of A Pakistani nuclear weapon? The USA has many more nukes than Pakistan and is only interested in assuring that pakistans weapons do not get into the wrong hands...the Military has done a good job so far of safeguarding these devices and if they continue to actively control them then there is no worry of US involvement...

Eddie d, Kuwait - 14 November, 2012

Facing the truth

India and America may be enemies of Pakistan, the biggest enemies are Pakistanis themselves. The country is a grave yard of ethics and morality, where corruption has permeated every nook and cranny of society, from top to bottom and hypocrisy and subterfuge rule the day. The paradigm of culture and mindset is corruption; a normal and above board activity in every day life. The rich and the political elite embezzle billions that find there way in to Dubai banks, only to find the way back in to Pakistani banks as clean and licit money. The poor on the other hand, with their meager capacity make do with a man hole cover on the side of the road. While every one in Pakistan is mercilessly robbing the state according to capability and capacity, the country somehow in its derelict state, with creaking wheels, stubbornly refuses to die. How long will the decent few Pakistanis continue burying their head in the sand. if you can't do anything, shout, shout and shout till the throat gets sore and the heavens are shamed in to answering your call.

Riaz Ahmad, United Kingdom - 17 November, 2012

search for national identity

the lack of national in developing countries

abubaker, Pakistan - 04 June, 2013

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